Hiring the ideal sales rep is key for a start-up’s success. You want to build the best sales force to represent your company and drive growth as if it was their own business. Great sales people are always in high demand and attracting them to work for you can be a challenge.
Failing at this might give you real headaches as the opportunity cost of hiring the “inappropriate” sales rep is quite high. I recommend taking the hiring process for sales representatives quite seriously.
Here’s a guideline on how to hire the ideal sales representative for your start-up and scale-up your SaaS business
How to source sales reps
First things first, you need to find the proper channels to source your ideal sales rep. Here are the 5 tips you should consider:
Tip 1: Check within your network to see if you can think of any successful salespeople you’ve met throughout your career: peers from previous employers, clients, partners, perhaps professionals you’ve met at events or other business encounters. Call up other entrepreneurs/professionals and ask them for recommendations. People you know and trust will be in the best position to make great referrals. Let everybody know you’re hiring!
Referral recruiting is the highest-quality and lowest-cost option that you’ll be able to leverage for your company.
Tip 2: As an entrepreneur, your Linkedin professional network must be very well developed. Browsing through your contacts might help you refresh your memory on some great contacts for referral, or even better, some great sales people that are ready to get on a boat with you. Besides, Linkedin has an amazing search function that can help you find the right candidates based on specific keywords connected to the job’s required skills and industry expertise. There are premium functionalities from Linkedin that you can access, like SalesNavigator or InMail which provide advanced techniques to fetch and contact the ideal sales candidates.
Tip 3. Run a social “audit” on your competition and have a look at their Linkedin page their sales reps will be for sure listed there. Check their profiles and look for the ones which are mostly active on Linkedin – from endorsements, recommendations, contributions and constant posting activity. You want your salesperson to do the same for your company and be a main trigger for brand awareness and image. In addition, their activity wall will show their comments, posts and other information that can give you a good insight about their industry expertise, business perspective, writing or networking skills.
Tip 4: Headhunters are always an option, just not necessarily always my preferred strategy. If you do prefer them to do the job for you, make sure they are motivated to send the best filtered candidates, don’t let them waste your time with too many interviews.
Tip 5: Last but not least, some young start-ups focus their energy on hiring new, hungry grads out of known universities instead of seasoned sales execs. New fresh blood with a high level of energy and ambition to learn might fit quite well into a startup, where the work atmosphere tends to be fast-paced but also quite informal, leaving room for stuff to get creative and come up with great ideas. This could be a successful strategy if you’ve already got a strong sales team in place that is ready to train juniors and properly “onboard” them into your business world.
How to attract sales reps
As soon as you’ve figured out where to find the right candidates, you have to make sure you have the right resources to attract them!
1– An amazing, but also transparent job ad is your best bet. Make sure you get creative when writing the job description. If you think of the high demand sales people are in, the hiring process is a mutual sales process – at the end of the day, you need to sell your SaaS company and business idea too. It’s common sense that best sales people only want to work for companies with high potential and growth perspective. Plus, a fair, true professional will care about their image and the brands/products they are being associated with, so..they need to believe in your start-up. Pitch your value proposition and why your company will go places with their help. List your requirements and needed skills, together with the industry expertise. In case you’re lacking creativity, look for some inspiring job ads that have convinced you from the first lines and try to think how you could create a similar one for your business.
2– If you’re reaching out to salespeople on social media, make sure you write an appealing teaser that will raise a sales person’s interest. Create a short message pitching your company and telling them why they should be working for your company.
3– In case of going for your competitor’s employees, they might even know your business already! In this case, you can even be bolder by mentioning specific strengths that you know your competitor is lacking – in a discreet way, of course.
4– Don’t give much information on salary early in the hiring process. Make sure you offer a competitive salary package for your industry and do mention that from the beginning, because we know salespeople are quite motivated by their commissions. Though you have first to qualify their skills and validation for the job – I’d only get to discuss finances once I’ve decided for a matching candidate.
5– During interview, answer all of their questions with honesty, even the most uncomfortable ones. Them asking bold questions is a strong sign of sales skills in the first place and desire to discover all sides of your company/product before making the big decision.
How to assess sales reps
Now that you’ve found your candidates, assessing them properly is the key step in hiring the ideal sales representative. Here are some tips to pick the ideal sales candidate:
Tip 1: Look for relevant sales soft skills, as well as industry skills.
(I’ll give credit to one of my mentors for some of these crucial abilities I’ve developed throughout my sales career, that every salesperson should own)
– Good listeners/ (“You have two ears, one mouth, use it accordingly.”)
– Communication skills
– Sense of urgency
– Sense of ownership
– Ability to take initiative
– Asking great questions (even if sometimes they can be uncomfortable)
– Ability to understand and translate customer requirements
– Ability to listen and accept negative feed-back from customers and then turn into something positive
– “Never aim for perfection, aim for its alternatives”. Your ideal salesperson needs to be – a solution-provider and get around just fine in mostly any challenging situation. You need a fighter!
Tip 2: Test your candidates in several ways.
– Analyse how quick they respond to your messages
– Let them follow up with you. If they call, try to miss their call. See how pushy they can get and if they leave you a voice message or send a follow up email.
– Send them a quick written screen with a few questions they should answer before the “big” interview. Here’s an example of sales screening questions from TalentBin, co-founded by Peter Kazanjy (and acquired by Monster Worldwide in 2014) and that he talks about in his book, Founding Sales. These are some of them:
– Tell me about something you’ve built that you’re proud of.
– Let’s talk about public speaking. Thoughts? Experience? Love it? Hate it?
– Document for me a deal (either sales or recruiting) that went well.
– Document for me a deal (either sales or recruiting) that went terribly. Be totally honest.
– What’s your favorite keyboard shortcut?
– Scale of 1-10, how messy is your room? Be honest.
– Let them meet the team – and their sales peers. See competitive then can get and also if they would be a good fit for your company culture. If it’s a “match” and you’re quite close to closing, then invite them for a beer with the team afterwards – this will be the absolute confirmation that they’re the right sales candidate for your business.
Tip 3: Make sure they’re not only great salespeople, but also industry experts.
A proven track record in the software industry will make the difference. They’ll get closer and faster to deal closures if they know the typical customer pain points and communicate at eye level. This doesn’t mean a salesperson coming from another industry is not necessarily good, but might take a longer, bumpier ride to achieve success.
Tip 4: Ask for recommendations from former employers/clients.
I recommend at least one or two phone calls to confirm they’re great sales people, preferably from their former direct managers.
Final step. Make them an offer
We’re all set! You just need to make your ideal candidate an offer they can’t refuse. It sounds cliche, I know. But it’s NOT the time to be stingy if you want them to work for you and boost your business as if it was their own. Take it as an investment – so literally, an offer your future salesperson CAN’T refuse.