Hiring Like A Boss: Building A Sales Team with Annelies Husmann
For the most part, founders are generally pretty excited to hire out sales. They want someone else to take care of selling so that they can get back to engineering, marketing or whatever else their passion might be. Few (if any) startup founders are thrilled to spend their day making cold calls.
However, as Annelies Husmann points out, the problem is founders don’t always know how to hire the right people.
Annelies is the Head of Sales & Account Management for Mode Analytics, a company that, in her words, sells to a very niche group—data analysts and data scientists. Because of the company’s ultra-specific buyer, Annelies has had to adjust her hiring process accordingly. Every salesperson, after all, has a different set of skills. In order to close deals with members of the data community, Mode sellers must be able to speak their language.
At SalesCollider’s Revenue Roadmap workshop, Annelies delivered an excellent presentation on the topic of hiring. She discussed the process of building a sales team and offered some advice for hiring the sellers that can close with your buyers.
Identify Your Goals and Understand Your Customer
Let’s face it: we all dream of having an army of salespeople working out in the field while we sit back and watch the revenue stream in. Before you can expect anyone else to sell your product, though, you need to understand how to sell it yourself. Simply handing them the product, sending them out the door and hoping that they come back with money isn’t going to work.
“Everyone wants to hire someone who comes in early, stays late and crushes their numbers, but that’s a pie in the sky,” Annelies says, “You have to identify the goals of the team and the skills needed to support those goals.”
In order to figure out what those goals and skills are, you’ll have to spend some time experimenting with your sales process. After closing a sale yourself, you’ll have a good idea of how to benchmark each deal.
You’ll also be able to get a feel for what your customers are like and how they want to be sold to. This information will eventually inform your hiring decisions.
“Figure out if they want someone who’s really technical and in the weeds with them,” she says. “Or do they want someone who pushes a lot of content and can really walk them through demonstrations?”
If you’re unable to get an idea of what your customers want in a seller, Annelies suggests asking them outright how they prefer to be sold to.
“Go ask them this question,” she says, “It’s not the gospel truth, because at the end of the interview they might say, ‘Oh, by the way, I don’t like being closed hard or being pushed.’ You’ve got to take it with a grain of salt, but listen to them.”
Ultimately, anything you can learn about your customer will help you to hire people that can sell to them.
The tricky thing about hiring sellers, Annelies notes, is that they’re generally charming people and are really good at figuring out what you want to hear. This makes interviewing them somewhat difficult.
“Salespeople are all going to interview well,” she says, smiling. “No matter who you’re talking to, they’re all going to be like, ‘I had the best year ever! I can totally sell this!’”
In order to hire the best possible candidate for your company, then, you need to develop a set of criteria for judging each interview. Annelies advises having multiple interviewers present and assigning each one a specific quality to look out for. One person can evaluate how they fit the company culture, another can assess their technical aptitude, etc.
“The reason to have these goals outlined is that you can start benchmarking. After you’ve interviewed a couple of people on that one specific criterion, you’ll start to see who’s doing really well on these questions and who isn’t,” she says, “It’s a specialization of the interview process.”
For this process to work, of course, your interviewing team needs to have a clear profile outlined before you start meeting with candidates. That way, you’ll be able to measure each interviewee against the needs of your company. “Everyone on the team has to be speaking the same language,” she says.
Once the interviews are complete, your team can come together and compare the candidates on a point-by-point basis. "How did they do on a cultural level?" Annelies asks, "How did they compare on a technical level? How did they compare on the level of criteria [you] need?"
Prepare to Be Patient
Always avoid rushing into a new hire. Even after you’ve taken some time to get the sales process down and put together a skills profile, you should expect it to take some time before you find the right candidates.
According to Annelies, you should plan to spend at least two months recruiting each account executive. If you’re hiring anyone above the AE level, it can take up to nine months before they show up for their first day at work. It’s not uncommon, she explains, for sellers and sales executives to push back their onboarding date.
She illustrates: “Sometimes they’ll say, “Oh, wait. I’m about to get a big commission cheque here and I want to finish off the quarter to get paid on it’. It’s a good sign because it means that they’re hitting their number but it’s something to keep in mind as you start the recruiting process.”
Although it may take some time to start hiring—from perfecting your sales process and identifying the skills you need to interviewing and sending out offers—patience will pay off. Bringing on the right people, at the right stage in your company’s growth, will slowly help to build your average sales rate and, eventually, bring your company to the next level.