As soon as a startup closes a funding round the clock starts ticking. As a founding team, you have targets to hit. It is almost impossible to do that without dedicated full-time salespeople.
A lot is riding on who you hire. Pick the wrong person or team and you could miss target. Missing target, before your startup has broke even, could be fatal. Even missing one quarter’s target could have a serious impact on your business.
A question many founders struggle with is how to pick the right person, quickly, and ensure they hit the ground running? Experienced salespeople can command high salaries. Younger ones may not have the network you need to gain traction in a target sector, although those with the right attitude and skills could make a big impact.
These are questions all founders struggle with. In this article, we hope to provide you with some answers.
How to pick the right salespeople
#1: Lay the groundwork
Salespeople with experience are used to structure. Corporate environments. Even younger salespeople, those who’ve gone the graduate route, are usually provided with everything they need to hit the ground running. From CRMs to fuel cards, sales pitch decks to inbound funnels, everything is ready for them to start generating sales.
In a startup, that may not be the case. Often, there has not been the time. Until you recruit a sales team, the organised structure and supporting material surrounding that team isn’t needed. Now it is. It would help the new recruits if they know where to focus their efforts. Which sectors or regions? Are they meant to focus on Enterprise or SMB prospects?
Personas and profiles, alongside sales/marketing messages and materials tailored around the needs of these prospects, are going to prove invaluable for your sales team. With the right support - internally or externally - this could be created before you complete the recruitment process. Or you could recruit the first salesperson, then task them to manage the creation of the sale pipeline before a campaign can get underway.
#2: Be specific
Know what you are looking for before you start the recruitment process.
Salespeople can take the initiative, of course. Anyone working for a startup should understand that. But trying to force someone used to managing accounts to generate new business won’t always end well. Be clear on what skills, experiences and sector knowledge you need before creating an advert for the role.
#3: Trust your network
Ask around before you advertise.
See if other founders you know are aware of any salespeople looking for new roles. Ask around further to see how good they are. Always take the trust but verify approach, when recruiting salespeople. And watch out for those who’ve hopped from job to job.
One year in sales isn’t long in a corporate environment. But it could indicate they struggled, or were maybe performance managed, then started looking for something else. Often, a jump into a new role happens after Christmas. So pay close attention to career experience and credibility. Create a list of questions and make the interview process multi-stage to ascertain more than one viewpoint.
#4: Test for attitudes
Think about how you win new clients. Do you ask a lot of questions and try to find the best solution for a potential client? Or do you hit them with a pitch/demo and hope for the best?
Asking questions, listening and providing solutions is the most effective way forward. Want to be sure a potential new recruit has the right attitudes? Test them. Run a mock demo or sales call to see how they handle themselves. Are they taking the right approach? Only in a trial scenario will you get a sense how they might perform during a sales call.
#5: Determination and substance over flash and style
Salespeople are great at selling one thing: themselves. They are the only consistent product they will sell throughout a career in sales, so professionals become good at selling themselves. An interview is a sales pitch. You are the buyer.
In that scenario, if they pitch at you instead of asking questions and listening, you know they aren’t the right one. Good listeners, those who are skilled at creating rapport and empathy, and those with persistence - get them to walk you through their sales process - are some of the key traits you need to look out for.
After closing a series A, founders risk recruiting salespeople too fast and picking those with style other substance. It could be a costly mistake. To achieve your aims, prepare the groundwork, know what you are looking for, trust your network, test them and make sure you have recruited someone - or a team of people - capable of driving growth forward.