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The Sales Review

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Growth-Hungry Startups: 4 Tips for Building a Team of Sales All-Stars Fast

Posted by Amy Volas on Aug 10, 2017 10:44:01 AM

sales-growth-hiring.jpgIf you run a startup, you’re no stranger to facing the unknown. Bringing a new product or service to the market is always a unique endeavor full of unexpected ups and downs.

Oftentimes, many entrepreneurs feel the need to “fly by the seat of their pants” in areas where they may not have a strong background and the priority on their laundry list isn’t as significant as the rest. The fact of the matter is, flying by the seat of your pants will only get a business so far and a lack of strategic direction can be detrimental, to say the least.

When it comes to building a team of sales all-stars to scale your business, you need much more than instinct alone. Logic, a well-planned strategic “blueprint” and meaningful industry insights are some of the key elements to guide your decisions.

Although your gut should play a small role in the matter, the most successful startups understand the need for a methodical, proven approach to creating and managing an all-star sales team.

Thinking about the last 20 years of my sales and startup career, I’ve outlined the top four ways to keep your growth-hungry startup on track as you tackle the critical task of building out a successful sales team. As a result, you’ll be able to effectively hire a strong sales force to scale your business without losing them down the road helping you avoid the harrowing effects of a mis-hire. 

1) Define Your Marketplace & Success

In the world of startups, there’s a known catch-22: countless tasks need to be accomplished, but there’s a limited amount of people to accomplish said tasks.

When startups run into this dilemma, they often start to build their teams as quickly as possible. This is a completely natural response to the pressure of a large to-do list, but it’s a response that can end up doing more harm than good…

If you want your startup to make money as quickly as possible at the highest margins, the key is to focus on the quality of your workers, not the quantity. You want your product to shine, and the best way to do this is by hiring a team of best-in-class salespeople.

After you have the quality over quantity mindset in place, the next thing to do is define your marketplace. Before you make any sales hiring decisions, do your homework about your buyers.

Sadly, this is where I see many startups get it wrong. I live and die by the fact that the marketplace speaks louder than anything else and am flabbergasted when startups completely disregard the power of the space they’re trying to occupy. Taking the time to pinpoint your buyer, what they need, why, how they buy and when is germane to the success of your sales team. For example, the way a small business makes purchasing decisions will dramatically vary compared to a Fortune brand.sales-growth-hiring1.jpg

Via App Data Room

Once you’ve taken the time to wrap your arms around your marketplace and buyer profile, it’s time to create a scorecard for sales hiring success. According to Harvard Business Review, the validity or predictive power of a typical unstructured interview is around 20%. Therefore, this scorecard is the backbone of any successful hiring strategy and will help you stay on track to ensure you’re making the very best sales recruiting decisions for your growing business.

sales-growth-hiring2.jpgVia Slideshare

It all comes down to defining what success means for your business. It’s important to keep your short-term and long-term goals in mind as you think about what you really need and why. It’s easy to chase short-term goals, but if you really want to succeed, you’ll need a “blueprint” that will inform the type of people you want to hire as you grow.

It’s easy to talk about what’s needed, it’s a whole other ballgame when you can translate that into an effective hiring process. I find people change their mind often or as they interview they don’t remember all of the details or how important certain criteria really is.

It’s easy to get off track and miss important information. A scorecard keeps you on point by ensuring what’s most important is covered and if something’s been missed, what to discuss as the process evolves. Additionally, it’s an effective tool to ensure you’re making a fair and balanced assessment of anyone you interview to truly hire the right people for your team.

2) Make 'Emotional Intelligence' a Sales Recruiting Priority

A little-known silver bullet to hiring the cream of the sales crop is recruiting for emotional intelligence (EQ). At first glance, this seems like a relatively simple concept, however, it requires a commitment to infusing key principles into your hiring, onboarding and coaching methodology. 

According to a survey from TalentSmart, 90 percent of top performers at any given company are also high in emotional intelligence. Furthermore, only 20 percent of bottom performers are high in emotional intelligence.

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Via University of Maryland

Overall, individuals that have a high EQ are better at chasing long-term goals, they are better at coping with vulnerability and they are less likely to give into feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. These characteristics are beneficial in a range of roles, but they're a perfect match for many of the challenges that must be overcome in startup sales. 

So, how can you recruit for emotional intelligence? The first step is to create an accurate job description concentrating on core behaviors. Here, you’ll want to use the “blueprint” that I referenced earlier. By including specific language that focuses on the core behaviors you want and digging into those details throughout the interview process, you’ll position yourself to hire people who have high EQ.   

If the idea of using emotional intelligence in recruitment still seems a bit overwhelming, here’s a specific technique you can use: in addition to listing the standard requirements for a position, like “10+ years of relevant experience,” include some of the behaviors you’re looking for in your job description and be sure to cover them in every conversation as you get to know your recruits.

For example, you can include attributes like “adaptable,” “solves complex problems for their customer,” “independent thinker” and “collaborator.” Make sure you dig into the specific details to ensure their version of “problem solving” or “collaboration” is the same as yours.

