The Sales Experience

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Building a Winning Sales Team with the Right People

January 2, 2015

Revenade leaders, Scott and Tim, discuss insights about how selecting the right people for the right roles helps businesses operate to the best of their abilities.


Hello and welcome to the Sales Experience, a podcast where we will share insights, lessons learned, and best practices from sales leaders. Each session we will do our best to provide experienced based information that you can immediately apply to help your company grow its top line.


Hi, this is Sarah, and today we’re going to be continuing our series on people, process, and technology. Last time we talked about how process and technology seamlessly work together. So today we’re going to be picking up where we left last time with people.

Before we dive in, let’s take a brief look at this day in business history where we highlight a key event that took place on this day.

This day in business history marks the birthday of the Rose Bowl. Since 1902, the Rose Bowl has been a definitive marker of college football excellence. Along with providing entertainment for millions of households across the nation New Year’s Day, the Rose Bowl serves as a sponsorship mecca. Sponsors pay up to $20 million dollars to get their name tacked on as a presenter of this famous game, and corporations dole out big bucks for commercials, up to a million dollars for 30 seconds, but it’s well worth it. An estimated 35 million viewers will be tuning in to this year’s game and over a hundred thousand attending the event live. So if you’re looking to get your company’s out there, this isn’t a bad marketing strategy.


Sarah:                Now I’d like to take a minute to introduce our current guests, Scott Williamson and Tim Phillips, from Revenade. Scott Williamson’s the founder of Revenade and serves as the firms managing partner, and his partner at Revenade is Tim Phillips, who serves as the managing director. Thank you both so much for joining us today.


Scott:                  Sarah, it’s great to be here again.


Tim:                    Thanks, Sarah! Good to be with you.


Sarah:                Great! Well, Scott and Tim, we all know that people are really important to selling, and, in this industry, there’s kind of a huge turnover rate as far as sales people and sales leaders go. What are some red flags and common mistakes in finding the right sales people for your organizations?


Scott:                  So, you know, Tim and I talk about this all the time with our clients. In fact, we’ve talked about it internally as well, and hiring a sales person is a very, very difficult thing. When you think about it, sales people, in general, are very good at talking about how good they are. And so the best sales job that a sales person will ever do is in the interview cycle. Every deal that was ever closed at every company they’ve ever worked at in the past is automatically attributed to them. So the challenge in any organization that’s trying to hire a sales person is to get that interview cycle correct, and that’s very, very difficult.


                           Now, Tim, you’ve interviewed many, many people in the past. You’ve hired lots of people. What are you seeing as some of the common pitfalls in that process?


Tim:                    Well, I think there are several pitfalls, but last cast this, if we may, in terms of best practices that people can use. Number one is really understanding what type of sales person we need at what point in time given the evolution or the maturity of our organization. So this ties back fully to our last conversation, Sarah, on process and why we said we really need to define what is our sales process, and what are the roles that are required to manage that process? That, then, leads us to know what type of sales person do we need to be looking for?


                           So, let me give you some examples of different types of sales people. We all have heard of the term the hunter and the farmer. A hunter is someone who goes out and sells new deals and closes new opportunities with new customers or clients. Whereas a farmer, on the other hand, is more of an account manager that scales that relationships and sells the depth and breadth of our product and services to a particular customer.


                           Well, we need to know where we are in our evolution as a business. Should we be hiring hunters to go out and find more good customers? Or do we have enough customers, but we’re just not selling enough of our entire suite of products or services, and we need an account manager? And what I’ve found is, as much as we would like the unicorn, if you will, that everyone is seeking, is someone who can do both of those things equally well. And in my experience, that is a very rare, if ever to be found, individual. People are either very good hunters or they’re very good farmers. So, step one is let’s decide where we are, which one we need.


                           Second thing is the interview process itself needs to be much more structured in terms of asking questions to really reveal is this person a hunter or a farmer from the answers that they give us and then making sure that not just one individual is interviewing the candidate, but an entire team of individuals, and that they’re all asking the same questions in those interviews. And we could use different phrasing in the question, but it’s structured in such a way that we’re looking for consistency and that throughout the interviews, as we come together at the end of the day, they have a round table to review the results. Was there consistency in the answers that the candidate gave us? And do those answers support our belief collectively that this is the type of individual that we’re looking for and we need?


