How do you hire a good sales team?

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Startup sales is tough. Nothing about it is easy. If you focus on the right things and hire the right people at the right time, you're going to be able to see your startup go from sales exploration to sales execution and ultimately sales scale.

First things to consider when hiring a sales team

If you’re building a sales team from scratch, the first thing to consider is the path your customers go through when buying. How many people need to sign off on the purchase decision? Are there multiple friction points that may prevent them from doing so?

The second question to answer is: do you even need a sales team? If you’re developing a startup that’s able to have an online sales funnel with self-driven sign ups, subscriptions, or an online e-commerce experience.

Some products need to be sold, while others can be marketed in a self-service fashion. It’s important to know where your product falls before investing in a sales team.

When should you hire a sales team?

Stage 1: Be the lone ranger

The first person to sell your product should be you—the founder—and your co-founders. Even if you hate sales and suck at it. Even if you don’t have any sales experience and know-how. Do customer development yourself, and be as close to your prospects as you can. This will help you immensely later on down the line when it is time to scale up sales hiring for the business.

Stage 2: Building the foundation

Once you have some level of success (you’ve made initial sales, generated some revenue).

time to begin your sales hiring process and bring on your first sales reps. Right now, your focus should be on bringing others on board and having them replicate the results you achieved in stage #1.

So how do I hire my first salesperson?

Don’t hire expensive sales veterans here. You want sales reps who are hungry. Similarly you don’t want to hire someone right out of school as your first sales rep. You’ll want someone who has enough experience to be efficient and won’t need hand holding, but also still hungry enough (and cheap enough) for you to maintain your margins.

What qualities make a good sales rep?

Many sales managers (and entrepreneurs) believe that extroverts are the best personality types to be in a sales role when, in reality, it doesn’t matter. There are plenty of extroverts who aren’t really into sales, have a fear of rejection, or are clueless about how to sell your product, or ask the wrong questions and can’t guide a sales prospect down the sales funnel.

So what’s makes a good sales rep?

They keep a level head and don’t get self-conscious. Successful sales reps are very deliberate with their time – they need to be. Often if they’re not spending their time selling, they’re losing money.

Another important aspect of a good sales rep is that they understand your industry.

In order to source and close deals, successful sales reps need to be resourceful and find outside-of-the-box ways to source potential deals.

They also need to be persistent yet respectful. It’s important to know when it’s time to move on in a conversation with a potential sale. Selling is more about efficiency than trying to convince a prospect to buy your product.

And obviously, they need to be motivated by goals.

Stage 3: Find a good sales leader

At this point, your selling process should be fairly mature. Your results should be a lot more predictable, and you should have an effective sales funnel. Your goal should be to generate consistent growth. It’s not about exploration anymore—it’s about time you start focusing on sales execution.

So how do you find a good sales leader to take over for you so you can focus on higher level business or product development?

First, you should ask a potential sales leader how they would:

  • Fine-tune the sales process you’ve developed
  • Expand on the things you’ve developed and learned
  • Grow and manage your sales team (and establish a sales hiring process)
  • Set up quotas, train, and coach your reps

Ideally these people would have started out as junior sales reps in some previous company, and grew into a managerial role there. You want to look for someone who has experience overseeing the growth of a tiny sales team of three people and can successfully grow it to 10, 20 or 30 people.

Beware of the cost of a sales mis-hire

When a new sales person joins your team, you’re not only investing in their compensation. You’re also investing time and company resources to hire, onboard, and train them, all with the goal of increasing revenue.

If you hired the wrong person, you didn’t just lose the time and money it took you to get that person on board. You also have severance costs, the lost sales they hadn’t brought in, the reduced productivity of the rest of the team operating in damage control mode, and the opportunity cost of not hiring a better candidate.

How do you determine the quality of a sales employee?

Instead of talking about how-to’s let’s jump into an example question.

Instead of asking something like “One of the qualities we’re looking for is someone who can prospect, how do you feel about doing that? How are your prospecting skills?” You’re essentially giving them a giant cue card with clues as to what to say to make you happy. Instead, try framing the question in a way that both gives you an intrinsic answer to your question, but will also give you more context into how they are as a sales person.

Instead, try:

“Where do you currently source potential clients from?” They might respond with a generic answer, so now you have the opportunity to dive a little deeper.

A great follow up question would be:

“Where did your most recent 10 accounts come from?”

“What was difficult about sourcing and closing those accounts?”

If a candidate asks you where you currently generate leads, don’t tell them right away about your marketing funnel you’ve designed (Don’t hide it form them, as they probably want to understand how much work they’d have to do on their end to source deals. But make sure you dig a little bit further into where they are mentally with sourcing deals).

A great response would be something like: “Great question, how do you get your leads now?” and “How would you like to generate leads?” Based on their answer, you’ll know how they feel about prospecting and you can better compare that to the job description you created.

A note: Not all sales jobs are made equal. If you have an incredible marketing funnel and are overwhelmed with the amount of deals to close, and inside sales rep is a great fit, where sourcing deals isn’t as big a priority as closing them.

Sales hiring is hard—but it’s worth it

Startup sales is tough. Nothing about it is easy. If you focus on the right things and hire the right people at the right time, you’re going to be able to see your startup go from sales exploration to sales execution and ultimately sales scale.

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