High growth startups understand that a well-structured sales organization is one of the key factors in a company’s growth. And that’s why they’re putting more attention into hiring and building a high-performing sales team.
In order to create an effective framework for hiring sales talent, it is necessary to understand the organization’s structure and the roles that each member plays. That way, hiring managers can establish a clear profile of the people that they want to bring on board. Additionally, it allows them to forecast any hiring demands of the team thus avoiding over- or under hiring which is both critical mistakes in a startup’s scaling efforts. [ps2id id=’back-to-top’ target=”/]
As a talent strategy firm focused on helping companies build high performing sales organizations, we engage with sales candidates on a daily basis. We establish a connection with each candidate we engage with to understand their needs, know what they’re looking for in a company, and guide them in evaluating job offers. We’ve built this sales recruiting guide to point hiring managers to the right direction and help them achieve their hiring goals.
- The Modern Sales Team
- Your Ideal Candidate
- Setting the Compensation
- Writing the Job Description
- Attracting Top Sales Talent [ps2id id=’modern-sales-team’ target=”/]
- Interview Process
- Making an Offer
The Modern Sales Team
The Modern Sales Team Structure
The sales landscape has evolved dramatically and it has a huge impact on the structure of sales teams today. Selling used to be straightforward and the career path was mostly linear. However, in this era where technology has improved the quality of the sales process, there are also more opportunities for sales professionals to develop their skills and find a specialization they’re most comfortable with.
The structure of every sales org depends on which stage the company is currently at. Early-stage sales teams usually have a sales leader and a few reps and AEs. But more mature sales teams may have more specific roles and a more sophisticated hierarchy.
There is no universal title or description for every position in a sales organization. A particular role may have different names in every company but the general responsibilities are the same. Depending on which role you’re looking to add to your team, every hire must have the right qualifications and necessary training in order to succeed.
1) Lead Generation
Example Titles: “Business Development Representatives” (BDRs), “Sales Development Representatives” (SDRs), “Account Development Representatives” (ADRs), “Market Development Representatives (MDRs)
Goals: Create qualified meetings for AEs to close
- Research and engage new prospects via cold email & calling to create interest
- Work with marketing to qualify leads to discover needs and assess fit
- Book meetings with qualified prospects
- Handoff lead to AE to ensure a seamless transition
Example Titles: “Sales Executive”, “Business Development Manager”, “Director of Strategic Accounts”, “Sales Director”, etc.
Goals: Close new business revenue
- Run the whole sales process (discovery, demos/trials, enablement + pricing conversations, contract and negotiations, close)
- Prospect and create own opportunities as needed
- Manage and nurture a pipeline of leads to close
Example Titles: “Implementation Manager”, “Account Manager”, “Customer Success Manager”
Goals: Grow customer relationships and existing revenue base
- Onboarding, implementation, product engagement
- Troubleshooting & product support
- Building rapport and building relationships
- Increasing net revenue through upselling, cross-selling, and preventing churn [ps2id id=’ideal-candidate’ target=”/]
To ensure the success of a sales organization, each role must have a clear definition of their responsibilities and this must be communicated from the very beginning of the hiring process. Before you publish a job post, you need to have a clear picture of what you need so you can easily profile the perfect candidate for your team.
Your Ideal Candidate
1) Ideal candidate based on your company’s stage of growth
It is important to be strategic in your approach to hiring new members of your sales org. One main thing to consider is the size of your company. For early-stage startups, the sales org structure is much simpler and usually starts with a few SDRs.
Here’s a typical step-by-step progression of a sales team’s growth. This growth model is more applicable to early-stage companies looking to have their first sales hire, or are still growing their initial sales team.
(1) Initial AE hire does end-to-end sales
Early-stage startups with CEOs who have a background in sales, they can easily perform the role of Account executive. This means they can start hiring an SDR or two to begin their operation. Consequently, it’s highly recommended for startups to hire an AE initially who will perform end-to-end sales and grow the team from there.
(2) As AE demonstrates ability to close, limiting factor shift to time + pipeline, hire an SDR
As the pipeline grows and time becomes a limiting factor, the need for SDRs becomes apparent. From there, the team grows and the roles become more specific.
