The Sales Experience

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How to Hire New Sales People

April 9, 2015

Revenade Sales Leaders discuss the best ways to hire new sales talent.


Hello and welcome to the Sales Experience. A semi-monthly podcast where we will share insights, lessons learned and best practices from top sales leaders. Each episode will provide experience based information that can be immediately applied to help your company grow its top line.

Sarah:                My name is Sarah Lohrmann and I will be your host and moderator on your journey through the world of sales. To kick things off today, I’m going to be talking to two of Revenade’s sales leaders about a topic that’s becoming increasingly more important across the country, how to hire new sales people. But first, let’s start with a brief look at this day in business history where we’re gonna highlight a key event that took place on this day.


                           On this day in business history in 1867, the U.S. made a significant business decision and ratified a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska. This purchase allowed the U.S. to add over 586,000 square miles of new territory for only two cents an acre. Today, Alaska helps boost the U.S. economy through their oil, natural gas and fishing histories. Definitely not a bad purchase.


                          Now I’d like to welcome back Scott Williamson and Tim Phillips from Revenade. Both Scott and Tim have been featured on previous segments of our podcast and we’re so glad to have them back with us today. Thank you both so much for joining us.


Scott:                 Thanks for being here.


Tim:                   Thanks for having us, Sarah, good to be with you.


Sarah:                Alright, so let’s say I’m a CEO of a new technology company looking to on-board new sales talent. What’s the first thing I should do and where do I go from there?


Scott:                 That’s a great question, you know, we get that a lot from entrepreneurs who find Revenade either though this podcast or webinars or just web searches and the interesting thing is that a lot of times, entrepreneurs are sales people and they have passion around a particular piece of technology, it could be hardware, could be software, could be some integration of those line of services. And they think it is whatever they’re representing is the single most powerful solution in the world and anybody ought to be able to sell it. In fact, words that we hear a lot are that it’s as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, that you just need to go out there, next thing you know, the sales are going to fall from the sky like manna from heaven and that’s almost always not the truth.


In fact, sales is just not an easy profession to start with, then you add on to the fact that the company’s brand new, then you add on to the fact of that that it's a technology oriented firm where by definition, you’re going to be selling a combination of technology related solutions and not just price based sale, it becomes very, very difficult. So the first thing to understand is sales is not easy and you will in fact have to find somebody who’s experienced and knows really how to sell.


The second thing to understand, and one of the most common mistakes that startup CEOs make is they think well I need to go find somebody with a book of business. And so they hire some crusty individual who comes to them, they find them through their network, this person says I’ve got a large Rolodex of people or a large contact list in today’s world, I’ve got lots of connections on LinkedIn and I’m gonna find a way to get you in the door. Chances are, unless that person came to you, say, from a VC or through kind of a net worth arrangement, they don’t have that book of contacts and chances are if they did, they wouldn’t be talking to you because if they’re that valuable, they can get their money elsewhere.


So what you really want to do is find somebody who is seasoned and experienced, it’s not somebody who’s brand new. A person who’s brand new, which is one of the other problems we see new CEOs get into is they’ll go out and they’ll think in terms of cheap. So they’ll get somebody who’s inexpensive we see probably in the first half of their career and they think okay, again, it’s easy to sell product and so I’ll get somebody new and off I go, but you want somebody who’s a combination of those. You want somebody who’s probably in the first half of his or her career yet has 10 plus years of experience, who has a technology background or a technology sales background and you want that person to be someone who you would consider a partner in the business because chances are, you’re going to give them some sort of an equity stake or a minimum something like options for them to be able to participate in the growth of the company.


You also need to think about that person not just as a sales person today but somebody who can be a sales leader as the company grows. So initially out of the chute, the CEO is going to be doing a lot of the sales, he’s going to bring in—or he or she is gonna bring in whoever this sales player-slash-coach is, those two people will go out and do most of the sales but that person needs to be capable of growing your company. And so I think those are some of the key factors in that process.


Sarah:                Thanks, Scott. So as your company continues to grow, what traits do you think employers should really look for whenever they’re hiring new sales people?


Tim:                   Great question, Sarah. As we’ve dealt with a lot of clients and ourselves hiring hundreds of sales people, there are some unique characteristics and traits that the top performing 1% sales people all seem to have. Now there aren’t any universal truths in this but we were in an interview the other day with a CEO and it almost took all the air out of the room when we asked, so the last sales person that you hired, why did you hire them? And his answer was, he made me laugh. And yes, being affable and having a personality that’s engaging is a good characteristic to have as a sales professional and having a personality that will give you the ability to establish a rapport with someone is very important.


