Nailing Your First Tech Sales Interview

An inside look into entry level technology sales

Alex Plutzer

You’ve been combing the job scene for months or joined a service like Hired and you’ve finally found the perfect role. Either sales is your calling or you’ve realized it’s a great way to penetrate the elusive world of technology.

The thing is, you’re still in college (or maybe making a career shift) and you’re not entirely sure how this whole tech sales thing works.

But don’t worry. We’re about to review exactly how you can prepare for success and ace an interview.

First, we’ll cover how sales teams function to give some perspective on where your role fits in. Next, we’ll review the core responsibility of entry-level sales so you can the approach the interview with a good understanding. Then, we’ll finish off by discussing interview strategies.

Let’s get to it.

How do tech sales teams work?

In tech, sales teams are generally found in companies focusing on B2B (business-to-business) products. Places like Oracle, Box, Workday, and Salesforce, as well as startups like Slack, Zenefits, and Adroll, are all great examples. They build technology for other businesses to use.

Yes, consumer tech companies can also have sales teams, but they often function more like ad partnerships and roles are generally only available to people who’ve been in the industry for years. You haven’t… yet.

When a company like Salesforce wants to make a sale, they must present their product to the right company, in front of the right people, at the right time, in the right way, for the right price. To do this — a lot of searching, coordination and persuasion must be done. And it’s not just done by one person. It’s done by a team. You’re interviewing for a part on that team.

Here’s what the roster looks like:

  • Account Executive — (the closer) positions the value of the product to the client in order to close deals as quickly as possible and for the highest price possible
  • Outbound Sales — (the hunter) finds the next deal for the account executive by way of tactical cold calls and emails, occasionally bugging the shit out of people
  • Inbound Sales — (the gatekeeper) fields incoming calls and emails, ensuring people who reach out to the company have a great first impression, all their questions answered, and are worth the time of the account executive

The role you’re interviewing for is most likely Inbound Sales but it’ll be called something more like Sales Development Representative, Sales Representative, or Business Development Representative.

Sales Development Representatives (SDR) are hired to qualify deals. Qualification is an important part of any sale and it’s the core responsibility of an SDR.

Some would say qualification is more of an art. But in fact, it’s fairly standardized among tech companies, all hailing back to late-90's Oracle and SAP sales process.

Your Role — Qualification

Qualification refers to the conversation that takes place between SDR and potential customer, the output of which are detailed notes. These notes, along with an introduction to an account executive, act as the SDR’s stamp of approval. When both are done, the qualification is complete — and the SDR moves on.

Qualifying a deal means you’ve decided it’s worth your company’s time and resources to give it attention. It doesn’t mean you’re 100% confident it’s going to close. Once a deal is qualified, it moves on to the account executive and from then on, it’s in their hands.

Learning the Jargon

Technology is full of jargon. I mean, sure, everyone wants a zB20MasterBoard in place when evaluating REGEX350… but for your purpose, it’s just a bunch of noise. (Don’t Google those terms, I made them up.)

However, there are a few universal sales terms you’ll want to get familiar with that can help you stand out in your interview.

Let’s go over some key words and their definitions that might come in handy. All of which are part of the qualification process.

  • Use Case — This is the objective the client wants to accomplish. Often a list of needs that must be met for them to buy.
  • Pain — This is why they contacted your company; something, some process, isn’t working. A good sales person knows how to get at this information and use it.
  • Budget — Do they have the money for this, or are they just looking around? It takes some intuition to figure this out. It’s why Louis Vuitton staff only pay attention to certain people who walk in the store. (A more nuanced form of Budget is figuring out what their buying process is.)
  • Timeframe — Are they considering buying this soon or is this just preliminary research? Keep in mind ‘soon’ varies depending on what’s being bought.
  • Authority — Who’s able to sign off on this? Tech is expensive and few people in a company have purchasing power to buy a $20k+ solution. Identifying the final decision maker is key to closing a deal.

Here’s a fictional example in which a potential customer calls Box and where each term comes into play:


Hi my name’s Michael and I’m looking to move RomCorp’s files to the cloud. We want to be able to access our documents on-the-go and also easily and securely share files with our clients (use case). Right now our internal file server is slowing us down because we can’t access documents on our mobile devices while we’re traveling and our clients have difficulty accessing our proposals (pain). We’d like to have a solution in place by the end of the quarter (timeframe) and Jim Reynolds, my supervisor, is responsible for purchasing (authority).