(3) With a critical mass of clients, a CSM is added to allow sales to focus on new business
As your company expands to other markets, you need a CSM to manage relationships with partners and clients.
(4) Segmentation of pipeline creates additional specialization.
Larger client base creates upsell opportunities and a need for post-sales revenue generator (AM)
2) Profiling your ideal candidate
Like every functioning organization, there are basic standards that sales teams require from potential candidates such as education levels or specific title/roles if they’re hiring for a more senior position. But aside from that, there are certain qualities and skills that hiring managers are looking for in their ideal candidate. While these are not the same for every sales team, some general questions can help you figure out exactly what you’re looking for:
- Defining your company’s core values
What are the professional and personal traits that matter the most to you?
Which qualities are you willing to let go and which ones are deal-breakers?
- Set up skills assessment
What background or training do you require for the role that you want to fill-in?
How important is having a sales background?
With or without sales experience, looking for these following traits can help you identify potential top performers:
- Coachability and a willingness to pivot
- Relevant job experience in technical fields
- Familiarity with data analysis
- Great storytelling ability[ps2id id=’setting-compensation’ target=”/]
- Intellectual curiosity
- Good listening skills
Setting the compensation
When it comes to salary and benefits, it’s important to establish a certain degree of transparency early on. This is commonly a conversation that is uncomfortable for both the manager and employee. But if a candidate sees that your company observes open communication around these topics, it will give them a sense of the culture you have in the workplace.
One way to establish transparency in setting compensation is knowing you have a fair system that is based on performance. You need a reliable source for data that can help you build a compensation plan that is effective and sustainable. This XDR compensation benchmark report will give you an idea of the key factors to consider when creating a compensation plan for your team.
1) Base salary and variable compensation
In a typical sales organization, the sales rep’s salary is a combination of base salary and variable earning. The standard percentage is 64% base salary and 36% variable earnings for those who meet quota. Setting the ratio and finding the balance between these two can be tricky. If you set the base salary too low, you won’t be able to attract the right candidates and the ones who do sign up won’t be motivated enough to stay, which is going to hurt your attrition. But if you set it too high as compared to the variable earning, reps won’t put as much effort into meeting and exceeding quota.
OTE (on-target-earnings) is the estimated first-year total earnings that you can expect from your newly hired sales rep. You need to set an overall OTE based on the cost of living, market value, with attainable quotas slightly higher than what newly hired reps are hitting after a few months.
When it comes to startup sales compensation plans, two common sore areas for candidates are the OTE (on-target-earnings) and equity incentives. Make sure your commission plan is fully understood. A simpler compensation structure is effective, as long as you address how revenue is generated and how to gain a commission. Provide a conservative baseline and stretch scenarios to demonstrate how the payout would work. This will make the OTE a lot more concrete.
A transparent and open discussion around the subject of hitting OTEs is a conversation you want to have before you make an offer. Candidates will appreciate the transparency and both sides will have rational expectations about the role and the candidate’s performance during year 1.
Many job seekers, especially from the younger workforce, are considering perks and employee benefits as a priority when applying for a company. Startups acknowledge the importance of treating their employees well and they understand that providing a versatile set of perks and benefits keeps them in the company. Aside from medical insurance plans, benefits like 401(k), commuter benefits, and flexible spending accounts (FSA) are definitely worth looking into. [ps2id id=’job-description’ target=”/]
A lot of compensation plans don’t work because they’re too complicated. Create a plan that managers can easily explain and sales reps can understand right away.
Writing the Job Description
Now that you know where to look and what to offer your candidates, the next part of the job is writing exactly what you’re hiring them for. And while it seems one of the easiest parts of the process, it definitely isn’t. In order to reel the top candidates in, you need the job description to fit. Avoid copying and pasting generic descriptions you find online. When you know what you’re expecting from every member of your team, writing a killer job description that will attract the perfect candidate for the position will be a piece of cake. Here are some best practices for writing a compelling job description:
1) Make it candidate-centric
There’s an unspoken golden rule that every successful hiring manager knows, and that is to make the candidate the center of your hiring process. Think about their journey starting from the job search to the application process, initial interview until offer negotiation and imagine how you can make the entire journey convenient for them.