                           So there’s some foundational traits that all top 1% sales people have that we’ve found over time that are very important and the key thing to remember is someone’s interviewing for a job whether it be a sales position or any position, that’s going to be the best sales job that they’re doing in order to get that job. So we want to peel back the layers, if you will, in the questions that we’re asking in the interview process, and several things we need to find in terms of those foundational elements are people that have a positive mental attitude, people that have the ability to find opportunity and solutions in any situation and in that, they’re tenacious.

                          There’s an old adage that the sale doesn’t start until the first no is uttered. And it’s very true and so we want to find people that can handle not only the no but someone that might actually push back a little bit on them or find fault in what they’re doing or what they’re saying that they have the resiliency and tenacity to come back again with that positive mental attitude and showing that there’s an alternative or different opportunity or solution to what we’re trying to do.


                          The other thing we find with sales people, and many times people gravitate towards, well I’m a people person so that means that I’m going to be good at sales. Maybe, maybe not and the reason I say that is, probably more important than being a people person per se, is someone that is a disciplined person because sales, quite frankly, is a very complex process. There’s multiple stages and understanding that process and looking at it in terms of how do I manage that process in discipline and investment in my time? And finding opportunities that are really bona fide opportunities that allow me to be an extremely disciplined, deep qualifier so that I move on instead of being polyan-ish or viewing every opportunity is, well I’m gonna close this one, is really what separates the true professional from the amateur sales person.


                          The other real key element that you have to have to be an effective sales person is you have to have very strong math skills. You have to have the ability to—not only when it comes to pricing but also looking at what can I do in terms of discounts and percentages, looking at my quota, how do I break that down, and then how do I manage each of those, again, in a structured and disciplined manner? Again, the key thing that every sales person needs to have is strong communications skills. One of the big mistakes we see oftentimes is that we may interview someone for a position but we don’t use the right type of interview for that position.


                           Let me give you a real example. We have someone who’s selling product and it's a pure inside sales position that will be done either online or in combination with the phone. There’s really no need to interview that person in person if it’s not required that they’re selling in person. Correspondingly, the inverse of that is if what I sell is a complex sale and it requires a life demonstration or requires that this person have C-level executive presence, then by all means, I want to see that person in action and in that interview process actually demo-ing my product or service in order to earn the position.


                           I think the other thing we want to look for is someone that has a consistent track record of success. Now that includes selling success so in you prior role, what is that you sold, did you meet your quota, did you exceed your quota, if so, how much and so maybe for those that are entry level sales people that have not had much sales experience. One of the times that many reasons people hire college graduates, it’s not so much that they received this great body of knowledge earning a degree, what it really demonstrates, this is someone who can take a process with a defined goal in a period of time and they can follow the requisite requirements to earn a college degree. That shows someone who can make a commitment, follow through and meet the requisite requirements to do that.


                           Am I saying that everyone, to be successful in sales, needs to have a college degree? Absolutely not, but that’s an indicator—and looking for those, what have you accomplished in your life, what are some of the key milestones or achievements that you had that you’re most proud of? And then tying back into that, what were some of the challenges that you had to overcome in order to attain that? The other thing, the last thing I will say is very, very important and becoming more important is very strong written communication as well as Microsoft Office tools and capabilities, using those tools to present a professional proposal; everything from Word to PowerPoint to Excel and having those baseline skills in order to be successful, so those are just some of the keys.


                           Again, the leap of faith hire simply because wow, I really like this person and it was an engaging conversation and it made me laugh, probably the biggest pitfall that we see. The other thing is, I would recommend and suggest that multiple people within the organization interview the candidate and in that process, that they all ask the same questions of the candidate to look for consistency and continuity in the answers so that in your debrief, you have the ability to come together and make sure that there’s alignment and different people aren’t getting different answers just for consistency.


Sarah:                Thanks, Tim. I know that identifying traits can be really key in your sales success. Since the recession, I know that there’s been a lot of big variety of different age groups that are entering or reentering the workforce. What are, really, the pros and cons of hiring a newcomer versus seasoned sales people?


Tim:                    Excellent question. At a very base level, there are pros and cons to both but I’d say that the biggest pro to hiring a new hire that has minimal, if any, experience is that you are hiring that individual and they don’t have any bad habits that have to be undone or retrained, they’re more of a clean slate. So if your sales organization is a process driven organization, you have key performance indicators, metrics and are very organized and can train this individual, that lends itself to hiring the new hire.


