5 Hiring Tips for Enterprise Sales Leaders to Reduce the Suck

Hiring great sales reps and sales leaders is damn hard, but it doesn’t have to be impossible or thought of as about as promising as buying a lottery ticket.

I have spoken to so many CEOs who had to let a head of sales go, and the conversation usually includes some or all of the following comments:

    “He had such a strong record on paper – I don’t know why he didn’t work out.”

    “Her references were amazing…everyone raved about her ability to sell just about anything.”

    “He blew us away in the interview process – I don’t think I ever came across a more impressive executive in the recruiting process…”

“I really don’t know why he didn’t work out. Our pipeline is still strong, our message seems to resonate, but we just weren’t closing business.”

What was missing? A formula for a scalable process and playbook to hire the right rep for the job. This shouldn’t be guesswork – and it won’t be with my 5-step process. It’s relevant to B2B, Enterprise and SMB sales, and it works for both complex and transactional sales model that are sold directly to an end user or buyer.

1.) Prioritize the Ultimate Buyer

Be very clear about how you are winning sales (function, price, ROI, etc.), what is resonating from the value proposition in the marketplace, and who is the REAL buyer.  This seems pretty simple, but there are nuances in each of these items. For example, many executives fail to understand who the real “buyer” is in a sales cycle. This can be very different from who the first call goes to. In short, the real buyer is the final person in the sales cycle that needs emotional buy-in to say yes. Many businesses fail to recognize just how often this is the CEO. This step is so important because you have to start with the end in mind – and plan backwards. Think about what will make the ultimate buyer say yes – and map out *every* step of the process from there.

2.) Study Your Best Sales Rep

Look at your very best sales person, and spend time understanding just what she does to be successful. Go on sales calls with her to observe (not talk!) and watch how the prospects respond to various value propositions, questions, or other aspects of the solution positioning. Map what she does along every step of the sales cycle and document it so you now have a model that can be replicated.

3.) Develop a Sales Hiring Attribute Model

Take your model / map and look at how this translates into the *attributes* that make a sales professional successful. So now you have a clear picture of who buys from you, how that moves through a sales process, and just what activities a good rep does to make sales happen. Now you need to take that information and build out a detailed “attributes” map or profile that highlights the specific skill set you want in each of your sales reps.

For example, how much of her time did she spend researching the prospect? If the answer is a lot, you need to test for that in the interview process and be explicit about this when talking to prospective sales hires.

Or maybe you need a cold-calling animal that relies mostly on tenacity to be successful.  Examine if your reps are building their own ROI model to close the sale and using it repeatedly in the sales cycle. If this is the case, you better start to look for financial acumen as part of your sales hiring attribute model.

In short, you need to look for a pattern of skills that you can begin to screen for in other sales executives – i.e., know what you are (and are not) looking for in your sales team.

4.) Dial In Your Interview Process

Examine your hiring plan for sales reps, including how you are interviewing them based on what you have learned.  Specifically, compare the attributes you discover in steps 2 and 3 and compare them with your firm’s interviewing process: questions, skill map, even who is part of the interview process. If there isn’t a strong connection between steps 2, 3 and 4, you need to reinvent the process ASAP. It’s hard work, but it forces you to reinvent a lot of the tools you have in place – and in the end it’s this commitment that enables you to win in the marketplace.

5.) Track Success

Track success (or lack thereof) by sales rep over a 6, 12 and 18 month period. By doing this, you can monitor your success rate in a highly analytical way and consistently reinvent and modify your process.

Getting sales right is the key to taking your idea, dream or emerging growth to the real next level – and by following my formula, you’ll be one step closer to making this happen.


Mike Smerklo is Co-founder and Managing Director of Next Coast Ventures, a private equity firm headquartered in but not limited to Austin, Texas. He served as CEO of ServiceSource for almost 12 years.