2) Work on your company culture and messaging
Don’t just say you have an amazing company culture, show it! Your company’s fun and nurturing culture should manifest in every step of your hiring process. Don’t hesitate in injecting personality in your job description. Information about your company’s benefits and culture can help attract people who are good cultural fits, while also getting them excited about the prospect of working at your company.
Possible things to include:
- Employee perks and benefits
- An honest and positive description of your company’s culture and your best-fit candidate
- Information about your office location and atmosphere
- Fun things about working at your company, like travel, socialization, and volunteer work opportunities
- Proximity to public transportation and local businesses
- Glassdoor rating and comments
3) Highlight opportunities for advancement
What separates top candidates from the rest of the pack is how they push harder than everyone else. They want to advance their careers and they have a certain hunger for it. Showing a clear and solid opportunity for career advancement will not only attract the right crowd, but it will also help you convince them to jump on board your ship.
4) Include information about salary and benefits
If you’re hesitant to include the salary information in your job description, DON’T. There is no gain in deliberately excluding this information from your job description. In fact, data demonstrates that failing to include salary information will decrease results in 25-35% fewer applications.
5) Mention specific credentials that are necessary
When listing requirements for potential candidates, managers sometimes tend to use generic words to describe what they’re looking for. This happens when the manager himself isn’t very clear about who he wants to join their team. This is why it’s important to have an ideal profile of the candidate you want to bring on board. Because when you do, it’s easier to list the necessary credentials that a candidate should have in order to be considered for the position. You need to be specific in listing these requirements but be mindful about including too many.
6) Study job descriptions on similar posts from companies in your area
You need to stand out among the companies hiring for the same position. Study the job descriptions other companies post and find out how to make yours stand out. Candidates who go through job posts on different platforms will notice the difference. [ps2id id=’attracting-talent’ target=”/] They will see how intentional you are in hiring your next team member just by looking at the job description you post. And they will know it’s not just another hire to fill a vacant post.
Attracting top sales talent
Once you determine what you want from your potential candidates, it will be easier for you to target the right people during your outreach efforts and screen the ones that move further down the hiring process. Reaching out to the right people in a huge talent pool requires work, but if you know where to look and how to get their attention this task will be much easier.
1) Employer branding
In a competitive market for top talents, having a solid brand for your company’s products and services isn’t enough to attract top candidates. You have to build a strong brand for your company that will convince not only job seekers but your internal employees as well. But most sales organizations struggle with maintaining a pipeline of qualified talent because they don’t know how employer branding works. These are what you need in order to get the job done:
Employee testimonials serve as social proof for your company and its culture. It reassures potential candidates that you can offer an amazing environment and you can provide opportunities for career advancement. Be sure to solicit employee testimonials that dive deeper into what it’s like to work for your company.
Hosting live social events
The key to a successful candidate outreach plan is being completely aligned with your marketing team as most marketing tactics provide a blueprint for recruitment. You can host webinars to get yourself on the radar and gather email addresses for possible hires.
The good thing about webinars is they make great recruitment leads because you know those who attend are proactive in their professional development.
Your career page is one of the first places a candidate will go when they research your company. Use your career page to showcase the company’s history, core values, and culture. This is where you want to sell candidates on why they should work for you. Try including things like a video or a timeline of the company’s history.
Direct reach outs
Social media platforms such as facebook, twitter, and Instagram are all being used to source for sales talent these days. But the most efficient and ideal place to source from is LinkedIn. It’s basically a candidate’s online resume and it contains the necessary information that a hiring manager needs to further evaluate if a candidate is a great fit or not. It’s also a great platform for reaching out to ideal candidates.
Sometimes, hiring managers get too fixated on online platforms for finding excellent candidates that they overlook the value of old school networking. Finding potential candidates online is convenient but it also helps to step out of the office and meet hungry and motivated people through sales meetups and conferences within your city.
3) Job boards
A more straightforward approach is using job boards to get the word out that you’re hiring. This is the most convenient step and the turnaround is much bigger compared to other efforts. Although, having to screen potential candidates from the volume of applications you receive can be quite tedious.
