Sales tales: recruiting Sales Reps — It’s Amateur Hour

Stephen Allott
Jun 30 · 8 min read

Today’s tale: “Top ten pro tips to catch the best — amateurs get the rest”

By Stephen Allott, Venture Partner, Seedcamp

At our sellout Seedcamp Sales Engine Builder workshops, 8 portfolio CEOs each bring their top sales issue to share with the group. Not only do they solve their personal pressing puzzle but also they hear their peers’ sales tales, taking home 8 separate pieces of wisdom.

Being practical though, it’s the hot bacon white crusty roll with coffee and with conversation that they really like. And this time the inspiring JF Kennedy Rice University Apollo speech got everyone off to a great start. It’s the best goal statement of all time in only a 3 minute video. A perfect thing to show your sales team at your next quarterly sales kickoff.

Recruiting rock-star sales reps is still the hottest topic in our portfolio. Attracting top candidates into the recruiting funnel is obviously the first step on the way to success. No rockstar candidates. No rockstar hires. So how do you do attract the best?

First: make a pitch deck for the role. Recruiters tell me that this is an original innovation and best in class. It works. The reason you need a pitch deck is that top talent has a wide choice of opportunities with bigger, better established companies. To persuade them to join you, you have to sell to them. You are selling not buying as top talent make their career investment decisions. A pitch deck is also a great way of briefing a recruitment agency or network contact on why your opportunity is hot. Here is one of our best.

Second; You are selling not buying. Use this checklist of what the best are looking for in a job when writing your pitch deck and your web job ads.

  • Money:
  • Join the winner in a growth market:
  • Be compensated by a generous uncapped commission plan
  • Work for trustworthy management who won’t change the rules just when you are about to make a fortune
  • Learning
  • Be coached by a good manager (the top development lever) on how to be a better sales professional
  • Attend industry best in class sales training
  • Be around other great people
  • Fun
  • Feel the team spirit around a common goal
  • Celebrate success
  • Enjoy quarterly kickoffs and regular off sites

Here is how a deck pitches the opportunity for reps to make money.

Third; don’t use an old HR style Job Description to advertise your role. Why does anyone do that? Any decent candidate knows what sales-people do. Why spell out the job content of a sales job in detail …. “Make calls on prospects. Record data in the CRM. Make 50 dials” …. The tedium of all those bullet points would put anyone off the company. Do however define the job succinctly. Things like: Territory rep. Full cycle. Direct sale. Desk based. But you don’t have to spell out in baby language what a sales person does during their day. Here is a classic example of one of those HR JDs.

“The Sales Manager is a critical sales-leader role.

The Sales Manager will carry an annual sales quota as well as build, coach and lead a sales team to achieve triple-digit growth and business profitability. We’ve currently got a healthy pipeline of opportunities to convert. Specifically, this field sales role will involve:

  1. Building durable relationships and inspiring trust and confidence with users, decision makers and other stakeholders of all levels of seniority at target customers.
  2. Drive consistent new revenue growth by managing the field sales cycle end-to-end (including prospecting, qualifying, product demos, running pilots and closing sales) as well as working with our Customer Success team to convert opportunities for growth on existing accounts.
  3. Advising the team on streamlining the sales cycle and adopting, where appropriate, process management tools to increase efficiency across the pipeline.
  4. Helping the founding team to recruit, coach and develop a sales team and build a culture that can attract, grow and retain talented sales individuals.
  5. Understanding product roadmap and company strategy, working collaboratively with the product manager with an eye for identifying future commercial opportunities.”

This pitch deck slide covers the role definition crisply.

Fourth, make clear you want the top guns. If you don’t ask you won’t get them. Great candidates will identify with and recognise themselves in your language.

Fifth; to source candidates, spread your net far and wide. Post on your own website, on Angel list and similar boards, discover candidates on Linked In and pay generously for staff referrals. The ad below talks about the amazing team beating competition head to head with a product that sells itself and with churn less than 1%. Sounds good and it is.

