Hiring for sales roles appears to be the one thing that causes more problems, than perhaps any other role within startups.
It almost seems a right of passage for many founders, to at some point use the phrases “They looked good on paper” or “They were so good at selling themselves.”
All joking aside, the problem is not all bad salespeople or salespeople tricking us. There are things that you can do to ensure the outcome, that we are looking for.
What’s the Role
Too often startups, when looking to hire a salesperson… don’t clearly define the role.
- Do you want people to prospect leads?
- Do you want closers?
- Are you looking for people to manage your existing customers and focus on renewals?
- Do you want someone to implement the sales processes and build the machine?
- Are you expecting them to work predominantly inbound or outbound leads?
The truth is, that sales have specialist roles and each one of those questions can easily be a different person. If you answered “yes” to more than one of those questions, you likely need multiple hires.
The problem is that if you are a young (and often not yet suitably funded) startup, the idea of going out and hiring multiple people to build a full sales team simply isn’t financially viable…so what is the solution?
Start at the Beginning
It might seem like an obvious concept, but to get the sales hiring right we have to start at the beginning and decide what we are looking for.
When working with clients, I tend to recommend two simple starter questions:
- Are they working inbound or outbound leads?
- Will they be prospecting or closing leads?
When getting started, I typically recommend that you look to hire a prospector/qualifier first, as this is the first step in any sales process. The closing can be done by you personally.
(I always recommend doing the closing yourself, to become dangerous.)
I also recommend you work with the prospector/qualifier to train them personally. Or, if you’re not experienced, work with them to develop the process.
There are multiple benefits to this structure:
- Prospectors and qualifiers are the least expensive sales resource.
- It allows you to develop “your way” of doing things from day one.
- It provides you with experience and education in sales, without a high cost and a low risk.
- When you hire a closer, you will have experience in the role. Making it easier to spot a good candidate.
- It provides a simple promotion structure, where you may choose to promote your prospector, to closer and hire a new prospector.
- You begin developing sales training, without realizing it.
By starting with this structure, it lets you focus initially on the activities that will generate the biggest return – prospecting.
Before moving up the sales hierarchy, as your company matures with additional prospectors, closers, sales managers, and customer success/renewals, all to follow.
Where to Find People
When it comes to finding salespeople to hire there are a few options available to you. Depending on the role there are different places that I will look.
When I am looking for people to hire I typically have one initial criterion that I am looking to fill for every role. Do they have experience in moving a company similar to mine from where I am now to where I want to be?
If the answer is yes they are likely going on my shortlist
For prospectors/qualifiers / SDR’s I will typically use LinkedIn to find candidates. I use LinkedIn because it's easy to find similar companies then look at how long different people have been in the role.
I will also use my network and the network of my investors where possible.
Personally, I am not a big fan of recruitment companies for any of these roles. That's not to say they cannot do a good job, they are just not my preference.
The reason for this is I am often spearfishing when it comes to initial candidates. I am looking for very specific people and I have found that leveraging LinkedIn and my personal network works better.
There is no such thing as the perfect interview questions, to get the hiring process right every time. But there are two things that you can do, on top of asking the right questions.
Practical Demonstration – Have the candidate perform a practical demonstration on something they would be expected to do in their day-to-day work.
Hiring a prospector? Provide them with material to learn before the interview and conduct a trial call. This process can be repeated for every sale hire with appropriate tasks created.
Trial Period – The proof of the pudding is in the eating and all salespeople should be on a trial period. They don't necessarily have to set the world alight, but they should show a baseline performance with improvements over time. It will be apparent over a 2 or 3-month period if they can make the grade.
When hiring a Head of Sales or VP of Sales, it’s important that you remember they should not be your first sales hire and they are not there to do daily sales activities… like prospecting, demos, or follow-up emails.
The VP of Sales is there to guide the overall sales strategy, train the team, report to the CEO, and interact with the heads of other business units, to coordinate strategy.