The most common sales hiring profile mistake in early stage start-ups

January 28, 2018 Matt Cameron

Your startup is series seed or series A/B and looking to build out your sales org – No sales effectiveness/training function in place; just you. You are moving up to mid-market or enterprise and you have just had a bad case of sticker shock… These damned reps who bring in $750k-$1.5M are really expensive!

What to do? The most common answer is that people hire really motivated, intelligent folks who have got all the right attributes – Intellect, curiosity, coachability and work ethic, but just lack that track record that you were hoping for in the target segment. The good news is that they are cheaper and you figure you can train them up anyway.

What happens? You very quickly find that your onboarding process seems to be a sequel to The NeverEnding Story [What a classic movie]. During sales calls you quickly realize that the rep isn’t being strategic about driving the right outcomes and you have zero confidence in their forecast. You find yourself working 80 hours a week and your calendar is overflowing with early stage prospect meetings that your reps have asked you to join. On the one hand it feels good, because your team really wants and appreciates your help; on the other, you have zero time to work on higher level items like seeing the forest for the trees, because every waking minute you are hand feeding the answers to your reps. This in turn leads to your CEO losing confidence in you because you can’t answer the strategic questions about win/loss outcomes, product improvements and inhibitors to meeting the annual financial plan. You will also be prevented from spending time building relationships with existing customers as you run from one urgent item to the next.

You can quickly train people on product and market, but you can’t accelerate the process of sales role hygiene and executive comportment.

Whilst these reps may come in to the office freshly scrubbed, having washed behind their ears, this is not the hygiene I am referring to. Sales hygiene is having the experience and behavioral discipline to execute any sales role to a level whereby a rep can be trusted in all contexts. The entry standard for any early stage rep role should be:

Customer facing:

  • Call planning – Consistently using a framework to ensure that meetings lead to deal progression, not just continuation. Actions and answers that are tied back to a well managed sales process.
  • Meeting management – How to start a meeting, set agendas, manage the participants to drive a successful outcome.
  • Presentations – The ability to deliver compelling presentations or demos
  • Social comportment – Can be put in a room with a group of prospects and know that they will be able to hold a conversation and represent the company well.
  • Business writing – They can put together an executive summary or CxO email that intelligently articulates a proposition without defaulting to inappropriate vernacular.

Internal

  • They must know how to manage a territory and prioritize accounts
  • The ability to manage and report on a pipeline with an associated forecast
  • They should have been through a red line contract process and be familiar with the glossary of terms.
  • They can negotiate internally to secure resources effectively

The answer to avoiding failure in the early hires

Before your organization has a dedicated sales training function you have to hire people who arrive to the building site with their own tools. Your interview process must flesh out whether all the sales hygiene factors above are present, because if they are not, you have just expanded your role to sales trainer and enablement.

Use behavioral interviewing questions to have the candidate demonstrate experience in doing the basics well as part of their day to day. Also, be sure not to lead the witness with, “So, can you tell me about your call planning process.”, but rather, “Can you tell me about a really important sales call you made recently and what was key to making it a success?”

Key take-away: Early stage companies without dedicated trainers/enablement should never hire inexperienced reps for the complex sale.

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