As the most-seen face of your company, your sales team plays a pivotal role in the success of your brand. A startup's success typically relies on making a consistent number of sales, and increasing those sales over time, which is only possible if you have a strong sales team. However, finding the right people for the job can be a challenge, especially if you focus on traditional hiring tactics and competitive channels.
So how do you find these perfect salespeople?
Start with your network.
You may be tempted to start by posting ads on all available job boards, but this will overwhelm you with unqualified candidates -- so many that great ones may get lost in the flood.
Instead, ask friends and close business contacts directly before you resort to public posts. Query your LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter network, either with direct messages or by posting on your timeline, and ask your connections if they know anyone who would be a strong candidate. Make sure to include a job description that describes the role, the compensation and the ideal candidate profile.
Asking existing employees is also often a great source of candidates because people tend to only recommend candidates they know and trust.
Check companies with large sales teams.
If you don't find someone within your network, start targeting sales reps at companies with large sales teams. Working in sales at a big, enterprise-level company often means a few things: comprehensive training programs, high expectations for performance, and a certain level of boredom and frustration with bureaucracy once you're settled in. That means that many of the sales reps at big companies are less loyal than small organizations, usually due to a combination of boredom and ambition.
Look for candidates that have been at the company for at least 18 months and have been promoted. Once you find candidates that meet your ideal profile, send them a cold email or LinkedIn message.
Discuss salary structure and expectations early.
There's no way around it: the best salespeople are money motivated, even more so than your average employee. Because of this, if you want to hire and retain those top talents, you're going to have to make it worth their while.
Start with a competitive base salary, and add onto it a highly attractive commission structure. Make sure the commission structure is directly aligned with your business goals, and keep it uncapped.
Also, make sure expectations are set correctly. Every sales role is different: amount of travel time per week, face-to-face meetings with clients versus in-office calls, percentage of time spent on prospecting or cold calling activities, and more. These are all important considerations and should be honestly addressed early on in the recruiting process, or you'll be at risk of hiring someone who ends up leaving soon after they're onboarded.
Be especially vigilant for red flags.
While these aren't necessarily a deal-breakers, you should watch for red flags throughout the entire recruiting process. Here are some key questions to ask yourself as you review each candidate:
- Are there any typos in their follow-up notes or in their resume? Strong communication skills and attention to details are absolutely key for a salesperson, so it's important to be even more critical of this mistake than you would for another position.
- Do they have fewer than 500 LinkedIn connections? It might just be a pet peeve of mine, but if someone is in business development and has fewer than 500 connections, they may be too junior or don't value networking or relationship building.
- Is their email address professional and from a reliable provider? I've noticed that almost every single strong candidate and top performer I've hired is using a Gmail address. If there's using a MSN or Yahoo email address, it may be an indication that they're resistant to technology trends. This is often a warning sign that you'll need to teach them computer basics or simple tools.
- Were they late to an interview? Being late happens. But, unless they have a good excuse and deal with the situation in a professional manner, this is a major red flag.
Find your own referrals for final stage candidates.
Don't hire anyone without speaking to a reference. But, don't ask the candidate for one. They'll only give you the names of people who will say great things about them. It's likely a waste of time.
You want honesty, so you need to take a different approach. Find someone who worked with the candidate in the past -- a manager is ideal. Reach out to this person directly, and ask them for a few minutes of their time, but avoid telling the reference who you're inquiring about in advance. Instead, say something like "I'm looking to hire someone you've managed in the past. Do you have three minutes for a quick chat?"
When you're building your sales team, it's important to keep in mind that the job you're hiring for is one that affects how leads and customers are going to perceive your entire brand. Once you've hired the right salesperson, make sure you invest time and effort to retain them and make them feel like a valued member of the team.