Sixth, cut out the BD BS. Get your job titles straight. BD sounds like a nasty disease. It’s certainly has been spreading like one. “Sales” is what you want. Sales people do sales. What is this “Business Development” role some people ask for. Some-one who doesn’t sell? Some-one who can’t sell? Sort of fluffy talking to customers?

Sales top guns want to do sales. To get the best, the job title must be “sales”. No offence to you BD professionals, whatever it is that you do. Googling BD turns up all sorts of different things. BD can even mean completely non sales things like talking to integration partners, office administration or even M & A.

Then there is the “manager” confusion and the title inflation. In fact there are so many synonymous job titles that I maintain a taxonomy for reference by our portfolio to demystify what is meant. Does “sales manager” mean they manage sales in their territory or manage a team of sales people? It’s a massive difference. I have even seen “director” used to mean a territory rep. Of course, people use “sales manager” because they think “sales representative” is demeaning. So “Sales Executive” is now commonplace and sounds more prestigious in the eyes of a customer and their mother in law.

You can mix and match “Account” and “Sales” with “Executive”, “Representative”, “Manager” and “Director” to make 8 permutations all meaning a territory rep. How about just using “Sales” on your email signature?

Be clear not coy.

Seventh; beware the IBM, Oracle or Salesforce veteran in an early stage start-up. Even ones who have consistently made quota. They won’t be “Sales Naturals” who can invent a sales process as they go along, like a Founder has to. If you do decide to interview one of these ex Oracle crew, ask them how the sales process in a start-up might be different to what they are used to. Especially when they don’t have a big brand to help get meetings.

Eighth, amateurs ask me what interview questions to use. Although your questions are important, it’s the questions the candidates ask that are the best indicator of their quality.

Greg Brown was the best sales person I ever hired. It was an icy clear day in a bland characterless hotel in Cleveland, Ohio. Greg produced a page and a half of questions for me, written in his tiny manuscript. There must have been 50 of them. The most I have ever seen. He then spilt his coffee over the sheets. We had a laugh and I gave him the job. And boy could he sell.

Test if they are skilful questioners or do they “show up and throw up” and stay on transmit? A favourite exercise of mine is to have the candidate role play their visit to a prospect of your company. What diagnostic questions would they ask the prospect? This test requires both knowledge of your offering (they should have done the homework) and the skill to ask the right questions.

Test their communication and presentation skills by asking them to do a whiteboard presentation of their proposed solution to you as the role play buyer character. Sales Naturals will be able to do this.

What other questions could you ask?, Start with your candidate specification and ask questions around that. Distill the top 3 requirements and give marks out of 10. 7 is a hire. 6 is a no hire. Then compare notes with your colleagues.

Use behaviour based questions. Ask them how they have invented sales processes in the past. How they have made their numbers when behind in a quarter. How they have turned around a losing position against a competitor?

Ask them to tell you their stories. Ask them who is the best rep they have ever worked with and what were their behaviours. Ask them who was the best sales supervisor they ever worked for and what they did. Ask them now they would figure out their prospecting strategy. A great answer is to ask the top rep who will already have figured that out.

Get help from the best sales interviewers you know. Ask your top techie to do interviews. Use AI like Metaview to help.

And finally the classic, ask them to sell you their phone.

Ninth; top reps want to make real money. Here are some sales rockstar habits that indicate the best:

  • They do extensive due diligence on the company.
  • They make customer reference calls
  • And most telling; they want to negotiate the accelerators rather than their base or OTE. That tells you they are planning to blow away their numbers.

Tenth and finally; it’s often amateur hour for start-ups hiring sales professionals. I recommend using a part time interim sales leader to guide the hiring process. I get asked why. I explain that you would use a brain surgeon if you needed brain surgery rather than get your co-founder to do your brain surgery. Even after they had read a few blogs on how to do it.

Your sales determine your success.

Hire the best…

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