If you’re a new company, growth will inevitably raise the question of who the designated salesperson should be. Often, it will have been the founder from the beginning. After all, this person knows the product the best. However, as the company matures, the founder’s focus and time could be invested better in different areas. Founders might even lack the desire and skills to manage sales duties. If you find yourself in this stage of your company roadmap, read on for tips on how to hire the best salespeople.
Find yourself a sales substitute...
The time has come to hire your first sales representative, and you might be wondering who’s the best to complement, or substitute, you. If you’re not familiar with sales, all salespeople could look the same to you. But it’s more complicated; you need to consider individual sales predispositions. Some are good in the initial phases of businesses, e.g. roles like Sales Development Representatives or Business Development Representatives; they like quick successes (getting in the door, calling & emailing, getting to meetings, etc.) but hate spending another 6-12 months by controlling the deal to finally close it. Account Executives are the opposite, they are focused on developing long-term relationships with clients.
You probably already surmise that you’ll need a business developer, an account manager, and a customer success person. But being a young company, you probably won’t be able to hire them all (not enough resources, not enough clients to work with). Find a person who will cover all these areas.
Consider two things to determine WHO and WHEN to hire:
Before you spend hours on the hiring process, you need to know what exactly you’re looking for. Two critical factors influence your pick a lot; consider:
1. Your business type
Your ACV (Average Customer Value) determines the type of salesperson you should go for. In sales hiring, it makes a big difference whether your ACV is 2000 or 50.000 USD. If the ACV is around 2000USD, the salesperson will be mostly on the call, closing deals in 15 minutes. If it’s higher, e.g., 50.000USD, it will require a senior sales account executive, used to negotiating C-level sales.
2. Where you are right now
- If you’re at the beginning, in the founder-seller stage, and making just a few deals a year, do not hire anyone. Instead, focus on getting your PMF, and then think about hiring.
- If you’re after PMF and you’re already making several deals, get the first salesperson/salespeople. The first sales team members usually get a considerable portion of activities rather than focus on a specific stage. It should be people with a founder-like mindset. Therefore, you need to get “flexible hybrids” who can handle business development, account management, and customer success activities altogether. Do not hire sales veterans; they’ll probably be reluctant to do this. Later, as the business grows, they will get assigned individual activities/deal stages they have the best predisposition for.
How do you know it’s the time to hire the first sales person?
We will not state any specifics for revenue, number of months/years of existence, budget, etc. The “beginning” will be different from one business to the next. However, in more general terms, there are several milestones that you should have checked off your list before you start taking things to another level:
1. You have built a sales process.
A sales process serves as navigation throughout a deal, from A to Z, and it lists all the milestones needed to happen on your and the customers’ side to close successfully. The way you sell is precise, repeatable, and easily transferable to your new hires.
2. You have found your Product-Market Fit.
Having over ten clients should mean that you already know how your product fits into the market, and you know the unique value for every industry and segment interested in it.
3. You have a steady lead generation system set up.
You might have trouble servicing all the leads coming in, and that alone asks for an additional closer. Anyhow, just having a system to generate cold leads is sufficient. Avoid not having enough leads to work with.
How many sales people should you hire?
The size of your sales team can be a tough decision. At this stage, you’ll still need to be deeply involved in sales, meeting with customers, and having an overall hands-on approach. On top of that, you will need to manage the responsibility and care of the new team (plus any other activities you might have as a founder). And all of this needs balancing.
Consider saving some time in the future by onboarding 2+ sales representatives at the same time. There are good reasons to hire more than one sales representative, apart from saving time on onboarding. It provides you with more data regarding performance and sales onboarding, more ammo to increase output and try new things, and a greater sense of cooperation and friendly competition.
What type of salespeople do you need (based on the complexity of your sales):
The decision about who to hire first should be driven by the complexity of your sales and reflected by how much money you ask for the product. Take a look at the following picture:
- Quite obviously, up to 200USD of yearly revenue in subscription, you don’t need a sales representative at all. It should be effortless to sell for this amount of money as these are mostly freemiums or no-touch sales, like Spotify, Canva, Grammarly,…
- Light Touch sales, usually around 1-2k USD. Typically quick, driven by customer subscription, signing up for a trial online, etc. The sales representative approaches them with paid plans options on a 15minute call/s. E.g., various CRM tools.
- High Touch sales, up to 8000USD. This type of sales* is more complicated but can be handled by an inside sales representative, presenting demos, calls, and meetings remotely.
- Field Sales - For this type of sales*, you need an experienced account executive who closes.
- Field Sales w/ SE’s - Here, you need someone capable of performing C-Level sales*, a senior executive sales representative, doing F2F meetings, usually travelling a lot.
*These could be services like Salesforce, Tableau, where individual deals vary in size.
Talking about sales positions terms...
We need to mention that there is no unified terminology for sales positions across industries, cultures, countries, etc. However, we believe the base roles are the same across any of them, and for the Czech market, we’ll take a look at just a handful that you’ll usually encounter when starting to hire:
Sales Development Representatives (SDR):
- the first point of contact with the prospects, develops relationships
- identifies and creates qualified sales opportunities for their senior colleagues
Business Development Representative (BDR):
- prospects and identifies potential customers in a new market
- establishes cooperation with other businesses
- carries out marketing activities to make the brand visible (breakfasts, meetups,...)