Scott:                  And I think those are really good points. One thing I’d add to that is that the maturity of the organization I think you talked about is important. I think a lot of times, especially with smaller companies, but I’ve seen this from big companies as well, I mean with multi-billion dollar, multinational companies, we’re so desperate to fill a position, whether we’ve gone through the appropriate analysis that Tim talked about to say this is the type of person we need or not, that we’re looking for love in all the wrong places. We’re trying to find somebody who we’re going to turn into this person we want, this unicorn that you talked about. And so one of the things I’ve seen people do very effectively, one of the things that, actually, we’ve helped people with is having an outside party be a part of that interview cycle so that the outside party who’s not necessarily tied to the fact that that person has to get hired can say, you know what? This person is the wrong person or, in fact, say this person is the right person.


                           A lot of times, especially, again, with small companies, you get a certain culture that evolves that is so pervasive that it may, in fact, keep the right sales person from being hired. So I think that having an outside party is very important in that cycle. And then I just can’t emphasize enough what Tim talked about, which is making sure that you really understand the type of role you’re trying to fit so that you can identify the appropriate person for that.


Tim:                    And I think the other big pitfall, if you will, and this is just human nature, is we unknowingly, at an unconscious level, we tend to look for and we hire ourself. And ourself, especially if we’re the business owner or the CEO, and we’re hiring a sales person, or more importantly a sales leader, I don’t need to be hiring myself. I need to be hiring a sales leader that has the experience and the expertise and the abilities that compliment me that satisfy that leadership role, not simply when he said all the answers just as if I’d answered them if I’d have been asked that question, which is really, again, tends to fall in that trap of human nature.


                           As Scott said, and I’ll echo that, having an outside, objective third party that doesn’t have as near a vested interest in the hire is really a good practice to find the right person.


Sarah:                That all makes a lot of sense. So what exactly—what kind of characteristics would you look in to kind of like find your ideal sales person.


Scott:                 Yeah, I think that’s good, right. We’re all looking for, and Tim talked about the unicorn, but we’re all looking for that ideal candidate. To me, and this is something that, you know, unfortunately for those around us, people have heard Tim and me debate about this on and on over the years, but I think we agree that, you know, there are a core set of characteristics, regardless of whether somebody’s a hunter or a farmer, the scout that we’ve talked about in days gone by, etc., whatever role they’re in, organization is a key skill in any sales role. You can’t just do this stuff winging it. You can to a certain extent, and there are people who are amazingly good at impromptu sales, but when you get into the world of compound complex sales, where you’ve got multiple parties, you’ve got different buyer sets inside of an organization, you’re dealing with procurement, you’re dealing with executives, you’re dealing with technical members of the selection committee, you’ve got to be very, very organized.


                           And when you think about it, organization’s not just about doing to do lists. Organization is about really understanding what the end goal is, what the process is to get to A to Z through that, and being able to understand how to prioritize things. And prioritization is, I wish we were teaching this in school sometimes as opposed to some of the things we teach our kids, but prioritization is all about being able to say no. We have to be able to say no to certain things. So, for instance, if I’ve got a list of 20 different things that I have on my to do list, there may be certain things that I’m just going to say no to, which means that I’m going to have to deal with a certain amount of conflict inside my internal organization or in the company I’m selling to, but that’s okay. I just need to go ahead and prioritize those things.


                           And then, the second part of organization is making sure that I have the follow through throughout that process, once I’ve got my to do list of A to Z that I’m actually executing on that all the way through and that I am persistent enough to carry something all the way through, regardless of what types of road blocks get in my way. So that’s probably the first thing I would point to.


Tim:                    I think the other thing that is really needed is you do have to have good interpersonal skills. You have to have the ability to establish rapport with people. But beyond that, I’ve found that most of the highly successful sales people that I’ve had the opportunity to work with have an innate sense of curiosity.


