Hiring Salespeople

Employing a Method for Good Hiring Practices

Hiring salespeople has often been compared to playing the lottery — many produce a modest gain, a few are total washouts and, occasionally, you get a major windfall.  Why do so many sales leaders experience such a wide variance in results when hiring?  Why can’t sales leaders more accurately predict which potential salespeople are going to be great?

Obviously, if hiring was easy, all hires would be great hires who stay for a long time (vs. the industry average of 18 months).  Unfortunately, hiring is much more nuanced, particularly when considering the expected sales process to which the new salesperson is going to be expected to adhere.  Other considerations are company culture and team chemistry, not to mention industry lexicon and domain expertise for those being hired into a vertical marketing team.

First of all, there are two types of software salespeople: infrastructure/technical salespeople and business application salespeople.  The skills required are quite different, which is why so many technical salespeople fail when selling business applications and vice versa.  An infrastructure (IT tools) rep is focused primarily on “feeds, speeds and price” and calls on IT people, who have a clearly defined budget and product spec for every initiative; alternatively, a business apps rep needs to be ROI (return on investment)- and business case-centric, as the buyer often does not have a specified budget for a problem he/she is trying to solve.

The sales cycles are quite different, too.  A typical IT tools sales cycle is primarily focused on product specs and is often a result of an RFP (Request for Proposal) process designed to commoditize the product evaluation, whereas a business app sales cycle tends to be more protracted and complex.

While my hiring "lottery" hasn’t produced winners every time, I have a method of testing and handicapping a candidate’s success likelihood — by asking him/her to walk me step by step through a net new sales cycle that was won and one that was lost.  This tells me a lot about the candidate’s existing sales process, which gives me a chance to measure how closely his/her sales process is to my sales process (salespeople don’t like radical change).  The times I’ve missed the hiring mark have been when I’ve taken shortcuts based on the person’s sales experience.

Of course, once the candidate meets with existing sales and pre-sales people, culture and chemistry issues can emerge, which can be deal breakers.  A bad hire can be costly and time consuming, so better to identify it before hiring.  Also, excessive salesperson turnover can be a red flag to acquirers as well to future prospective salespeople.

If you want further guidance on good hiring practices, please reach out to me at dave@moicpartners.com 

Dave Levitt

Dave Levitt brings a wealth of experience with more than 40 years in the enterprise software space. Having served as Sr. Vice President, Worldwide Sales, at LiquidFrameworks, Dave played a crucial role in scaling their "quote to cash" platform, leading to its acquisition first by Luminate and then by ServiceMax. His strategic prowess was further proven as he created and spearheaded the Energy Business Unit at Salesforce, growing it from inception to $100 million in total contract value. His extensive background also includes sales roles at SAP, Siebel Systems, Oracle | Datalogix, and as a board member for several tech innovators.