How I hire Sales People

A CEO of a start-up recently asked me how I hire software salespeople.  I have a simple rule that has served me well. I look for three things in a salesperson's resume.

  1. Experience and successful track record selling software. Selling software is different from other high tech.  Your product is "selling a vision" more than something that your prospective customer can see, feel or touch. This requires a different set of selling skills from many other high tech products.  Software also has a bunch of details regarding revenue recognition, limitations of liability and protection of intellectual property that can burn your company badly if mis-sold so you want someone who understands this stuff
  2. Domain expertise in the product area and industry being sold to.  For example, if my product is in the Human Capital Management domain and is aimed at primarily Financial Services companies, then I want a salesperson that has experience selling these types of products to companies in this industry. Every domain and industry has its own jargon and hot buttons. Again, unless I am specifically hiring for an entry level position, I can't afford the time to train someone to do the job that I am hiring them to do, so I want folks who already understand this stuff.
  3. Rolodex of Contacts. I want sales people who in their career have built a rolodex of contacts such as Customers who have bought from them more than once in the past and will likely buy from them again in the future; Partners (Systems Integrators, Consultants, other tech companies) who  have worked with them and trust them; and other good sales and marketing people that I may want to recruit in the future.

If a sales candidate doesn't have two of the three points above, I pass on their resume.

So how do you find these sales people? Start with being specific about what you are looking for. Do you want to hire a "wannabe" or someone with a track record? Invest the time up front to define your needs.  

Next, work your networks. Employee referrals are great if you have experienced employees who have been around. Also, use your Board and other advisors to get referrals or tap into their networks to get recommendations of people to approach. Consider using a recruiter but don't outsource the thought leadership or ownership for hiring to them. Let them do the leg work, but you have to retain the ownership. Look at innovative recruiting services like Head2Head's 60 Hour program. It will increase your success in hiring while reducing the time to hire and the average cost of hiring.

Sales is a key area for any start-up business. Great products rarely sell themselves. Unfortunately great sales people are expensive so understand what you have to spend and figure out how to afford it. Again, tap into your Board and advisors for help.

© 2010 Meaford Group

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