Start with dedicated sales recruiting to get the best sales force

If you want to build a killer — not just a good-enough sales force — then I highly recommend that CEOs/ hiring VPs use a dedicated sales recruiting agency or specialized sales recruiter other than the one handling the other searches. The reason for this is that recruiting and hiring for sales is different, because salespeople are a different breed: Recruiting them takes a completely different language, a different pace, a different mindset.

While an engineer might have questions about the architecture, coding challenges, or engineering culture, and will want someone who can speak that vernacular with credibility, the topmost thing a salesperson wants to know is, “Am I going to have a pipeline? Will my territory be and stay big enough for me to make a killing?”

Of course a good generalist recruiter can learn to anticipate, respond, and solicit the right answers to these questions, but it’s not going to come off as convincing if the recruiters are constantly context switching. Since the best salespeople are setting themselves up for a pipeline, they will probe for related information and same truths 20 different ways. I really admire how rock star sales people do research on a company and find out what’s going on, and think sales-side analysts on Wall Street could learn a lot from them.

Questions rock star sales reps ask:

· How large is the market, and the “territory” being carved out within that? Who else is there?

· Are there customers you’ve already successfully sold this product to?

· How quickly did the last 3 reps get to quota?

· How many sales reps within the company are on 100% quota?

· How many reps didn’t make it? Why?

· How many of the sales reps hired are still there?

· How are renewals converting in the last 10 deals sold?

· Are the reps selling the same type of product?

· How many price concessions have had to be given to meet quota?

…and so on. The really aspirational, motivated sales reps will go even further: Is the product having an impact? What’s the runway for the product? And so on.

No matter how smart your developer-recruiter is, they just won’t be able to credibly answer these questions once the basics are addressed. The best sales reps can out-gun the CFO; heck, they could have been CFO, but deliberately chose sales. So any answers without the ring of authenticity or experience will raise red flags. You cannot afford to have a recruiter that doesn’t “speak sales”, no matter how intelligent, since they will lose those rockstar candidates for you.

A dedicated sales recruiter will handle all of that, and help you build a high-producing sales team. Of course, it depends on how big the company is and how quickly it’s scaling, but I would focus sooner than later on getting or hiring such a recruiter if you have some scale. To not escape the question of when to start: It’s not impossible to imagine a sales hire being your third employee. What?! Are you crazy, why would I do that when we could hire another engineer instead? But if you’re serious about building a great company you can’t start early enough with the infrastructure that will get you there.

And that doesn’t get the CEO and other co-founders off the hook, as they will always be the best salespeople the company will ever have. In fact, I personally do not believe in investing in companies where the CEO and founders — no matter how technical — are not comfortable selling.

One question I’m often asked is whether the CEO should really participate in interviewing new sales hires. It can only last you so long: When I was at SuccessFactors, I think I lasted until the first 800 or so hires, which meant maybe 6000 interviews (and the last many interviews were very short, so I’m not entirely sure it did much good). It’s true that candidates are exceptionally motivated to interview with the founder even if it’s short, and yes, it does allow you to check for culture.

But I think a better way to approach a more comprehensive and scalable recruiting process is to directly link it to onboarding. Rather than overselling, you’re better served holding your ground, hiring competitive recruiting, and then adding a dedicated onboarding function — one that, ideally, has content, training, and testing created by sales, engineering, professional services and customer support, and founders/cofounders.

Build your company’s “sales school” sooner rather than later. It’s the only way to scale.

(Content provided by Forbes)