- You have a broad reach and a large audience
- Your job post is accessible to anyone 24/7
- Makes the process more convenient for your potential candidates
- Some job boards allow you to build a profile that showcases your company culture
- You have to screen hundreds (if not thousands) of applications
- You get more unqualified than qualified candidates
4) Using a 3rd party (agency/recruiter, platform)
Oftentimes, for rapidly growing companies, the demand for sales team growth can be overwhelming that they need to bring a 3rd party on board to help build the sales team. The important thing to keep in mind is finding a recruiter that is 100% aligned with your goals as a company.
How to choose a recruiter that’s a right fit for your hiring goals:
They should specialize in sales recruiting
There’s nothing wrong with choosing a recruiter that hires for various positions; but sales recruiting has specific nuances that only sales recruiters understand and are capable of handling. The same goes for other industries. If you’re after high quality hires, choose a recruiter that specializes in your industry.
Make sure they understand your hiring needs
A good recruiter can determine your hiring needs even before you discuss them. Highly skilled recruiters will study your organization and try to understand not only your current hiring needs but your team’s potential to grow as well. That’s how they can effectively forecast your future hiring needs, which is important because accounting for future roles helps them create the ideal candidate to look for. It can be assumed that everyone has the desire to grow their careers but anticipating which field they may lean towards, say enterprise or traditional sales, can greatly impact your hiring plan.
They have a high quality candidate pool
One way to evaluate a recruiter’s hiring strategy is by looking at the quality of candidates in their talent pool. Don’t get easily swayed by promises of a thousand candidates to choose from. Always choose quality over quantity. It doesn’t matter how many candidates a recruiter can throw your way if most of them are not qualified. Just one look at their hiring strategy can tell you whether or not that partnership is a good fit.
The price is reasonable
The reason why some companies choose to do DIY hiring is that using a recruiter can be quite expensive. This is why it’s important to choose the right recruiter so you can guarantee that every penny you spend will be all worth it. Instead of going directly to huge recruiting companies, try checking out a few smaller companies. If the boxes check out for the previous three points then it’s worth a shot. There’s no point in spending too much on more expensive recruiters when you can get quality hires for a lot less. [ps2id id=’interview-process’ target=”/]
If you do choose to hire a recruiter to bring people into your team, choose one that has a proven record of helping early-stage companies build high-growth sales teams.
The interview process is where you’ll determine which candidates only look great on paper and which ones are the best fit for your organization. You need a systematic approach to help you identify the candidates with the most potential.
1) Screening Top Talent
When you use a popular platform for hiring candidates such as job boards, you will have to go through hundreds of applications at a time. Being able to determine whether a candidate is promising or not just by reading their resumes is a necessary skill. Experienced hiring managers develop this over time, but for those who haven’t yet, there are reliable methods for evaluating top candidates through their resumes.
- Evaluate the candidate’s resume in terms of structure and professionalism.
- Consider how well the candidate tailored the resume and cover letter to your company.
- Examine candidates’ previous work experience and contact references as necessary.
- Assess the candidate’s work ethic and leadership abilities.
- Determine whether the candidate has any unique skills or experiences that may be useful at your company.
What to look for
- Specified sales metrics and awards that are reasonable.
- Steady career progression, promotions, and reasons for leaving.
- For recent grads: extracurriculars demonstrating leadership and/or ambition (i.e. sports, certifications, etc.)
- Sales metrics that are unbelievable (300% to quota) or qualitative (ex. Closed 40 big accounts)
- Short stints at jobs (there could be good context but should dig into the reasons)
- Resume with spelling errors and poor attention to detail (sometimes it’s just a mistake!)
- No sales numbers or any metrics (probably not hitting quota)
- Decrease in company quality or responsibility over course of career
- Large, unexplainable gaps in resume
2) Interview Modules
Even with the more advanced technology sales reps use these days, deals are still ultimately closed on the phone. You need reps who are comfortable and confident when speaking to clients over the phone.
During your initial phone screen, ask the candidate to give you a demo of him/herself. Ask a few tough questions. You can even throw in a few objections to see how they respond. If a candidate has a difficult time aligning their experience to the job requirements, imagine how tough it will be to sell a product they know little about. For inexperienced reps, while you may not be able to evaluate their selling skills over the phone, it can help you gauge how intuitive they can be in similar conversations.
You can go more in-depth during the onsite interview and really dig into where the candidate envisions themselves in their next role. Ask them what their ambitions and career goals are and to describe how they can help the company. Also, be prepared to answer questions from the candidate. Be direct, honest and empathetic if they have concerns.
