The Do's and Don'ts of Hiring a Great Salesperson
Hiring a Great Salesperson

The Do's and Don'ts of Hiring a Great Salesperson

It’s often been said – and I’ve seen in real world experience – that engineers are the hardest hire to find and make. Certainly in the Silicon Valley and other major metro areas where technology enterprises and startups abound, this is true.

But what about sales people? Often the second most critical hires for any organization – regardless of the business – are the people responsible for wrangling, closing and protecting a company’s revenue.

Perhaps the biggest problem is quantitative: sales professionals are fraught with misleading stats. It’s true that not all salespeople are created equal – some are great at the high pressure sell, some wilt. Some know how to manage a complex, challenging sales cycle amidst multiple senior decision-makers. Others excel at fast, transactional products, where it’s more critical to land and expand. And often, success at one type of business does not portend success in another.

Here’s how to assess the unique skills and attributes of sales-role candidates to make the exact right hire for your specific needs.

Do match talent to product

Sales people who have a strong track record closing deals, say, at under $10,000 and within a 30-day time period are certainly keepers . . . for organizations who profit from that kind of deal. Typically, those sales reps are closing half a dozen such deals every month in order to make or beat their quotas. They are managing a pipeline of 50 or more opportunities at any given time.

That sales rep is probably not right for an enterprise that sells $100,000 deals and expects it to take 90 to 180 days to close. Those reps are in it for the long haul and often have to gut out a wrenching quarter-end to hit their targets. They also must be credible at higher levels in the companies they’re selling to (VP or even C-level execs), may have to travel – several times – to present and make their case, and perhaps coordinate a small army of supporting staff within their own organizations.

Think hard about what kind of product you sell – and the skills and attributes needed to sell it – then match your desired sales exec to it!

Don’t be prescriptive

Sales does not exist in a one-size-fits-all world. Don’t assume that certain metrics will apply to your business just because it does for another. For example, business A may hit all its KPIs if sales reps make 50 calls, send 100 emails, or make one or two new pitches and demos every day. That, however, may not be the recipe for success for business B, which thrives on quality, not quantity.

One thing is sure: every business should design targets for its unique sales organization. Everyone needs to be marching to the same drummer and held accountable – just don’t assume your goals should automatically be the same as your neighbor’s.

Don’t be seduced by past performance

The slipperiest slope in the sales recruiting process is assuming that past performance will be a leading indicator of future performance. That is not to say that consistent, high-performing sales execs won’t continue to be, well, consistent and high-performing, but you need to look at the person in context.

I have seen sales reps who “never lost a deal” completely flounder when faced with the challenge of a completely new product, new market or a startup environment where product/market fit has not been achieved. Sales people who thrive in a startup environment may struggle in a large company and vice-versa. Sales people who are great at pitching marketing technology or advertising will find financial services and insurance to be a very different beast. Do a gut check with the candidate when hiring – for example, ask them if they’re used to sales cycles similar to yours. Reps who might crush their number selling low cost, monthly recurring software license will like struggle to sell high cost, annual or even multi-year contracts.

In short, the most important thing you can do as you look to hire your next  sales person is to  match your hiring plan to the company you are or intend to be. And, if possible, look closely at the profiles of the people who are already successful selling your product and focus your attention on finding similar sales people.

About the Author:

Robb is a global sales leader with 20 years of experience in enterprise software sales and marketing.