How to Screen Salesperson Candidates



Back in Lesson #35, we talked about how to read resumes and screen employee candidates overall, so I am not going to repeat those points.  But, I do want to specifically drill down on how to screen salesperson candidates, as often times, the quality of your sales team will make or break your revenue stream.  Keep reading if you are a salesperson-driven seller of B2B products or services.

Here are the key things you need to ask sales candidates (in addition to the generic questions in Lesson #35) to assess if they will be good sellers for you.

Industry Expertise.  A good salesperson can sell most anything, with training.  But, it would be preferred if they came from your specific industry as they are materially up on the training curve, understanding your industry’s vocabulary and needs.

Startup Expertise.  Living within an often less-structured startup environment may or may not work for certain candidates who may be used to selling within a more formal, big company structure.  Make sure they have the right startup DNA for the job.

Enterprise or SMB Sales.  Selling into Fortune 500 companies is different than selling into small and medium-sized businesses, with the former typically having a much harder and longer lead cycle than the latter.  So, where you can, find candidates that match your target customer markets.

Outside, Virtual or Inside Sales.  Some salespeople are fine working out of their homes, others need camaraderie with other employees in the office and others may or may not be willing to do the required travel for the job, depending on where they are located or their family situation.  Make sure what you are offering them is within their interests and skillsets.

Job Hops.  I always get nervous when I see a lot of job changes within a short period of time (e.g. 5 different companies in 5 years), especially for salespeople, since they may have been forced out for low sales productivity.  Make sure there is a logical explanation for each move, some of which may or may not have been within their control.

Complex or Easy Product.  Selling a next-generation technology is a lot harder than selling a pencil.  Determine if your product is a complex sell or an easy sell, and find candidates with the matching skillsets here.

Support Team or By Themselves.  Did the candidates entirely support their own sales process (e.g. cold calls, proposal creation, contract creation, lead nurturing, invoicing) or did they have a team working with them?  Depending on your budget and situation, make sure they are okay rolling up their own sleeves.

Active Rolodex.  This is probably the most important point.  Do they have an active Rolodex of clients that would be most logical buyers of your product or service?  If you are selling to CMOs, make sure your salespeople have plenty of CMO relationships they can immediately bring to the table.

LinkedIn Connections.  To me, you are not a good salesperson if you are not actively shaking up leads and networking within business social networks like LinkedIn.  Check out their LinkedIn profiles to see how many connections they have (hopefully 500+), and connect with them to see if the titles of the people they know are people that would most likely buy your products or service.

Direct or Reseller Sales.  Some salespeople sell client-direct, while other salespeople sell to middlemen or resellers (e.g. the difference between Pepsi or their ad agency).  It is typically best to find salespeople with deep direct sales experience and success, as that is much harder to drive big volumes of business and you know they have the key client relationships needed.

Lead Generator or Recipient.  Some salespeople are hunters, tracking down their own leads via cold calling.  Others are the beneficiary of leads from the marketing department, the website or an administrative cold caller.  Find the candidates with experience and interest in “dialing for dollars” on their own, if that is all your budgets can afford.

Annual Sales History/Average Ticket.  Probe on their past sales experience in terms of sales per year to see if it aligns with your own needs for this position.  But, also drill down on the average ticket of their past products sold, as selling one contract for $1MM is not the same amount of work/productivity/success as selling 10 contracts at $100K each for the same million dollars.

Exceeded Past Quotas.  The proof is in the pudding.  Ask them about their past sales quotas and how often they missed, met or exceeded such levels.  If their quota was $1MM a year, they better have been selling in excess of $1MM a year.

Team Management Experience.  If your company is experiencing rapid growth, a good salesperson hired today, may quickly evolve into a sales manager of a team of salespeople down the road.  Inquire if they have interest or past experience in this regard.  But, be clear, their #1 job is driving personal sales for at least the first year.

Technology Experience.  Are they used to using a sophisticated tool like Salesforce.com as their CRM.  Or, were they simply managing leads in an Excel spreadsheet.  Make sure their technology desires and past skills align with the tools you will be providing to them.

Compensation/Commission History. 
Make sure your compensation package aligns with their needs.  If you are offering a $80-$120K base salary (the normal range for a good salesperson), compare that to what they were making at past jobs, to make sure it covers their current lifestyle.  Same rule applies for total compensation including commissions.  If they are used to living on a $250K all-in package, they won’t stick around if they are only making $150K with you.  And, the last thing you want is heavy turnover in your sales team.  It’s critical you get this right.  And, where you can, offering equity in your startup may be just the right incentive to pull a rock star salesperson out of his or her current job.

Have Them Sell You Something.  Nothing demonstrates good sales skills better than having them sell you something.  This could be something from their past jobs, a hobby of theirs, or even your own product with no training just to see how they would approach it.  Particularly assess their listening skills and ability to pull useful information out of you.

Speak to References.  It is critical you talk to their past sales managers, the people they directly reported to, who can speak to the candidate’s abilities in driving sales and exceeding quotas better than anyone.

Hopefully, this list has provided you with the right questions to ask your sales candidates during the initial interview process to ensure you have the best chances of assembling an all-star sales team for your company.

This article was originally published on RedRocket VC, a consulting and financial advisory firm with expertise in serving the start-up, digital and venture community.

About the author: George Deeb

George Deeb is a managing partner at Red Rocket Ventures, a Chicago-based startup consulting and fundraising firm with expertise in advising Internet-related businesses. More of George’s startup lessons can be read at “101 Startup Lessons — An Entrepreneur’s Handbook.”

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