Role Play: A rapid succession of tough (or weird) objections can be a great way to test for how the candidate will handle edge cases. This test is necessary especially for reps who will be spending a lot of time on the phone and those in position of closing deals.
Here are a few suggestions for successful roleplay:
- Role-play in a comfortable setting, potentially over the phone, or in a conference room
- Give the candidate a scenario and agenda to review beforehand
- Act like a typical prospect and offer reasonable objections
- Pause in the middle, provide feedback and run the exercise again to see if they incorporated feedback
- Watch how they compose themselves under pressure
- When the role-play is over, ask the candidate how it went before providing feedback. This shows how self-aware they’re likely to be with prospects — and with you as their manager.
Mock Pitch: Test a candidate’s presentation and closing ability by having them present a mock pitch to your team of stakeholders.
Mock pitches demonstrate the candidates in-person presentation skills, their ability to present in a room full of people, and how passionate they are about joining your company, since this exercise will take time to prepare for. Have them perform a mock pitch to a team of stakeholders in your office.
To make it more interesting, ask them to pitch something other than your product. The subject of their pitch could be imaginary or a well-known brand. If you plan on doing this, have the courtesy of informing the candidate in advance so they will have a few days to review the product and the prospect (i.e., you and your team).
Field Day: Ask a potential salesperson to spend a day shadowing one of your reps. Creating controlled environments to have them speak to real prospects is a great way to estimate their ramp-up time.
30-60-90-Day Plan: For senior hires and big-ticket enterprise sales, your salesperson needs management consultant-type skills to help organizations make strategic purchasing decisions and visualize implementation roadmaps. Have your interviewees lay out a 30-60-90-day plan for how they would approach their new role in the company so you can test their visioning, conceptual thinking and presentation skills.
Whether it is role play, mock pitch, field day, or a 30-60-90-Day Plan, this truly shows if the candidate is a good fit. This shows their talent and/or dedication to making a sale. It will also show you their ‘cons’ which you can further decide if they are attributes that can be fixed if properly trained by your company. Make sure all is discussed before offering the positions and that all questions/concerns are answered.
Social with the team
At some point during the final stages of the interview process, you’ll want the candidate to meet and interact with your team. Take note of how they are in a social setting and if you can see them fitting in with your current team. Also make sure most of your team gets the chance to talk to them if they haven’t yet – your employees could notice something or see something insightful that you haven’t before!
3) Interview Questions
While there are standard questions that you need to ask candidates, they’re not enough to help you gauge your candidate’s real potential. To break them out of their rehearsed responses, ask questions that are more offbeat. Their responses will tell you a lot about how well candidates can cope with situations that go off-script. Ideally, the question should also reveal something about the candidate’s personality and problem-solving abilities.
Hiring experts usually have their own set of favorite questions they’d like to ask candidates. Some examples of unique questions you can ask :
- What is the most courageous thing you’ve done in your life?
- Talk about a time you had to put aside your ego, and do something that didn’t directly benefit you, but a co-worker or your company?
- Please tell me about a time you gave a client bad news.
- What hobbies do you invest time and money into?
- Would you show us, right now, how comfortable you are on the phone?
- What do you want to know about our company, our product, our culture or this role?
- Tell me about a deal you failed to close. What did you learn from that experience?
- What does customer service look like to you and how do you demonstrate it?
There’s also some weird, off-beat questions you can ask candidates just to test how they’d respond to questions they don’t usually prepare for when negotiating with clients.
- What’s your favorite movie and why?
- What superpower do you have that no one else has?
- If you were going to be trapped on a deserted island, what three objects would you want to have with you?
- If you won the lottery tomorrow, what would you do first?
- What would the name of your debut album be?
- You have the power to get rid of one U.S. state. Which one would it be and why?
- If you started your own business tomorrow, what would it be?
- What is the last self-help book you read?
4) Interview Best Practices
The interview is where you can actually interact with the candidate and it’s a very – if not the most- important part of the hiring process. Preparing for it is not just a job for the candidate. In order to guarantee success, try these interview best practices to help you avoid common pitfalls that may cause you a brilliant candidate.
