A top sales rep will change the trajectory of your company, while a bad one will tank it.

With those high stakes on the line, startup founders and CEOs turn to best practices and conventional wisdom to help them pick the winners from the duds.

The problem is that if you follow conventional wisdom when hiring your sales reps, you'll end up with a conventional sales rep--and that can mean the death of your company.

To Steli Efti, co-founder and CEO of Close.io--a platform for sending, receiving and tracking all sales-related calls, emails, and activity--hiring the best of the best sales reps means breaking all of the rules.

Here are the 7 guaranteed terrible ways to hire sales reps that you've been taught and what you need to do to pick out and reel in sales reps that can actually close.

1. Hire for experience

Veteran salespeople can be deadly for a startup. Why? They have two characteristics that you absolutely don’t need at this stage: They’re expensive and they’re no longer hungry.

It is incredibly tempting to pay for the top sales hire you can find, and get him into your company along with all his contacts and techniques. But there is absolutely no guarantee he will succeed in your field, and instead he’ll hemorrhage money through his top-level salary and all the extras he is used to in order to make his sales. He can’t hustle anymore.

Instead you could use that money to hire 2-3 young, hungry, fresh salespeople. What they lack in contacts they will more than make up for in sheer willpower, passion, and determination. Those are the traits you need to sell a startup.

2. Chase top candidates

It’s easy for job seekers to churn out resumes when looking for a position. When reading through them you might see one or two that really stand out and you want to chat with immediately.


The best sales candidates will be the ones that want to sell themselves, with the savvy and enterprise to want to be making all the moves.

Get back to good candidates with your contact details telling them you want to chat. Natural salespeople always pick up the phone. The great candidates will see the opportunity and won’t want to miss it. You can then give them an immediate phone screen and see whether that enthusiasm will translate into a job at your company.

3. Hone in on the best resumes

Big firms may care about screening resumes, but a good sales hire is going to be a lot more than a piece of paper. Look through resumes for a single piece of information that sticks out.

Did they work for a competitor? Come from the town of a sports team you hate?

You are looking for something that will start a conversation. Sales is a talking job, so if they can’t wax lyrical about something they have picked out to go on their resume, they are not going to be good chatting with prospects on the phone. Get them talking about their passion, not just their resume.

4. Ask the classic interview questions

In the same vein, do you really care about their schooling, where they see themselves in 5 years, or the time they stood up to a boss?


These rote interview questions might do well for a regular office job, but you are hiring a sales rep. Get them to sell. In your first phone call they should be selling themselves like crazy, and, if they’ve done their homework, should be able to sell your product immediately.

Use the interview to actually learn something useful about the candidate. If you push them, how do they react? Do they bring something new and exciting to the conversation? Can you see yourself sitting next to them for the next 1-2 years as you crush it together?

5. Be the nicest guy in the room

This follows on directly. It’s OK to argue in an interview. Not upending desks, in-your-face arguing, but pushing the candidate to show their passionate side, and how that focuses or disturbs their thought process.

Steli mentions this question that the other co-founder of Close.io, Thomas Steinacher, always asks potential hires:

“If you were to start a company, instead of getting a job right now, what would you do?”

If someone doesn’t know, that’s not good. If someone has a thousand ideas, that’s awesome. Start arguing. Push them on their ideas. Test, probe, scrutinize. You don’t care about the idea, you care about the arguments. You want to see how passionate they are about their ideas, and how they deal with your objections.

If they can’t think on their feet, which they will have to do every single day they work for you, they’re toast.

6. Avoid rejecting your candidates outright

Rejection is a big part of sales. Anyone wanting a sales job needs to be able to handle it.

Not stoically, but responsively. Because the default answer to a sale call is no, every sales person has to know how to turn a no into a yes.

If you aren’t initially feeling the fit with a candidate, tell them. There and then. Don’t wait to send an apologetic email the next day. Tell them at the end that they haven’t impressed. Some will agree, some will plead, but some will argue.

By giving them a chance to deal with your objections they can pitch you again. This is the sign of a true hustler and a natural salesperson. If they can reorient their arguments and persuade you a second time, that is exactly the type of person you need on the phones.

7. Settle for what's available

This may seem obvious, but don’t. Ever.

It will be super tempting to get someone in quick so you can ramp up your sales and get growth, but if the person isn’t a good fit, or not a natural seller, then it will come back to bite you.

Think of it like this – anything they can’t do, you’ll end up doing. Any time there is an issue that they can’t handle, it will be added to your workload. You are bringing them in to take a portion of the burden, so then they become useless. At best you are back to square one, at worst you may have missed your chance and the company tanks.

Do this interview hack instead--Ask Why? Why? Why?

Instead of making those mistakes, do what Steli does with his startup hiring hack--embrace the power of why. Whenever he has someone to interview, he always follows up an answer with a Why?


It’s easy to become an interview supremo now. Every top interview question is available to practice. You can even find out what specific companies ask in their interviews. Everyone is ‘packaged’.

It’s now the interviewers job to unwrap that package, and Why? is how you do it. It goes like this:

Interviewer: Mundane interview question?

Candidate: That’s a great question. [Insert rote answer they learned off the web here].

Interviewer: Cool. Why?

Candidate: Well, er, because, er, [thinking thinking thinking--this wasn't online!] blah blah blah…

Interviewer: Oh, really? That’s super interesting! Why?

Candidate: [thinking truthfully for a start] Well, because, blah blah blah

Interviewer: Awesome! Why?

Candidate: [Actually having a conversation] Because of this, that, this, and the other.

Now you have got that package to open up. Maybe 3 Why’s won’t work, in case maybe this person is too rigid to work well with you, but if they do, now they will start to answer every question in conversation mode, rather than interview mode. With 3 simple Why’s you have just cut all of the crap out of an interview.

How do you hire only the best sales reps for your company?