                          On the other hand, if I don’t have those types of things in place, let’s say I’m more of a startup and to what Scott talked about in the earlier question, I would tend to gravitate more towards the experienced hire but I really want to be focused and intentional and making sure that that individual is a good cultural fit with the rest of the members of my team with the organization.


One thing that can be highly destructive is as Scott was describing is I have this master network or Rolodex, I can sell anything, I’ll go sell it, don’t call me, I’ll call you when we’re ready to close and then they go out and you don’t hear from them and they’re this lone wolf, you’re always wondering, well when are they gonna close a deal, or six months into this and we’ve hired somebody, have not seen any tangible results and as a result, there’s usually a failing and a parting of the ways. Scott, what do you think?


Scott:                 Yeah I think what you said is right. Some other things that come to mind is I think about this, I mean, some obvious things, a newcomer, somebody who’s in the first, say, third of their career in sales is gonna be cheaper. Chances are, depending on what you sell, they’re not gonna sell as much as somebody who’s more experienced. If they’re more experienced, obviously they’re gonna be a little bit more expensive for you. I do think though that it depends a lot on what you’re selling. So it really kind of goes back to that first question you asked me, Sarah, in that if you’re selling something that’s a lower dollar figure, a lot of times the people who are newcomers in the market are a better fit because you’re selling a lower dollar product, whether it's a software product, hardware or whatever or giving a service, it's more of a numbers game. You’ve got to crank through many, many, many prospects before you finally get to somebody who’s a lead, before you finally convert that lead into a qualified lead and then work that all the way through the funnel to close.


                          Somebody who’s more experienced has probably already been through that, okay? And so correspondingly, they don’t want that type of sale and they’re probably not going to put the effort out there to be able to really succeed in that market. So I’d say if it’s a lower dollar sale that requires more of a numbers approach to how you sell, then a newcomer probably has a lot of pluses there.


Kind of following along with what you said, Tim, about a clean slate, the person who’s in the earlier part of their career doesn’t know what they don’t know. And so they might blissfully walk into the line of fire with a market that nobody else would touch and they somehow find a way to pull it out and succeed, right? And so I don’t mean this as a condescending thing but they’re somewhat childlike in their view of the world and sometimes that can be really, really good; now contrast that with the experienced person.


I had lunch yesterday with the CEO of a $50 million software and services firm and he was expressing his frustration with some of his staff who are client facing from a sales point of view, account growth and new sales point of view. Like I said, we sell to vice presidents of these gas processing plants and chemical plants and things like that and somebody who walks in the door who’s 25 years old who’s super, super bright, very articulate and very, very good and will have a long and fruitful career. But they don’t have enough years of experience for the buyer to take them seriously.


So sometimes, especially in a very complicated, high dollar sale, you need to get somebody who’s more experienced because that person has to portray the image that you’re trying to get out there in front of your clients to show that you can sit at the same table with them, you’ve earned your right to be in the club and so that’s why you’re there talking to them. So I think it kind of depends on the product and some of the service depends on the stage of the company.


Sarah:                Thanks, those are some really good insights. My last question is, how do you see technology playing a role in all of this? Like do you advise people to search for talent online, use social media or do you think that face-to-face interactions are more beneficial?


Scott:                  Very interesting. I think the technology has dramatically changed the face of business in the last five years alone and when you look back longer than that, the change is exponential. Even five years ago when we were interviewing people, the job boards ruled big up on the internet, people posted their jobs on Monster, Get Jobs or whatever. But what’s interesting with those job boards is that they’ve gone through the normal type of evolution that you expect with any type of new offering like that. And it used to be that you could actually get a lot of people off those boards, and you still can, but I think what’s also happened is there’s been sort of a stratification of different types of job boards, so now the general job boards may be useful for certain types of roles but there are job boards now on the internet that are specifically focused towards sales and there are different online offerings that are specifically focused to industries so there’s a mix between those things.


                           So I think that the online technology can be extremely useful in terms of casting a broad net if you want to, with general boards. You can also line—cast a very focused—one line in the water with some of these online boards. The thing to understand though is that frankly, there’s no substitute for a face-to-face interaction unless of course as Tim talked about earlier, where you’re hiring for somebody who’s just going to be on the phones. But if you’re looking to hire an outside sales person, somebody who’s going to be in front of your clients in whatever stage of the sales cycle, we strongly recommend that you do the face-to-face interaction with them and that you use the internet and other technology to help you draw those people in.


                          You know, something that we’ve found has been very meaningful in creating sales people, the best sales people are already employed unless you just happen to be one of those sales people in a company that’s failed or you’re tired of that company, that does happen. But more often than not, the best sales people are already employed. So how do you find those people? They’re not necessarily out on a job board, right, and in that case, you might look to LinkedIn, you might do searches inside of LinkedIn for the types of companies you want to be like, right? Maybe you’re competitors or maybe a company that you have a very high admiration for in a related but different market but you might do some LinkedIn searching for them.


                           So LinkedIn can be an extremely useful tool for that and then I also think there’s a series of screening technologies you can use. We know—we have one client who hired somebody with a criminal background and they were not aware of that. And so that hasn’t changed in the last 20 or 30 years, right? You still need to give fundamentals and basics, which is make sure that if somebody walks in the door and they put a resume in front of you and it looks fantastic that there’s actual truth behind that and so we still strongly recommend that people go and do the basic blocking and tackling for that.


                           But technology does give you the ability to screen these people before they come in the door, we’ve all heard a million times, it bears repeating, go look for their LinkedIn profile, go look for their Facebook profile, go look for whatever the new whiz bang site of day is that people paste their pictures or their comments on and understand that if you’re not doing that, your clients might be. And so your clients may find that Joe or Jane who walks in the door and looks like a million bucks, who can throw three or four sentences together like it's music, may in fact have some personal habits that they don’t like, so that’s always going to be out there. Tim, what are some things you’ve seen?


Tim:                    I think I want to take this question from a different perspective because you were doing it from how am I finding the needles in the haystack and I thought that was really good advice. I think the other thing we have to be very aware of is the Gen Y Millennials that are going to be coming into this—that are already here and are going to continue to come into the work force and the increasing disproportionate rate and I think it’s imperative that as a business owner or a CEO that your website and beyond your website, your online presence be attractive and engaging to the highest value perspective, sales people that you’re wanting to bring into your organization because the Gen Y Millennials are the researchers. Simply because you posted a want ad on a job board maybe five or 10 years ago would get you a basketful of resumes that you sort out and go through, call down to the top three.


Think of this metaphor, I want to create a magnet that attracts the needles out of the haystack to me instead of having to dive into the haystack to find the needles. And it has to be the consistency and the message of who we are, what our culture is, is this someplace that best people want to work at? Is there meaning to what we do beyond just yeah, I can make a lot of money with my commissions, so on and so forth, that’s but a part of it. And I think the technology today—and you mentioned several of the channels, from LinkedIn to Facebook, Pinterest, all these other things, we need to be very thoughtful not just in our marketing to sell our products and services but to attract and then to retain the very best people that we can find. And going forward, it’s going to be more and more important. What do you think?


Scott:                 Yeah I agree, I think—I really, really like the needle in the haystack example. We have a client who two years ago, couldn’t hire people because nobody knew who they were. And so working with them, we posted job positions out on the various boards, we use outside computers, all the traditional mechanisms. Over the last few years, we’ve really focused on helping them increase the brand and in doing that, an unintended consequence of that was that all of a sudden, we get people submitting resumes to us. So the best people, the people we really want are finding us as opposed to us having to find them. So again, I think it’s a really good point and I appreciate the question, Sarah.


Tim:                   Yeah I think the last point I’d make on that is as a general recruiting process is leverage the law of like attraction. If you have a top sales person, look where that person came from, who are their friends and who are their colleagues where they worked before and recruit those. Find those people because it’s just the natural law of physics, water sinks to its own level, people are attracted to people of a like type and if you found a good one someplace, go back to that place and hire more.


That’s why many times, we talked early on about the characteristics and attributes we’re looking for and the baseline base level of discipline, showing up on time, being ready to work, being focused, requiring minimal supervision. I think that’s another key one we didn’t talk about but especially if you’re a startup CEO, that person is going to need to be very disciplined and focused and self-sufficient. So where would we find that type of individual? Prior service military. That’s another key area to look for.


So all of these things, there are no magic bullets, if you will, but it’s very important to look at it holistically and look for the characteristics and attributes of what it is that we’re trying to sell and where we are in the evolution of our business that will tell us and help us in finding, attracting, retaining and growing a team of sales professionals of a stable business enterprise.


Sarah:                I think we’re just about out of time now, thank you guys so much for all the great advice and insights today. Thanks again, Scott and Tim, for joining us to share your experience and best practices for sales. We hope that you guys 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.


Scott:                 Take care, Sarah.

For more information on Revenade’s sales predictability model, sales playbook or to see a transcript of this podcast, visit our website at You can also find best practices on our YouTube channel.