One of the questions we get asked most frequently by our portfolio company CEOs is: How can I recruit great sales talent?
Twice a year, we host teaching sessions for our companies on the fundamentals of startup sales management. At those sessions, we offer this advice on recruiting world class revenuers:
The biggest predictor of success is previous success. Winners win. It sounds simple, but is actually a powerful truth. Look for those who have won selling products like yours, in markets like yours, with buyers like yours.
Great musicians want to be in the best band; be who they need you to be. The best want to play among the best. Your company needs to have the kind of potential, the kind of culture, the kind of existing team that the strongest players will see as their kind of environment.
Test belief right up front. Sales people sell, so they tend to be great interviewers and capable of creating a bit of a reality distortion field in face-to-face interactions. Test the commitment of candidates who impress you. Turn the conversation from an interview to a working session as quickly as possible: What prospects should we go visit together? Can I ask you to critique our current deck? Get past the pitch and into the performance before you make any sales commitments.
Trust, but verify; the right candidate with share risk with you. You are a startup; apart from talent and experience, you need key team members who are willing to share risk with you. Test that early. Talk about all the bad things that might happen. Emphasize the lack of money and resources. Play up the dangers. Is the candidate still leaning in? That’s the kind of person you need.
Always be looking for the next great leader in-house. Startup CEOs sometimes get so focused on bringing in high-profile talent that they neglect to see the power right in front of them. We recommend always looking at the current team for the potential next great sales leader. If your CRO went into the hospital tomorrow, who from the team would step forward? Nobody? You need to up the recruiting of your sales team. Identify someone with potential, groom them, get them ready and then give them a chance. Your whole sales team will notice and their behavior with change for the better.
In my next post, I’ll explain how to best recruit sales team members, so stay tuned!
By Managing Partner Mike Edelhart