- can manage sales from A - Z (acquisitions to deals done) or work on pre-qualified leads by SDR/BDR
- builds relationships with clients
Account Manager (AM)
- takes care of current clients after they’ve committed to a partnership
- makes your client portfolio grow by upselling it
- reverses your funnel
Sales Manager (SM)
- the title “manager” should predicate leading a sales team; that’s not usually the case in various regions (the position often resembles AM)
- besides leadership and training delivery, SM still regularly participates in sales and shadows their teams on meetings
Getting your hands dirty:
After considering what type of business you do and where you are in terms of maturity, it’s time to kick off the search. Before you do so, note that if you’re serious about the hiring process, you should get an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) with similar features as any CRM. Track your progress with individual candidates like you’d track a deal (pipeline movement, status changes, communication log). Some ATSs offer a free plan that will be sufficient for low-volume hiring. You can actually use your CRM, too. However, once you start growing, your CRM should not be an HR tool, as it probably misses crucial HR features.
SALESDOCk mostly hires SDR/BDRs as outsourced team members for companies with none or few sales representatives. Based on our experience, this is how the hiring process could look like in your company:
1. Creating and posting the job advertisement
Job ads usually list who the company is looking for, requirements, job description, etc. You need this information; keep it, but make them want to join you by attaching a short pitch, context such as why you’re hiring, and what the person gets in terms of education and future development. Consider the tonality - it’s got to match your company’s vibe. Do not close your ad by “send us your CV” - many people just don’t use them anymore (they use LinkedIn instead) or are too hesitant and are not motivated enough to create one. Close it with “let’s chat if you see yourself with us” and show who will be in touch and how the first steps from your side will look. Post it on your sites, LinkedIn, Startupjobs, Cocuma, …
2. Reaching out to the ones you like
A passive approach (job ad) will generate some results, but if you’re not a well-known brand yet, you’ll probably need to reach out with a compelling message, e.g., on LinkedIn or via email. We suggest you get a LinkedIn Premium account. No need to get Recruiter, Sales Navigator will do, as the filtering options are very similar. Paying for a premium plan guarantees that you’ll have an unlimited number of searches and connections, detailed filters, and 20 InMail messages, making outreach way easier. So, gather the right keywords, look them up, and start sending the messages.
InMails on LinkedIn will make you insert a subject. The one that worked for us the most was “Head of Sales | AI | XXX.XXXEUR” - brief and clear, isn’t it? The body contained a shortened version of our job advertisement. Make sure you do follow-ups and only after you run out of InMails, should you connect the regular way and attach a message (up to 300 signs - quite a challenge)
Tip: Lusha, Hunter.io, and Linkmatch should make your life easier when it comes to hiring on LinkedIn/via email - check them out!
3. Pre-screen those who were interested
Before you find the best wording for your ads, there will be irrelevant candidates applying. Moreover, you’ll need to save some time for both parties. So to avoid wasting an hour of your time by interviewing, give them a call first.
Do a short, 20’ prequalification and explain what the position is about. During this brief call, prequalification means we gather, if possible, information based on the QIAA (Qualified, Interested, Affordable, Available) technique. And since we’re selling, we also ask about their need to see whether we can deliver it. If it’s a match, we schedule a meeting in our office.
4. Interview Meeting
Invite the “matches” to talk more about their skills, experience, and expectations. Observe the drive, and don’t settle! If they’re excited/motivated, but lacking sales know-how, you can work on it to improve it, but if they’re skilled but not driven and motivated, they’ll give you some wrinkles.
Dig deeper into what you’ve discussed over the phone and explain why you’re hiring and who you are looking to hire. Ask about their motivation, strategies, techniques, target fulfillment, and various behavioral questions related to selling. If we see a potential, we invite them, at the end of the meeting, to a 2nd round - an assessment center.
We want to see our candidates selling style “in action”, whether they’re applying for an entry job or already have some experience. They can also see what the job is about. Assessment is a sales role play meeting, where the candidate gets instructed beforehand and then comes to sell us a solution. Overall, we might spend about 2,5 - 3 hours together, just with one candidate at a time, and coming to the assessment is an initial filter. There are some unexpected pop-up tasks.
We observe how they react to unforeseen events and tasks and how they open, lead, and close the meeting. The same applies to juniors’ - only this time, it’s more about predispositions in sales, rather than already acquired skills. If you decide to test your candidates, part of the testing is observing how they react to negative feedback. Check whether they’re coachable - if they are arguing and being offensive, that’s not what you need.
5. Let it sit…
Once you’ve collected all the theoretical and practical information, let the final decision simmer for a day. This also gives your candidate some time to absorb their feelings about your company and the job. Then let them know your verdict and negotiate the conditions of your cooperation.
- Hiring is sales - qualify your candidate’s need and sell the position based on what you have found (provided you have it - do not promise what you can’t stick to!)
- Leave no long gaps between follow-ups, as your candidate is most probably talking to other companies, too. Be professional - react promptly!
- Include your team in the hiring process - go for a drink/lunch together. Give the team a chance to express their feelings about the potential hire and, at the same time, let the candidate know who they’re potentially going to work with.
- If both sides’ final decision is yes, do not linger with sending them the offer, rather be quick so it’s “official”, and you can start negotiating asap.
- Even if your candidate said yes, stay in close touch, and avoid creating silence before their start date. Many companies are scouting, and if you don’t create an emotional bond already or at least prove you care, your new hire might just slip through your fingers.
Wrapping it up:
Salespeople know how to sell themselves. Therefore, don’t believe, just watch. Before you add a person to your sales team, always test them on their sales skills. If you’re not quite sure what performance indicators to look for during the testing, leave the testing up to us.
Remember that your company will benefit from having a salesperson only if you have a stable customer base, a sales process, a product-market fit, and a lead generation system. These create a solid base for, and accelerate the training of, each newcomer.