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How to Win the Phone Sales Interview

When I am vetting and trying to select elite sales talent I start the process at 50,000 feet and work down. I prefer to start this process with a phone interview and recommend that my clients do as well. This allows me to focus and listen for a few select qualities and not get distracted by a sales professional’s image, presence or likeability (I get to those in the in-person interview although all of these qualities are over-rated). Whether you’re a top 20% sales professional trying to get hired or a hiring manager trying to hire one, I give you my quick tips to winning the phone sales interview. As you read these, you’ll notice a lack of “tricks” and an emphasis on being authentic.

1. Credibility.

There’s a lot that goes into being credible. For me, credibility comes down to whether or not I trust someone and believe their story. Fast talking, claims making and poor listening sales reps instantly raise my BS meter and put me on high alert. Don’t do this! Opposite of that, a credible sales rep listens well, has done their homework, answers questions directly and avoids making claims they can’t back up.

Something that I’ve noticed is that the candidates that go after an opportunity the hardest are usually the ones that need a job the most. Hiring managers, of course, love this quality. By default, they’re picking the wrong candidate. I’m looking for the passive candidate, the one that has something to lose. This person is currently performing and will only make a move for a better gig. Building on this point, let’s look at the 2nd thing I look for when vetting sales reps on the phone.

2. Documented Performance.

I have found that there are far more sales professionals that claim to be top 20% performers than are mathematically possible. I’ve also learned that the sales professionals that are elite at interviewing are often mid-pack performers. They get by on polish and smooth lines as opposed to good old fashioned hard work. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a strong correlation between interviewing well and selling well.

Given this, if you are a true top sales performer be prepared to prove it. At some point in the interview, say something along the lines of “I know that a lot of sales reps inflate their sales numbers. I can document every accomplishment on my resume and I’d be happy to provide documentation of these accomplishments.” More than a few savvy sales professionals have instantly turned around a lackluster phone interview with me using this approach. As they say, nothing sells like success. You can read more about documenting your sales results here.

3. Repeatable Sales Approach.

Be prepared to articulate exactly how you get from A to Z in a sales process. Given the choice between two equally accomplished sales professionals I will always choose the one who can articulate their sales process. The simpler the better. Word of caution here, don’t use sales buzz phrases, such as “Miller Heiman Blue Sheet”, unless you truly know what they mean. Nothing deflates your credibility faster than over stating your abilities.

Nailing the Phone Sales Interview – Bonus Points.

There are two final ingredients I like to see in sales professionals. The first, I can sum up in one word. Centered. They know who they are and what they do well. They don’t mislead others nor can they be misled. There are plenty of top sales performers that aren’t that centered but they’re a lot harder to lead.

The last quality I like to see we call “verbal agility”.  That is the ability to speak on a variety of topics persuasively and fluidly. This quality is a main component of credibility as it gives the impression of intelligence and confidence. It also allows for a smooth flowing dialogue that works extremely well with a consultative sales approach. Distractions, lack of preparation and even a lack of sleep wreck your verbal agility. Don’t make these mistakes.

If you are a sales professional gearing up for a phone sales interview, we have a “How to” guide here. Should you find yourself looking to hire it can be daunting to realize just how rare true top performers are (a point we visually make in the video here). When you find one, and they’re a fit for your team, make sure you hire them! Whichever side of the equation you are on, Good luck winning the phone sales interview.

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Chris Carlson

My name is Chris Carlson and I’m the founder and President of Sales Talent. This blog grew out of my desire to document and share what I’ve learned in my two plus decades of sales recruiting and leading Sales Talent. Our posts are aimed at sales professionals and leaders that speaks to talent selection, team building, or career advancement. If you have a topic that you’d like my take on, please reach out to me.

You can find Chris Carlson on LinkedIn or contact him directly at: