Starting from zero has some unexpected advantages.
This past week, I've been doing a deep dive into the experience of our first sales hires, as solopreneurs. It is a hard transition to make, and it involves a lot of faith. Particularly when, like me, you come from a sales background, and are doing okay by yourself. At some point, we all realize that if we really want to hit those big numbers, we're not going to be able to do it alone.
For those entrepreneurs who don't have a lot of sales experience, the better approach is to start with a sales leader, or a sales rep with startup experience. For us sales guys, however, bringing in fresh new talent can be a viable strategy that brings its own advantages.
Hiring experienced sales folks for startups can be daunting, cost wise. If we want to attract really good, professional sales reps, chances are that we'll need a good compensation plan, nice perks, a predictable and scalable sales model, a brand, and some ops infrastructure just to get their attention. This is what any good sales rep who has cut their teeth in a large organization expects.
As early stage startups, most of us just can't offer that. It doesn't make sense for us to compete in that arena. So, instead of looking for salespeople, I recommend that we look for salespeople material.
Identifying hustler DNA
- Are they self-driven and ambitious?
- Are they competitive and enjoy a good challenge?
- Do they enjoy communicating and interacting with others?
- Do they have a high tolerance for rejection?
- Are they coachable? Are they willing to listen and learn, willing to try new methods?
- Are they receptive to advice and can they handle critical feedback?
That, in a nutshell, is my checklist. What I look for are entrepreneurial youngsters whose hustle power I can channel into good salesmanship. That doesn't mean I'll discount someone with experience - far from it. If someone with SaaS startup experience is looking for growth, and is willing to put in the energy it takes to get there, SmartCue is the place to be right now. Experience alone won't cut it though.
A growth mindset is key
We've seen this in action. The older, more experienced sales reps remain mired in processes, while the fresh new greenhorn comes up with a winning strategy that was sitting under our collective noses. Sales reps with no experience in the industry don't fall into the same traps as those with experience might.
Sales reps with minimal experience know they have a lot to learn. They're more open to doing things a different way and accepting feedback. Sales reps with more experience, on the other hand, often have to unlearn how they've done things. That can create friction, especially if it's a system they like.
Fresh sales reps bring with them a fresh pair of eyes. They won't just accept your sales process because it works on paper. They'll ask questions that more experienced reps may be blind to. They look at your customers and your product in a new way, fueling insights and new perspectives.
They also have fewer bad habits. Each company is different. Stretching the truth may be okay in some places, and unacceptable in others. A team of sparkly fresh recruits is like being given a blank slate.
They make the team more diverse. If everyone in our organizations comes from a similar background, education and experience, we're creating an atmosphere where everyone agrees with each other and our blind spots are huge. Not a good recipe.
They're much more likely to innovate than veterans would. Especially in organizations that don't penalize mistakes. They're also much more likely to want to push the envelope more, simply to prove that they deserve a seat at the table, among more 'qualified' peers.
Traditional job boards and networking sites aren't the best place to find them. Instead, I've found the best places to look are within my own network - fellow founders who may be struggling and need to offload people or know of a promising candidate that wasn't a fit for them, but might work well for you. Put the word out with friends, family members, acquaintances about what you're looking for, and ask if they know someone who might be a good fit.
Once you have your band of hustlers (I recommend getting at least two!), start on the right note by setting the right expectations. Be prepared to walk the talk, and be consistent and kind with feedback. Be approachable, and keep an ear open for tension. Reward often, and with heart. In short, be the leader you wished you had when you first started out (or emulate someone who was!)
It's easy to be the hire and fire guy. There's a place for that too, of course. But when we make the choice to bring in whip smart but inexperienced young people, we're taking on the responsibility of shaping these people into the professionals they'll be, for years to come. Here, the coach and guide roles suit us much better.
In my humble opinion, they suit us better in the long run too.