Best Practices for Hiring with Early-Stage Startups
Sales has no rules, and you must know all of them. This is true in hiring for sales as well. There is no one, perfect “type” of salesperson for all instances. Much depends upon your startup’s objectives at a given time.
Most of the time businesses make the mistake of believing that experience trump’s everything. They are looking for shortcuts to success, and it seems logical that if someone has “done this before,” they’ll be able to repeat their success for your startup. But that isn’t always true, especially for early-stage or expansion-stage startups.
What you really need are pure hunters. You need to hire salespeople who thrive on going out into the wild with only a machete in their hand and cutting a pathway where there never has been one.
In the early stage of a startup you particularly need sales people who can create a concept, a vision, and then understand how to sell that concept. You’re looking for something different than simple experience. You are creating something new, and most experienced salespeople are more comfortable selling a product that they believe in, that they can count on, and that they know is going to deliver.
But in an early-stage startup, the train is going to come off the tracks at some point. You are going to have success and create value for your customers, but, you have a giant learning curve and mistakes will be made. You need sales people who can deal with that learning curve, who are not afraid of prospecting, and who live to hunt and bring in new opportunities. You need salespeople who are story tellers and capable of differentiating your product in the prospect’s eyes.
Your salespeople need to paint the picture that “We’re doing something different here.” That’s what you’re looking for instead of experience. Just because someone has sold software in the past, doesn’t mean they’re going to succeed selling brand new software that is different in the market. And that is true across all markets.
Recruiting the Hunter
In order to hire the hunter, you need to focus on behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. A behavioral-based interview works because it gives you the closest picture of the how your potential hire will behave in real life. When you’re growing your startup, prospecting is vitally important. Your primary goal in the interview is to find out whether or not the potential sales person really is interested and competent to prospect. You might ask questions to understand the behaviors to say,
“Describe for me what a model sales week looks like for you.”
You’ll hear all sorts of answers. Don’t accept vague answers. Instead, press them with a question like
”Specifically, what’s a model week look like. How much time is spent prospecting? How much time is face-to-face with a client or prospect? How much time is actually updating your sales force automation and CRM? Give me a picture of that”
The more you push on, the more you’ll uncover what their real behaviors are going to be.
If you ask behavioral-based questions like, “How do you prospect?” you will get vague answers. Press harder. Ask them exactly how they prospect, what the specific steps are. When you push sales people, you get a much better view of what they’re really willing to do and how they’ll behave when you hire them.
It is your job to dig deeper; everyone looks good on paper. There are very few pure hunters out there, and a startup needs them more than anyone. Sales is an art, and there are fewer and fewer truly great hunter salespeople out there. Tool sets have changed with social media and sales 2.0, and too many salespeople have bought into the myth that inbound marketing absolves them of the responsibility of prospecting. There is a generation of people who are uncomfortable asking for commitments and interrupting and imposing on people by picking up the phone, and the phone is still the fastest way to results. Early-stage and expansion-stage startups need results. Hunters will get them for you.