3) The Golden Rule: 'Treat Sales Candidates as You Want to Be Treated'

There’s a lot of history behind The Golden Rule, but one of the best ways to grasp its importance in business is through anecdotes. Personally, I have many to share, but will keep it short here…

As a sales recruiter, part of my job is to help companies identify what they really want in a new employee and vice versa. Not too long ago, I worked with a client that pivoted four times on what they thought they wanted.

After too much wheel spinning and many red flags, I pressed the “pause” button as I was concerned about the experience they were creating for the very talented people going through the interview process. If you don’t really know what you need, how productive of an interview can you truly have?   

Fortunately, we were able to regroup to get back on track. Even better, we had the PERFECT person (a shining star in their field) that just so happened to be someone I knew and respected personally and professionally. I was excited for all parties involved as the interviews were going really well and the talk of an offer was starting to materialize. Just when we all thought connection magic was being made, insert the needle on the record… 

As he was packing for his flight the next day, he had a phone interview with a peer that wasn’t able to participate in person. Long story short, this individual clearly wasn’t on the same page as the rest of the team, his ego took over, and he ended up challenging the candidate's experience and claiming that the role was completely different than what he was told.sales-growth-hiring5.jpgVia BlueGean, Cliparting

As you might have guessed, this was completely off-putting for the candidate as it was clear there was a major internal disconnect, raising many other red flags along the way as the details didn’t add up to all of the other conversations regarding the role. He was having a difficult time weighing the risks versus the rewards as a result.

When discussed, the client became defensive and unclear (yet again) of what they truly wanted and why. Sadly, the damage was done and he ended up withdrawing from the role (how could you blame him) while I decided to step away from the engagement (this was the second time with the same client – that old adage of fool me once…is especially relevant). 

Their philosophy of candidate experience, communication, and “for those lucky enough to work here” attitude was detrimental to their hiring success. The last time I checked, the role was still open (8 months later)…

If you run a startup, you won’t always know exactly where it’s headed and what needs tweaks along the way. This is 100% OK, as it’s inherent to how startups work. What’s important is HOW you pivot, how that translates to your recruiting process, and the way it’s communicated.

To do this, put yourself in the prospect’s shoes. Imagine how you’d feel if you were them; would you be pleased with your company, its communications, the way each interaction was handled, email interactions, along with the final result? It’s imperative to engage with every prospect in the exact way that you’d like to be treated. 

Remember, we live in a world where people like to write reviews, socially network and talk. According to CareerArc, nearly 60% of candidates have had a poor candidate experience, and 72% of those candidates shared that experience online or with someone directly. The few extra minutes it takes to ensure all communications are properly handled so that your sales candidates feel good about their experience regardless of the outcome is absolutely worth it in the long run.

4) Transparency, Transparency, Transparency ... Did I Mention 'Transparency'?

After 20 years in sales, I’ve learned that any interaction with a buyer has to be 100 percent authentic to achieve real success. Today—arguably more than ever before—transparency matters as the way buyers make decisions and how they buy is changing.

According to Todd Caponi from PowerReviews, the data is pointing to the realization that by 2020, a new evolution of selling will emerge. This one will be represented by the rise of the “Transparency Sale”. Hiring is no exception to this rule. Now more than ever, it’s important to have an open and honest approach. It’s quickly becoming the only way you’re going to get customers, and it's the only way you’re going to recruit the talent you need and more importantly want.

To accomplish this, you’ll need to get very comfortable with your strengths and weaknesses. Smart candidates will ask about both of these things, so you need to be prepared to talk about each one candidly.

During the recruiting process, you’ll also want to help a candidate discover as much about your company as possible. Proactively communicate the good, the bad, the ugly and the in-between from different people at different levels within the organization (just be sure you pow wow before to have a clear and concise plan of attack to avoid the situation mentioned above). Provide them with opportunities to experience your team firsthand. Invite the candidate to tag along on a sales call, include them in your next town hall, or break bread to show them how you interact outside of the office.   

It will take time and effort to provide your candidates with transparency, but this investment will more than pay off. In fact, if your dedication to transparency only helps you avoid the wrong person for the job, it’ll be worth it.

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Via Robert Half

Wrapping Things Up

Hiring the right salespeople for your company to promote your product and/or services effectively is no joke—and rightfully so; your employees can ultimately make or break your company’s success.

As a growth-hungry startup, your appetite for helping hands will feel insatiable, but you need to resist this hunger as much as possible. If you want to achieve sustainable growth, you have to really think before you act to properly hire and onboard through your very own methodology incorporating the above tools for success.  

Featured Image: Pexels

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Amy Volas

About the Author

I'm a sales fanatic turned entrepreneur, bitten by the startup bug many moons ago and couldn't imagine spending my time anywhere else. I created Avenue Talent Partners to help with the tremendous task of growing startups through one of their most valuable assets—salespeople.