Recruiting salespeople at a startup: Not easy.
You need to recognize and hire top sales talent fast, before larger competitors do. And you need to provide an environment where they can thrive.
Startup sales teams are unique.
Unlike more established businesses, they're often competing for the same business with larger competitors who have deeper pockets and more clients on their books. They also need to be nimble, able to scale quickly as they grow.
Your first sales hires are critical to building momentum.
With the right people in place, you can hit the ground running. When done badly, it can set you back months (or even years).
In today’s guide, we’ll cover some tips for building a sales team that will succeed despite these tough conditions:
Why Do You Need a Top-Notch Sales Team for Your SaaS?
Last year, there were over 15,000 SaaS companies in the US.
The number is probably higher now.
Just picture this:
The Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena at its full capacity (which is 15,000 people, just FYI).
But instead of 15,000 music fans, you're seeing thousands of SaaS owners.
This is not some weirdo's delusion. It's a way to imagine the sheer scale of demand for SaaS products & services.
In other words, the market is huge. Large enough to get lost in.
And like any big common, you need an impressive sales team to stand out from the crowd.
And it’s not just us saying that.
Studies suggest that trial users who are contacted by a sales professional are 70% more likely to convert.
Besides, inside sales is one of the most popular strategies among SaaS companies.
In a word: scalability.
By bringing in experienced professionals, you can ramp up your sales efforts almost effortlessly as the business expands.
The Anatomy of a High-Performing Sales Team
Now that you understand the basics of SaaS sales recruitment, the question becomes: What does a great sales team look like in the real world? What positions should you be hiring for?
Let's take a look at some of the most crucial.
Just keep in mind; this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the positions on a sales team. It does, however, cover some of the most essential.
Sales reps are the foundation of any successful sales department. They're responsible for nurturing relationships with prospects to convert them into long-term customers.
They are also responsible for identifying new opportunities and closing them, which means they need strong commercial awareness.
In short: These are the people who make things happen.
They need to be able to prioritize prospects, identify ideal clients, and turn them into customers.
Sales reps need to have a strong understanding of their market, their company's product and its positioning.
It's important to remember that sales reps are the public face of your company. They don't just need to be good at selling. They also need to be great at building rapport and working as part of a team.
If you're lucky enough to hire a sales rock star, they'll need management.
Sales managers are responsible for overseeing the team and making sure they hit their targets. They're also responsible for coaching reps to help them improve and grow into the role.
This means sales managers need to be strong relationship builders, good communicators, and know a thing or two about motivation.
Said simpler: The perfect people to build your company from the ground up.
To find them, look for candidates who have experience in a sales environment. They should be confident problem-solvers and able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.
The perfect candidate will also already know what it takes to excel in the role — they'd have done it for another company before, or at least one that's similar.
Recent surveys reveal that roughly 9 out of 10 employees would stay longer with a company that provides training.
This is also true for sales teams.
To ensure your recruits are hitting their targets, you need a great trainer.
A successful sales trainer needs to keep things interesting and make sure your sales reps are fully engaged.
They need to talk clearly and concisely, with an ability to simplify complex topics — a great skill for anyone who wants to break down abstract information.
This is a senior position, so it's important that your trainer can take the lead in guiding your sales team. They should be well-organized, able to think on their feet, and have good people management skills.
One of the biggest tasks for any sales team is finding new customers. This means building up a list of potential leads and nurturing them so they eventually become customers.
Prospecting managers are responsible for setting targets, measuring results, and making sure the whole process runs like clockwork.
In this role, you want someone who's naturally inquisitive — a good prospector will have the drive to constantly explore new ideas and develop new contacts.
They also need to be the kind of person who keeps things organized and is good at managing their time effectively.
You should look for a candidate who has experience working in an online sales environment and understands how to work with large data sets.
You may have noticed that several of the roles listed above are senior positions. Building a team from scratch will take time, so you'll need to fill some of the more entry-level roles with junior members.
Make sure your sales assistants are comfortable speaking to strangers, have a firm grasp of technology, and are sharp problem solvers.
You can find candidates by looking for people who have experience in an office environment and have good customer service skills.
Customer Success Manager
This role isn’t a must, but can be very helpful.
Customer success managers are responsible for helping your clients get the most out of your SaaS product and making sure they stay as long as possible.
In this role, you want someone who has experience working in a tech company and understands how to use data to prove the impact of their decisions.
You can find candidates with experience in a customer-facing role or retail, as well as those who have studied an IT-related subject.
How To Recruit the Top 1% of Sales Talent
At this point, you already understand the importance of building a solid sales team and the most crucial roles you need to look for.
Now it’s time to step into more practical information.
More specifically, let’s explore a few of the best practices for recruiting the right sales people for your organization.
