If you are one of my regular readers, you may have seen my other recruiting articles: “How To Hire Top Talent Without Paying Recruiters“, “Stars vs. Constellations – 3 Steps to Building Solid High-performing Teams“, and lastly, “Beware of “Normal” People in Startups and High-growth Companies“. Today I’d like to share what I’ve learned while recently recruiting another “iteration” of our sales team. Very few people can claim to be a sales hiring superstar, myself included, but I’ve brought in quite a few “rainmakers” and have some very pleasant and painful lessons I learned that I’d love to share. I am going to focus on inside sales people, since these are the folks I am most used to recruiting. Outside sales people are a very different breed.
Here are the 6 core lessons I’ve learned:
1. Sales people should love sales. You need to avoid those who go into sales because they think it’s the only job they can get. We are not Fortune 500s, we need people who do their jobs because they love it and just happen to make a living doing it too.
2. Contrary to what you always hear, the most effective sales people are not in their profession for the money. They are there for the “hunt”! Money is the byproduct of the hunt. Some of the best ones I have worked with are crazy about stealthily avoiding gatekeepers and faux-decision makers. Their hunt is moving those leads through the funnel! You make the calls – you make the sales. They want to close you, they will close you, and you will love the way they do it.
3. I may get a lot of jeers here, but in startups and emerging businesses, there is no place for career sales people who just want to sell and have no aspirations to move up. I want my sales people to look at every deal as a stepping stone to the next larger deal, blast past quotas AND help people around them as a right of passage, and soak up every opportunity to learn new techniques, styles, and ways to TEACH selling. There is nothing wrong with a guy or gal who just wants to clock in and out, make X number of calls, meet quotas, etc. But those that want to do this for their entire careers should stick to Fortune 500s.
4. Age is not an issue with a good inside sales person. Talented sales people, even those fresh out of school, already have an uncanny ability to get through to you and ask questions in such a way that make you feel naked afterwards. Even during interviews, it feels like they are peeling back the layers of any protective shells you have (and ops people like me put up really tough shields) and getting to your real needs and objections. Each question leads to another and by the time they are done, you just can’t wait for them to tell you how they can help ease your pains.
5. Big shot sales people with fancy cars, big houses, and expensive habits may have earned it, and may be real high-performers, but they are not for you. This one is something I have changed my stance on, as I have picked up more scars. My father once taught me that he wants to see his best sales people with multiple cars, multiple houses, and expensive tastes, because overhead is like a gun to your head – you will sell. I have seen this work in many organizations, BUT this only works for an established product with predictable margins. When you are building something new and game-changing, these kind of folks will often end up pushing you in the wrong direction. The huge deal your top sales person just landed you may force you to bloat the organization and make you too dependent on the revenue of one particular customer. Why? Because if you have that proverbial gun to your head, you will unlikely have a long term outlook and will be looking for quick hits like a drug addict.
6. Find that pattern! You can experiment early with different sales personalities, but once you start scaling past about 10 sales team members, you need to find the repeatable profile of the sales person you should be hiring. If you did not take notes on why you hired your earlier sales people, what caught your eye, how you graded them in skill categories, and how they moved deals through the funnel, you will not be able to find this repeatable model. Gut is scalable only so far. You will need to get analytical and replace primary decision criteria with data; your gut will have to step back into “fail-safe valve” mode.