Use an interview rubric
The best way to avoid bias during the interview is by adopting an evaluation framework that you can apply to any candidate. Having an interview rubric that will guide you in understanding the risks for each candidate instead of focusing on predicting candidate success will absolutely help you make sharper hiring decisions.
A well-designed interview rubric can increase your chances of finding the best candidate for your team. It will align your recruiters with your hiring managers on the evaluation criteria and help you avoid making transmission errors. It can also prevent you from replacing emotional judgment with bite-sized factors—helping you make objective, micro-evaluations about each candidate. By eliminating redundancy and focusing your conversations on different areas of exploration, you will get a better overall read on the candidate.
If you end up making an unsuccessful hire, the rubric can help you understand which factors you’ll need to reassess in the interview design.
Outline the interview flow for the candidate
To make sure that every important detail of the interview is covered, create an outline of the interview structure to keep it organized. A good interview flow should start with an introduction where you discuss the company, the interview proper where you ask the questions, then the part where the candidate can ask their own questions, and then a few minutes to wrap things up.
Refrain from talking too much
Give the candidates enough time to describe their skills and abilities. Don’t cut them off unless it’s extremely necessary.
Watch out for non-verbal signals
Be very keen on the candidate’s behavior during the interview. Are they polite? Are they dressed properly? Are they paying attention? You can learn a lot from the candidate just by observing their gestures and the way they present themselves.
Create a connection with the candidate without being too personal
As a hiring manager, it’s important to establish a connection with the candidate during the interview. It can help you determine whether they’re a great fit for the company or not. Of course, you should always be professional in all your interactions with the candidate but it couldn’t hurt to build rapport. Besides, you don’t want to seem to curt or transactional as it creates a wrong perception of your work culture.
Don’t forget reference checks
Check as many references as possible; one or two is an incomplete picture. Depending on how much experience the candidate has, you can ask at least two former employers, co-workers, or customers. When speaking to the references the candidate provides you, you should focus on learning about their soft skills such as their motivation and drive. These [ps2id id=’making-an-offer’ target=”/]conversations are not so much about performance. Once you have compiled information, look for their consistencies and determine if they will have a negative or positive impact on your company.
Making an Offer
This may be the last but it’s a very important step. You didn’t go through the entire hiring process only to get turned down in the end. Make the candidates an offer they can’t refuse.
1) Go into the meeting knowing what’s your limit…
Before you give an offer to the candidate, be prepared to handle negotiations. They may not be 100% sold on the offer right away and they’d like to discuss some of the terms further. You can’t just turn them down straight away and risk losing a great candidate. Allow some flexibility and consider to compromise, but be sure to set your limit.
2) How to start the conversation
The best way to start the conversation is by being straightforward about it. Tell them that you’d like to extend an offer for them to be part of your sales team. Provide an overview of the role and be sure to discuss important details such as job title, compensation, bonus structure, start date, etc.
3) Sell the offer to the candidate
You have to be creative in selling this opportunity to the candidate. At some point in the interview, you asked the candidate why they applied for this position in the first place.
It’s important to mention some of the deciding factors that you’ve gathered from the candidate during the interview process. If career growth is important to them, highlight your training and mentorship programs. Find a link between your offer and the candidate’s priorities. Talk your company up. Mention why it’s a great place to work at. Highlight your company culture and use employee testimonials that you think the candidate can relate to. And most importantly, show the candidate that they’re welcome.
After negotiating with the candidate and tailoring your offer according to the discussed terms, do a recap on the details just so things are clear. Give the candidate enough time to think about the offer. Don’t pressure them. No matter how urgent the hire is, you need to adjust your timing so it’s reasonable for both sides. An acceptable time frame would be a few days to a week.
Having the right people in your team has a huge impact not only on your sales team’s performance but also on your company’s overall growth as well. It’s important to have a well thought-out hiring plan to ensure a successful hiring process.
- Define the individual roles precisely and make sure everyone involved in the hiring process understands who you are looking for.
- Consider the candidate’s potential growth in the company, especially for early-stage startups.
- Make the hiring process mainly about the candidates. It is important for them to have a positive experience during the entire process.
- Establish a good relationship even with candidates who don’t make it. You don’t know what positions you’ll be hiring for in the future and it’s nice to leave a good impression on people who might still be part of the company one day.