Salespeople are the lifeblood of any good business. They provide the fuel that ignites the rocket ship of growth. Yet speak to any entrepreneur and they all seem to share a common challenge: finding, hiring and motivating great salespeople. It feels like a never-ending quest, one as frustrating as it is crucial. Truly talented salespeople, the ones who will rapidly push your business to the next level, are few and far between. To find them, I’ve learned to set some parameters and stick to them. Here are my five must-haves when hiring for sales:
They need to have a sales personality. Sounds obvious, but it’s not. This is so important that before I extend an offer of employment, I use an online assessment tool as part of my decision-making process. This objective assessment tool looks for certain personality characteristics that are shared among the strongest salespeople. There have been many candidates whom I’ve liked, but because they scored low on this test, I chose not to move them forward. People who excel at sales need a particular skill set to succeed, and though many of the skills can be taught (e.g., you can teach someone to speak and write better), some are just innate. You either have them or you don’t. Just because a person is likable, smart, capable and eager to learn, doesn’t mean they have a high sales IQ. So what are some of these innate qualities? Well, you need someone who is good at building relationships. They also need to have high emotional intelligence and be able to quickly read people and pick up on unspoken cues. They have to be great listeners. The most effective salespeople listen when you tell them what you need, and then sell you exactly that. And perhaps most important of all, they need to be highly persuasive. They have to be closers because let’s face it, a salesperson who can’t close deals is but half of a salesperson and not a very good one.
You need someone with industry expertise. It always takes time to onboard and train a new salesperson and if they are not familiar with your industry, it will take longer. Additionally, some products are easier to sell than others and if you happen to be in an industry with difficult sales dynamics, it really helps if the salesperson is already familiar with the industry and the tricks of the trade. We are an edtech company that sells teacher development software to school districts and universities. We deal with long sales cycles, multiple stakeholders and in many cases technology averse clients. So having a salesperson who is already familiar with these dynamics is really helpful, particularly in the ramp up phase of their employment. While lack of industry experience is not a dealbreaker, we do think our ideal sales candidate has some experience in the classroom or has some other background in education. This not only helps them to understand our industry but also gives them added credibility when they engage with potential customers. People in education are often reluctant to trust outsiders particularly when those outsiders are selling the next “app” that promises to “disrupt” their way of life. So, although I could teach a strong salesperson the ins and outs of our industry... I’m generally better off finding someone who has already been in it.
Even strong salespeople need time to ramp up. Have realistic expectations. Even if you find someone with great skills and industry expertise, it will take time to bring them up to speed. They have to learn how your product works and understand the best way to frame it in conversations. This process cannot be rushed. Know how much training is required for your product, whether it’s a few weeks or a few months, and make sure to factor that in when you start looking for a new hire.
If you are a startup, you need a unicorn that can hunt, gather, and close the deal. Large companies often have the luxury of splitting their sales processes into three different people: A gatherer, also known as the relationship builder/lead generator; the hunter, the person conventionally known as the salesperson who pitches the product, follows up with meetings, and provides supporting materials to help move the deal along; and the closer, the big alpha you bring in at the end to make the ask, wrap things up, and get the deal done. If you are a startup, you most likely can’t afford three people, even if you could find them. What you need is a unicorn. One person who can hunt, gather and close, all while driving your sales to new heights. And believe me, unicorns are hard to find. Have you seen one lately? Naturally, most people you hire are not going to be equally good at all three phases of the process, so be prepared to provide ongoing support and training to help them grow in the other areas.
They need to get along with the rest of your team. You ultimately need to hire someone who will work well with the other members of your team. Great salespeople are notorious for being great individual contributors, but not necessarily great teammates. For small companies, cultural fit is incredibly important since you have fewer people who spend a lot of time together. As the final step in our interview process, we take the candidate to lunch with their future colleagues so that everyone can get a feel for them. We hope at this stage, they are a good fit and we can present them with an offer soon after. I trust my team. Sometimes, they see things that I don’t. Although it is lunch, it is still very much a part of the interview process. We’re looking to see how the candidate operates in a more casual environment where it’s easy to forget you are still being interviewed.
As you seek to bring your business to the next level, you might feel enormous pressure to find someone, anyone, who can start pounding the pavement in sales. Don’t rush, stick to guidelines like the ones above, and never settle. Your business will be better off for it. In the meantime, if you know a great salesperson with a background in education, send them our way. Torsh is hiring!
By Courtney Williams