Smart CEOs always keep an eye on the numbers, and it's no different at IT security firm Cylance. Co-founder, president, and CEO Stuart McClure loves to tout his Irvine, California-based company's three-year growth rate of 7,613 percent--and plenty of credit likely goes to senior vice president of worldwide sales Nicholas Warner. But a key to those numbers is, ironically, not emphasizing numbers when hiring a sales team. "It's common to look at a sales rep's past performance based solely on numbers, but we have a less quantitative approach," McClure says. "Past performance might get them in the door, but above everything, Nick looks for candidates with impeccable reputations--sometimes just going with his gut."
This approach helped Warner grow his team from five reps to 80 in two years. That's remarkable in the current employment climate. The Accenture/Burning Glass/Harvard Business School 2014 Bridge the Gap report found technical sales and sales management positions to be among the hardest in the work force to fill. How do founders find and keep star reps? They use these proven strategies.
Play up the product
A sense of mission can be crucial, but it's hard to inculcate. "My team and I have recruited thousands of top salespeople, and most are [focused on], 'What's my earning potential?'" says Carl Kutsmode, a partner at recruiting firm TalentRise in Chicago. But candidates can also be attracted to small companies for the sense of excitement and the prospect of influence in the organization, so make sure to play up those attributes when hiring for your team.
Also, potential hires must want to sell your product. "Ask candidates to paint a detailed picture of a [hypothetical] product or service that would really motivate them to get up and sell every morning," Kutsmode says. "Then ask the reverse question: 'Is there anything you could never sell?'"
Ultimately, your product has "got to be something the salesperson can put some passion around," he adds. "Passion sells."
Chicago custom-media company Guerrero Howe's sales team makes up more than half of the 90-person staff, and it's filled with nontraditional hires. "We've had people from [comedy troupe] Second City," says co-founder Pedro A. Guerrero. "We've had people from the food industry." Still, he always looks for raw acumen. "They certainly need the behavior and motivation necessary to close and pitch," he says.
If you do hire quirky types, invest the salary savings in a phenomenal manager. "Entrepreneurs at younger companies [tend to] have the wrong sales leadership," says sales trainer Steve W. Martin. They "don't hire the right salespeople, and they may not have the right compensation plans. That top hire is absolutely critical."
Revitalize and retain
Median turnover recently hit a five-year peak in technology sales, according to an Aon report, but entrepreneurs with stellar teams buck the trend. Warner has had no turnover in two years, in part because he's hired right.
"A lot of startups try to hire folks from big companies without vetting," he says, adding that you should be brutally honest with candidates about the pros and cons of your organization. That will "get them to be honest with you about what their concerns are and what they're seeing at other companies."
Joe Malcoun, CEO of Ann Arbor, Michigan-based CRM software maker Nutshell, retains reps who see selling not just as a job, but also as a chance to enjoy good work-life balance while doing something they believe in. To promote shared purpose, he emphasizes Nutshell's role in boosting small business. "No one grew up saying they wanted to sell CRM," he admits. "But we help thousands of small businesses grow. Everyone can relate to that."
Don't do that, do this:
Following these simple rules will help you craft a powerhouse sales team.
Instead of: Beating the trees to fill positions fast
You should: Always be hiring
"Every single week, your managers should be talking to people," says Dan Weinfurter, CEO of sales effectiveness firm GrowthPlay in Chicago. "Build a big bench. Then, if someone on your team isn't a good fit, you'll have candidates you've already been talking to."
Instead of: Trimming the budget by capping commissions
You should: Know no limits
"Capping a salesperson's quota is completely demotivational," says sales trainer Steve W. Martin. In his research, he's found "there is a correlation between not capping quotas and [high] performance."
Instead of: Hiring in a hurry to cover your territories
You should: Offer reps incentives to double up, or even step in yourself
"I'll keep a territory open before I'll put someone in who will waste my time and theirs," says Bob Gaw, president of medical equipment seller PRN in Fall River, Massachusetts. "I had an open territory in Colorado, so I told my rep in Texas, 'If you go and make the sale, you'll get the commission and I'll pay your expenses.'"