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Recruitment musings

Where there is room for bravery in sales hiring

(Image by Greg Westfall on Flickr)

It’s easy to stick with what you know. But stepping out of your comfort zone is often the best way to make progress. Rather than taking a chance on someone that doesn’t exactly fit the mould, sales managers often go with conservative choices in hiring sales talent operating on the theory that folks with similar industry and vertical orientations have less of a learning curve and are more likely to help them make their number- faster.

But in doing so, there will always be hidden gems they are passing by. Here are some typical ways in which managers display that conservative bias:

Same function, same vertical, same industry:

They want candidates working in the same function as the advertised role, within the same general industry and the same vertical. If a manager is hiring for a SaaS company, it’s expected that candidates will have SaaS sales experience.

Same size deals:

They want a candidate who has already sold to their target b2b clients  i.e. enterprise or midmarket or SMBs. A match here means less of a learning curve.

Less-experience-than-me candidates:

Often they look for candidates junior to them in experience terms. For IC roles they are wary of some candidates who have held management positions in the past. They may be intimidated by candidates who have too much experience or where there is a perception of an inability to related to perhaps a hipper client base.

Too many jobs:

They are wary of candidates who have spent their careers hopping from job to job.

By staying conservative, you Are Drastically Reducing Your Hiring Pool

By ruling out people who don’t fit their ideal profile, hiring managers reduce the number of candidates they can choose from. This is why hiring managers need to be braver to find sales gems out there that others are overlooking. It might feel risky to try something different, but that’s how you can separate your company from your competitors.

Where there is room for bravery in sales hires:

Managers can reassess the qualities they look for in candidates to see where a braver approach to hiring makes sense. The Bravery rating below is from 0 (no bravery needed / limited risk) to 10 ( lots of bravery required / practically foolhardy!)

  1. Changing Function to Sales. Hiring someone who has worked only non-sales roles for a predominantly hunting oriented role rarely if ever works. Similarly, hunters can become farmers generally speaking but it rarely works the other way around. There’s no sense in rolling the dice to see whether that individual can succeed in sales.  Rating – 8 (Often not worth the risk)
  2. Candidate has Right industry, wrong vertical. Most hiring managers are ok with candidates needing to learn a vertical as long as they have the industry background. Rating 2 (limited bravery required. totally worth it and commonly practiced)
  3. Right vertical, wrong industry. Candidates should be able to leverage their vertical expertise in the new role to change industry orientation.  Rating 2 (limited bravery required. totally worth it and commonly practiced)
  4. Wrong industry, wrong vertical, right function. If candidates have a proven record of meeting quotas, you can generally expect them to continue to sell even in a new industry. They just need patience and a little training. Be brave but be prepared to train and be a little more patient.  Rating 6. Definitely quite a brave move. Often worth the risk if you have the time to train.
  5. No SaaS experience. If candidates have experience in your industry and/or vertical, you can be a little brave with someone who doesn’t have SaaS experience. Selling SaaS can be taught. Rating 5 if industry or vertical is there. 8 if it is not.
  6. Experience. Don’t be afraid to hire with more experience that you think you need. Older dogs may be harder to teach new tricks to but they often know a lot of tricks you haven’t mastered yet! This is especially the case with enterprise sales where deal making experience pays off and gets better with more cumulative years exposure to such deal making. If candidates are willing to do the job for the pay and are motivated, don’t knock it. Rating 1. Not really brave at all – more like smart business sense.
  7. Deal size. If a candidate hasn’t had the opportunity to sell at your price point and / or dealt with complex enterprise deals involving multiple parties, don’t necessarily shun them. No one is born knowing how to do those deals. If you have time time, teach them.   Rating 5. Can be worth the risk if you have the time to train.
  8. Jumpy resume. The VC-backed b2b platform sales space as a whole has a double standard here. Startups usually go through major changes that affect employees: wholesale management changes, RIFs, directional pivots. Don’t always look down on people with a long list of jobs – so long as they can explain their frequent movements. Do not however, compromise when looking for previous quota achievement or w2 success in their history. Rating 4 assuming a) a good back-story and b) you can find that past achievement in their relatively recent past.
  9. Liberal arts education. This applies more to entry level sales hires. Rather than thinking of liberal arts backgrounds as less focused than business or technical educational backgrounds, remember that writing skills – especially email writing skills, are becoming more important as salespeople rely less on the phone. An added benefit may be more creativity in deal-making . Rating 1. No real risk here.
  10. Ability to relate to clients. While it’s certainly important that salespeople relate to clients, they don’t have to be exact personality and/or demographic matches. Variety is the spice of life – even in the eyes of your clients. Rating 2. Limited exposure.
  11. Cultural fit. Cultural diversity is good within your cultural range / value set. Mix it up a bit and see if it helps others pick up their game. Rating 5. Social experiments are risky but can pay off.

So go forth and be brave. Mixing it up will have benefits.

I’m the founder of Glenborn Corporation – a boutique sales-focused recruitment firm in NYC serving the marketing and ecommerce technology industries. To stay on top of my latest job openings, shoot me an email or follow me on Twitter.