3 Tips For Hiring Your Startup’s First Salesperson

April 25, 2014

6:00 pm

So your startup is looking to hire its first salesperson, eh?

You may not realize it, but this is a huge step. If you hire the wrong person, your company will be wasting money and resources, and you won’t meet all the goals you’ve set forth. The reputation of your startup is also at stake, since your salesforce literally becomes the face of your organization.

Finding the right salesperson can be vital to a startup, but if you hire one too early or don’t know what you’re looking for, it could cause additional problems rather than fix current issues. Recruiting top salespeople is a very different process than recruiting other positions, and if you don’t at least know the basics of what to look for, it could end with disastrous results.

The first salesperson you hire is crucial. They define the future success of the program in your company. You want to be sure they have all the right qualities in order to ensure they can successfully implement a solid sales strategy.

Figure out exactly what to look for when hiring your startup’s first salesperson with these tips:

1. Turn to Referrals

Unlike most jobs, sales requires many different skills and traits that are hard to identify without personally knowing the candidates. That’s where referrals come in. Recruiters believe referral-based hiring improves the quality of the candidates by nearly 50 percent. This is important, especially since top talent can be difficult to find in the startup world.

Receiving a recommendation for a salesperson (or any role, for that matter) from a close, trusted source makes it much easier for you to gauge how well they could perform, and also makes the interviewing process much faster and smoother. While this isn’t the only method of finding quality candidates, it’s by far the most effective.

Even if you or your employees don’t directly know any salespeople, there are still dozens of ways you can get referrals. Let everyone in your professional network know you’re looking to hire a salesperson and encourage referrals from your employees — even ask your current clients if they have any recommendations. The more you get, the bigger pool of higher quality talent you’ll have from which to choose.

2. Write Fantastic Job Descriptions

If you choose to go the traditional route of posting to job boards, you’ll need to make your description as solid as possible in order to gain the interest of top sales talent. The following are some great tips for writing sales job descriptions:

Transparency is key. Part of what makes a great salesperson is their ability to use a limited amount of information given to them in order to make a judgment or recommendation. In a job description, you want to give them ample information about the job — full overview of the company, job, skills required, etc. — in order to remove any doubt that it won’t be a good fit for them.

Make it visible. Oftentimes, job boards are so cluttered with openings that your posting can easily get lost in the crowd. It’s important to post your opening on as many relevant sales job boards as possible, and repost them every week or so until you’ve found enough candidates. Also, using social media to post your job description is a great way to reach a wider audience, and also engage with potential candidates.

Include keywords. Sales professionals are constantly searching for the next big opportunity, so it’s important to optimize your job description with terms that they use in order to increase the chances of top talent seeing it.

3. Ask The Right Questions

Try to find a maverick who is able to work effectively without structure and in rapidly-changing environments — such is the nature of most startups. When you’re interviewing sales candidates, it’s important to know the biggest mistakes salespeople make that would make them a bad fit for your organization.

Once you narrow down the pool of candidates, the interview process is key in determining which one will be the right fit for the job. Typical interview questions barely scratch the surface of the amount of knowledge you need to know about a sales candidate to ensure they’re a good fit. Interviewers will have to ask situational questions designed to test interviewees’ personality and selling capabilities.

Conversely, sales professionals will need to ask the right questions about your company and the sales strategy to show their passion and desire to effectively and efficiently carry out the functions of the job. They should also show they’re up-to-date on the latest sales trends. Watch for questions great candidates should be asking, such as, “For the next six to twelve months, who is the key buyer for this product, and what is their pain?”

What other tips do you have for startups looking to hire their first salesperson?

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Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for job search and human resources technologies. She is also the author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships (2011) and #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle (2010). Find Heather on Google+.

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