Sales Recruiting: What are the biggest risks in hiring a salesman at your startup?

Sales Recruiting: What are the biggest risks in hiring a salesman at your startup?

By Zeeva Viola | April 20, 2017


Also, what are the biggest risks in hiring a salesman too early at your startup?


  1. Hiring any salesperson too soon.

If you’ve yet to acquire paying customers, then it’s too soon – you’re still in Customer Discovery and Customer Development mode. And while Customer Development really is sales, as the company founder it is vital that you develop a sales framework that includes buyer types (i.e. Economic, Technical, Users) within your target prospects and overcomes common sales hurdles (i.e. legal, technical, price)

By hiring a salesperson without clear knowledge of how and why your target market buys, you have no means to hold your salesperson accountable. It is very easy to confuse and justify salesperson activity for business development. “Well… he’s been with us for six months and while he hasn’t closed any deals, he’s making lots of contacts and doing lots of demos. This will create market awareness for us and when the product is finished, we can close this prospects.” Wrong. It may be that you’ve hired the wrong salesperson, and it may be that you hired a salesperson too soon.

Without metrics from which to draw – pull-through rates and timelines from lead to customer – your decision to retain or fire a salesperson lacks any rigor.

  1. Hiring a senior salesperson because you think they will bring a Rolodex of contacts and customers.

The purchasing decision in an enterprise sale is too large for any one individual to blindly purchase a new product simply because that executive has a relationship with your newly-hired salesperson. A Rolodex may provide an entry point in target accounts but will not lead to sales.

  1. Taking an incorrect approach to candidate assessment.

Unlike many technical jobs, you cannot test a sales candidate on their proficiency. Traditionally, you are reliant on their resume and interviewing skills. To overcome this challenge, use behavioral profiles such as Myers-Briggs or Zero-Risk.

I’ve used Zero-Risk – it is very good at providing you specific questions to ask in an interview so you can delve into potential weaknesses or mismatches between the job task and the candidate’s behavior.

Every salesperson will tell you they are entrepreneurial, don’t require heavy management, and that they love the challenge. These behavioral assessments helps you separate fact from fiction.

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  1. Hiring “closers” instead of creative problem-solvers.

Closers don’t know the difference between an objection and a product requirement. “Okay Engineers, if you just add this and this and that, I’ve got three customers that are ready to buy…” Creative problem-solvers assess the client’s requests and look for opportunities to begin working together, even if in a limited way while product development continues.

Closers focus on closing the sale, not implementing a strategic process for your client.


Jason M. Lemkin’s answer to What are the best questions to ask a VP of Sales during an interview?

  1. Hiring only one salesperson.

If your business has reached a point that you are compelled to hire a salesperson, then hire two salespeople. This diversifies your portfolio of salespeople should one not work out despite following all the rules to recruiting and hiring. This also provides additional data points to measure salesperson performance – not just against your forecast but against each other.

Hiring two salespeople provides you insurance in working with individual prospects. It is very common that  a salesperson and a prospect personalities simply do not match up. By having a second salesperson, you can bring her into the conversation.

You may also find that certain salespeople do better/worse with certain kinds of accounts or markets. Now you can align these accounts based in individual strengths.

Lastly, this will enable you to scale faster, assuming you hire two effective salespeople. Training and ramp up time, particularly in an enterprise sale setting, is long and laborious. It may be six months (or more) before you see your first deal close from your new hires. As a startup, your business will be drastically different in six months. What happens if you decide then to hire salesperson #2? You’ll need to wait another six months to see the revenue results.

**This Q&A article was originally posted on Quora. Check out Scott’s Quora page here.

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