How to Hire a Sales Person
For an early-stage technology company
By Joe Payne
A few years ago, we performed a search for a sales person for one of our clients. Our client was selling a specialized outsourcing service to Fortune 100 companies. The buyer was typically a Director or Vice President in the Finance department. Our client’s typical contract value was about $100,000 – $3,000/month with a 3 year contract. Each sales person was expected to sell 2 about deals per month (quota was $2 million total contract value) and the sales cycle was typically 60 days. The VP of Sales asked me to interview a candidate he thought was “a superstar” and perfect for the position. The candidate was just what you imagine as the perfect high end sales person: he was tall, good looking and amazingly smooth and persuasive. He was coming from an environment where he sold outsourcing services (check) to CFOs in Fortune 50 companies (close enough). He was one of his company’s top sales people and had exceeded quota every year (check). The previous year, he had sold $5 million in outsourcing services (well exceeding his $2 million quota), consisting of 3 deals that he had worked on for 2 years each (red flag). Overruling my objections regarding the big discrepancy in deal volume and sales cycle, our client’s VP of Sales hired this “superstar”. The “superstar” left the company 6 months later having sold nothing.
Hiring a sales person seems to be one of the most difficult hires for early-stage technology companies. Frequently, even hiring a sales person with an outstanding track record does not work out. Is hiring a sales person really that difficult? No, it just requires a disciplined, objective process. In this series, we are going to lay out an approach that has proven highly effective for our clients – all early stage technology companies.
We also frequently see newly hired CEOs and VPs of Sales bring someone with them who was a star at their previous company – only to see that person fail at the new company. Why is this? Did that sales person suddenly become inept? No, it is usually because there was a good fit at the previous company for the sales person and something is different at the new company.
The key to hiring a good sales person is to match the sales person’s skills with your needs. This requires knowing your selling and organizational environment, knowing the sales person’s selling style and preferred environment, and evaluating the sales person’s selling skills in your environment.
Step One: Outline your selling environment.
- What do you sell?
- Is it a product or a service?
- Is it something your buyer has purchased previously? Is it new but similar to something purchased previously? Is it completely new, not like anything purchased previously?
- Is it sold (or positioned) as a solution?
- Who is your buyer?
- What is your target market?
- What is the size or complexity of your typical buyer’s organization?
- How many levels are involved in the purchase?
- Who within your prospect organization is the decision maker?
- Who are the influencers within your prospect organization?
- Who has veto authority?
- What is the price of your product or service?
- Is it expensive or inexpensive for your target market and buyer?
- What is the length of your usual sales cycle?
- What is your typical sales territory?
- Are leads provided or is the sales person responsible for developing their own leads?
- Will the sales person work independently or as part of a team (e.g. are there separate sales support, subject matter experts, and proposal writers)?
Step Two: Outline your organizational environment.
- What size is your organization?
- What is the size of the selling team?
- Is your organization more structured or more entrepreneurial?
- How well defined is your sales process (definition of prospect stages, reporting, reviews, etc.)?
In conclusion, one of the keys to successfully hiring a sales person is to first understand your selling and organizational environments. In our next post, we will discuss understanding the sales person’s selling style and organizational preferences.
Joe Payne (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Managing Director of Integra Search, an Atlanta-based retained search and recruiting consulting firm that serves early-stage technology companies. Joe estimates that he has conducted over 12,000 interviews in his 25 year career in search.
Copyright 2011 by Integra Search, Inc.