Start With the End in Mind
Before you start your recruitment process, you need to know the kind of talent you’re trying to hire. To do it, you should have an in-depth description of the role you need to fill.
It’s also a good idea to list out all the achievements you want your ideal candidate to have.
For example, if they should have experience in a leadership role, list out the skills and management experience they must have.
If they are required to have specific tech skills, list out their qualifications.
This will help your recruitment team clearly understand the role you are looking to fill.
Some helpful questions to develop a “talent profile” include:
- Should the candidate have a specific degree?
- Is there a minimum number of years’ experience required?
- What is the candidate’s geographical location?
- Will they be expected to travel?
- What are the salary expectations?
- How much autonomy will they have?
- Is there a target sales figure they need to meet?
- What characteristics and personality traits are you looking for?
Obviously, the more specific your talent profile is, the easier it will be to find the right candidate.
These questions will help you narrow your search and tailor the process to find the best possible candidate.
Develop a Talent Acquisition Pipeline
Once you’ve created a detailed description for the role you want to fill, it's time to manage your talent acquisition pipeline.
First, you should set up a process for hiring.
At the very least, you should have an application form that applicants fill out, a process for scheduling interviews, and a method for following up with candidates.
As far as the last point is concerned, having a good hiring process is only a first step. Once a candidate has reached the interview stage, it’s important to follow up with them as quickly as possible.
Studies reveal that top candidates are only available for ten days before being hired.
While you’ll need to find an ideal time for reaching out, you should ideally follow up with all leads within 24-48 hours.
This will help you show applicants that they're a serious candidate and that you're genuinely interested in their work.
It’s also a good idea to keep in contact with applicants even after you’ve moved on to other candidates.
For example, if they don’t make it past the initial stage, you should send them a message thanking them for their time and letting them know if they will be considered for future roles.
This will help you maintain your relationship with the applicant, which could pay off if you need to fill another role in the future.
Build a Great Place to Work
Here’s the truth: To attract great talent, you must offer a great place to work .
In other words, you need to have a strong company culture that candidates will want to be a part of.
For example, offering your employees opportunities to learn and grow is great. But it’s not enough. You also need to ensure you have an open-door policy in place. This means that your employees should always know the right person to voice their concerns.
If you have a team of great people that are primed to grow, you should have an atmosphere that offers them the opportunity for professional development.
From here, you should also have a clear company mission.
This will help your employees understand their role in the context of the overall vision for the company.
If you have a strong team in place, you’ll attract even more great talent.
Develop the Right Initial Conditions
Sometimes, building a great sales team isn’t about hiring the best sales reps.
Instead, it’s about creating an environment in which everyone can learn, grow, and sharpen their skills. It’s about standardizing your processes and creating the highest quality training.
This might sound like a lot of work, but, when done right, your initial conditions will pay off big in the future.
For example, when you have a set process in place, you can free up time for your sales team to focus on the more important tasks.
You should also standardize your initial training program to ensure that every new hire gets the information they need to succeed. This will allow them to hit the ground running, which is important if you’re looking to build a great team fast.
Also, remember to provide your team with constant support and guidance. This will be especially important if they’re new to the industry.
Doing so will help ensure that everyone is on the same page and that they’re all learning as much as possible.
Focus on A.C.T.I.O.N.
The acronym A.C.T.I.O.N. stands for accuracy, capability, team-players, industry knowledge, organization, and nurturing.
It’s a great framework for building a sales team the right way.
Here’s how it works:
- Accuracy: A great salesperson needs to have a natural understanding of what they do, why the company exists, and how their work will benefit customers. They should be able to communicate this with clarity and conviction.
- Capability: Forcing an unrealistic time frame on a salesperson will only lead to them failing, which negatively impacts their credibility.
- Team-players: Every sales team is built on camaraderie. Top performers are the ones who create that camaraderie, bringing together a mixed bag of personalities to work towards a common goal.
- Industry knowledge: Salespeople should have a detailed understanding of how their products or services fit into a complex marketplace, along with how that affects the customer.
- Organization: A top performing salesperson can harness all their capabilities into an organized schedule. They know their priorities, and communicate that with the team.
- Nurturing: Great salespeople can offer support and guidance to even their most experienced and senior customers, and can work with them to create a true partnership.
Performing well in all these areas is hard — which is why truly talented players are so rare.
The Bottom Line?
Keep in mind that it’s not always about hiring the best sales reps for your company. Instead, you should focus on creating an environment that allows your sales team to grow and do their best work.
This might mean hiring the right mix of experienced reps and recruits, depending on your goals.
Also, remember that the right compensation plan can be a great way to attract high-quality sales talent.
Ultimately, it’s about finding the right balance of compensation, training, and quality for your company.