Scott:                 Yeah.


Tim:                    And they have a curiosity around what are the motivations and behaviors of other people, and how can I understand those to position whatever my good or service or product may be to help them. It’s a combination of curiosity and care, if you will. They have a genuine sense of care in helping the customer or client to solve a problem and that their product or service is going to make their life easier or better and then the ability to communicate that clearly.


The last thing I would add to that would be you have to be nimble. You have to have the ability to think on your feet. You have to be able to answer questions, not necessarily in a robotic fashion, but really asking a question of the questioner to get understanding behind what is the real root of the question? What is the issue, and why is this person asking the question so that I’m really answering and satisfying that versus simply being right in the answer that I give? So, it would be very nice if we had a spec sheet for the ideal sales person, and unfortunately, we can create characteristics and attributes, but we’re dealing with people, and so we have to look at the skills and strengths and abilities of those individuals that align with characteristics and attributes versus specifications.


Scott:                  A couple of things I’d add to that. I completely agree with what Tim’s saying. I’d also add, though, that I’m really looking for driven, goal oriented people. I want somebody who is not satisfied with just good enough because it’s way too competitive an environment. And whether it’s one person against another salesperson, so to speak, or it’s our company competing with another company, you can just never rest, in a sense. So I’m looking for somebody who is driven, and when I say driven, I don’t necessarily mean that they want to make the most money. Great, if they want to make money, good. Sales is a good profession for that. I’m talking about people who want to succeed at what they do.


                           We’ll talk here in a little bit, I’m assuming, about some of the ways in which we would ferret some of that out on the interview cycle, but I want that person who wants to see that they are achieving everything they can possibly achieve and not just being good enough.


Sarah:                Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I know we’ve kind of just been talking about the regular sales person, but I know a lot of companies also struggle with finding good sales leaders and managers. How do those characteristics shift from finding the ideal sales leader versus salesperson?


Tim:                    Well, the biggest mistake we always see is, and it’s done with the right spirit, in that we want to reward people that have demonstrated consistent performance and achievement, and many times what that, in the sales world, means is we’re going to promote the top selling salesperson to be the sales manager. And often times what we find is we don’t ever consider the salesperson that they really aspire or want to be a manager or a leader within the organization. We simply assume that, and many times what we do is we almost, we make two mistakes in that. One is that we take our number one, top producing sales person, and put them into a managerial role, taking them out of the production cycle. And the second thing is many times those individuals don’t have the right skills, management skills and people skills to be effective. Moreover, managing self is far, far different than managing others.


                           And I think the other key thing that we’ve got to take into consideration when having that conversation with people is allowing them, as Scott said, to have the polite no thank you. I appreciate the opportunity for the promotion, but I really enjoy selling. And that they don’t somehow feel that they will be penalized for not taking that leadership or management role and that they will continue to be successful in that individual contributor role. I think in a lot of organizations, again, it’s assumption, a sense of meritocracy, but we want to make sure that we’re putting the right people in the right role for the right reasons for us to be successful.


Scott:                 Yeah, and there’s some characteristics of a great sales person, I think, that translate naturally into a great sales leader. I still think those organization skills are paramount because now you’re organizing more strategic things as opposed to individual sales opportunities and the tasks that it takes to close that deal. So I think organization skills, those transfer very nicely into a sales leader. I think the driven nature also translates nicely. I think the curiosity you talked about, the nimbleness also translates into that. But the biggest difference that I see in successful sales leaders versus those who aren’t are the ones who are able to actually enable their team to succeed. So it’s not about the sales leader. The success of the sales leader comes from the success of the team. So the sales leader’s able to get in there and help the new sales reps understand how to sell, why they’re doing what they’re doing and get better at what they’re doing there. Help the seasoned sales reps by reducing any institutional friction. And so your A++ sellers, you just want to get out of their way. You want to make sure the organization does not impede what they’re doing. The ones who are on the bubble, you want to try to find a way to coach them and get them to be more successful. The ones who are bad, hey, guess what, life’s tough. We’re going to have to get you out of the organization. So they have that ability to coach and drive all the way through.