Notice Budget is missing — no one reveals their budget.

Now, there isn’t a single person who will just vomit up all the information in the example above. This is where the SDR comes into play. It’s your job to listen closely to the client and probe them with all the right questions until you feel you have all you need to qualify that they are worth pursuing as a deal and a good fit for the product.

Just because they have the money to buy doesn’t mean they’re worth pursuing. If they’re looking for something you just can’t offer, you’ll politely turn them away — and they’ll appreciate your honesty. If the product isn’t a good enough fit from the start, the deal will never close.

Interviewing Strategies

If an interviewer wants to role play, they may ask you to sell them something during your interview. You want to ask them qualifying questions before you start going in for the hard sell. However, do not use the qualification terms themselves. Ask things like:

  • What are you currently using? What about that solution isn’t working for you? (pain)
  • How do you see a solution working for you in a perfect world? (use case)
  • Do you have an idea of when you might look to implement a solution? (timeframe)
  • How are purchasing decisions like this usually handled in your company? (budget + authority)

This is a very popular process in tech sales known as Consultative Sales. If done right, it means both you and the client come out winning. They get a solution that fits their needs and you make a sale!

If you can demonstrate an understanding of this during your interview, you’re definitely ahead of the pack (of people who didn’t also read this article).

What else will they ask me?

Selling won’t be the only part of your interview. A lot of questions are just basic interview fluff like “tell me about a time when…” or “do you work well in a team?” But many technology companies, regardless of the role, will ask questions in a few other key areas — many of which you can find real examples of on Glassdoor.

- Product Knowledge

Companies want to know you took time to fully understand their product. It shows you have the ability to learn quickly, have attention to detail, and also that you care enough to have done some research before interviewing. Read any promotional material you can find on their website and look up a few articles on their recent announcements. You want to be able to speak to this clearly and fluidly.

This is basically the hard sell or “elevator pitch” part of the interview. For this, you’ll want to learn the company or product’s core value proposition — but don’t use that term! Hip tech companies hate shallow jargon. They want substantial answers. What are some top use cases the product is known for solving really well? Great, now memorize them.

Hint: always sign up for a trial of the product if one is available

- Market Knowledge

Part of what defines a company is the space they play in. Who are their main competitors? How might products like this change in the next few years? How do potential customers currently view this type of technology? It might be popular, ahead of its time, or legacy. Knowing this is always useful and the more you learn about different markets as you interview at different companies, the more ‘techie’ you sound.

- Selling Yourself

Have you sold technology before? Sure you have! Have you ever convinced your friend to download a new app by proving it’s value in solving a problem they’re facing? Ever convince your mom to switch from AOL to Gmail by demonstrating how much better her experience could be?

In a way, your interviewer is looking to buy a new sales rep and you are the product you’re selling. Try applying the sales scenario we covered earlier to your interview. Ask some qualifying questions about the company, the role, and what they’re looking for. Then comes the pitch where you reveal the product (you) and clearly explain your value.

The interview process for a sales job very much mirrors that of a sales cycle

Good luck!

You’ve got everything you need to ace this interview. And remember, even if you don’t get a particular job, every interview is incredibly valuable practice. The more you practice these skills, the better you’ll get. I’d recommend signing up for Hired and The Lions that can help set you up with interviews.

Last but not least, let me know if this article was helpful in prepping for an interview — I’d love to know! (@alexplutzer)


Background:

I started my career as an SDR and interviewed at a bunch of places before landing my first job at Box. It wasn’t until a few friends of mine in sales shared some insider tips with me that I started to really understand what companies wanted during an interview. I’ve been giving this advice to college seniors who’ve reached out to me from my alma mater for the last few years so I figured I’d finally just write it out.

And as an added bonus… here’s a running list of tech companies that might have open entry-level sales roles and Hired can help shop your resume around so that companies reach out to you.


Thanks to Alison Covarrubias, Andrew Camel, Bo Ren, Greg Myer, Josh Petersel, Kaitlin Carragher, and Sam Chase

    Alex Plutzer

    Written by

    I’m a product manager at Instagram. I guess I like to write to try to make things more approachable.

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