When you’re an early-stage startup getting off the ground, all hiring decisions will greatly impact future growth. The wrong hire will set you back, but the right hire can act as a catalyst for growth.
At our recent event on building enterprise sales teams, three NYC sales leaders shared their thoughts on how best to hire enterprise sales representatives for startup teams. Here are their top five tips:
1. Hire people who can act as product evangelists.
Selling a new or revolutionary product in a new category isn’t like selling Salesforce or another well-established B2B product. The sales process is inherently different, as Jeremy Seltzer, VP of Worldwide Sales at Movable Ink, explained.
For example, Movable Ink offers contextual email marketing. When customers open an email, contents can be different based on the weather, the device they are using, etc. The challenge of selling the product, as Seltzer said, is “No one has a budget for contextual email marketing. That doesn’t exist. No one thinks about that until we teach them about it.”
So startups selling revolutionary products need sales representatives who are able and willing to explain the new product category and evangelize for it. Essentially, your reps must focus on explaining how this new product solves a problem your prospects assumed could never be improved upon.
2. Place high value on sales representatives who can pivot.
Panelists agreed that it takes a certain type of salesperson to succeed in the startup environment. Prior startup experience is always a plus, though not a must. Above all, look for grit and the ability to pivot. A sales representative who works at an established B2B company will follow an established sales process. The startup sales rep, however, must be able to adapt as the company and sales process evolves.
Adam Landsman, Head of Sales at Transfix, described great startup sales representatives like this: “They pivot, they zig, they zag. So a person needs to be moldable and have that ability to roll with those punches.”
3. Use a scorecard system in your interviewing process.
Dave Greenberger of Building the Sales Machine, recommended using a scorecard system when conducting interviews. Identify five or six key traits to evaluate during the interview. Everyone present during an interview will fill out a scorecard. Greenberger recommends this method when working with recruiters.
4. Dig deep and ask the right questions during the interview.
Landsman said, “Unless they’re really bad, any sales person is going to look and sound great in an interview. You really have to dig in. Ask them to describe previous situations. Ask them to give you the names of clients, how they handled situations. Get them to talk you through the process in detail. That eliminates people who only know the right sales buzzwords to say but can’t back it up.”
Every sales rep worth their salt will come prepared to answer the standard battery of interview questions. By asking more probative questions, you can see how well they can think on their toes. After all, making a sale is rarely done entirely by the book – adaptability is key!
5. Include a mock demonstration as part of the hiring process.
During the hiring process, sales candidates should be asked to demonstrate their persuasion chops directly. Seltzer said that candidates at his company demonstrate the product to the hiring committee, sometimes including the CEO, as part of the hiring process. This indicates whether or not the candidate can sell their product.
Candidates don’t necessarily have to sell your product, but you should find some way to assess their skills. Greenberger suggested testing how well candidates handle objections. To do this, tell the candidate what his or her weakness is during an interview. If the candidate can gracefully overcome these objections and focus on incorporating your feedback into their approach, then they are also capable of managing prospective customers’ objections during a sales pitch.
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