Sarah:                Thanks for sharing, guys. So I know we’ve talked a lot today about kind of finding the right people and putting them in the right roles, but in order to find the right people, this goes back to the interview process. What are kind of some of your favorite interview questions to ask sales people or sales leaders and why?


Tim:                    Great. First of all, I’m a process person, as we talked about in the last conversation we had. And so typically when someone comes in, I like to set out the structure of what we’re going to do and what we’re going to talk about. So I would say, Sarah, I’m glad to meet with you today, and let me share with you, we have 30 minutes, or 45, whatever it may be. What I’d like to do is take the first third of our time and really get to know you far beyond just the words on your resume. Second third is I’d like to share with you what this role is that you’re interviewing for to make sure that we have alignment in that in terms of what your aspirations are. And then the third third, which will probably be the most valuable third, is for you to ask any questions of me that you may have, and so at the end of the day, we’re going to know, in the investment of that short amount of time if there’s really a fit here and if it’s worthy of going onto the next step. Does that sound fair?


                           So then, what I typically do is I like to—the first question I like to ask people is one of two questions. One is, so Sarah, tell me, if you will, what do you believe? And then invoke the power of silence because that question really comes from a different perspective. In that, usually the secondary answer to that is about what? You tell me. What is a core belief that you have? What do you believe? And then see where people go from there.


                           A more traditional approach is, so, tell me about Sarah. And usually the secondary answer in that is where do you want me to begin? And the answer to that is always, anywhere you want to. And then from that is, what I really want to see, is if the person can start to try, the trial closes in taking control of the interview from me is what I really want to see.


Scott:                 Yeah, I agree with that. Maybe an alternative approach to this is, and this depends on the experience level of the role you’re looking to hire. If you’re hiring somebody who’s in the first half of their career, I think it’s incumbent upon the interviewer to take more control up front, lay out the structure that Tim talks about. If you’re interviewing somebody who’s more experienced, hey, let’s face it, when Tim or I or anybody else who’s a sales professional goes out to sell a product or a service to our clients, we don’t just show up and wait for them to interview us. Right? And when the sales person’s coming in to interview, yes, it’s a two way street. We’re trying to sell our company. They’re trying to sell their skills and their experience. But I would expect a more experienced salesperson to call me before the interview, to do research, to ask questions, to understand what my expectations are. So in my respects, before that person’s even stepped in the door, I know whether or not they’re in the plus or the minus column because I can tell if they’ve done a lot of inquisitive, driven, organized research on me, working with me before they even step foot in the door, okay? Then I know that they’re really serious about this job. If they just show up and I’ve got their resume, and they expect me to drive the conversation, they’ve got a long and steep hill in front of them. I’m probably not going to hire them.


                           So I look at it a lot, not just based on the interview itself, but what preparation do they do before and what engagement do they have with me before that meeting if that’s more of a sales leader or a very experienced sales person.


Tim:                    The other thing I’d add to that, and I like Scott’s approach there very much, especially with the seasoned senior sales people, especially sales leader candidates, is I really want to find out, if I had that section in there on questions, I want to see what kind of questions they ask of me.


Scott:                  I agree.


Tim:                    The lame candidate or the thin candidate, if you will, is the person without prompting might say, well, this has been great. I really don’t have any questions. If you don’t have questions, we’ve just wasted our time. I want to hear really powerful, thoughtful, how and why questions of me that move me to think and express opinion so they, then, can align and position themselves with their value to make a fit and to close me.


Sarah:                Thank you guys for your input. You know, it really seems like surrounding yourselves with good people is the most critical resource for success along with process and technology. Looks like we’re kind of running out of time, so I’d like to thank Scott and Tim for joining us today to share their experience and best practices for sales. We hope you enjoyed this session, and we look forward to seeing you on our next Podcast as we continue our journey through the world of sales.


Tim:                   Thanks, Sarah! That was fun.


Scott:                 Appreciate it, Sarah.


For more information on Revenade’s Sales Predictability Model, or to see a transcript of this Podcast, visit our website at You can also find free best practices on our YouTube channel.