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How to Effectively Hire Sales Leaders

May 24, 2017 at 9:00 AM Amina Moinuddin

EnterpriseSalesHeader (2).pngFew roles have as direct of an impact on an organization’s bottom line as sales roles. That impact is even greater for a role in sales management. A great sales manager lifts up an entire team and makes everyone better. They coach reps through tough deals and help their teams hit their targets. They forecast accurately and keep senior management in the loop when it comes to competition and challenges that may arise. In other words, they make everyone around them better.

For those reasons and more, experienced sales leaders with track records of success are hard to find and even harder to hire. As with all roles, the more experience you’re looking for, the smaller the pool of your potential candidates becomes. It's not easy, but it's doable with a measured, thoughtful, and deliberate approach.

Here’s how we did it at Entelo.

Align Your Stakeholders

When a role is a new one, developing and articulating a concept and profile is hugely important. At Entelo, this meant aligning with senior leadership (VP of Sales) to understand what a Head of Enterprise Sales would look like for us. We spent a fair amount of time developing a concept and profile that guided us as we moved forward and informed every decision we made towards a hire.

Getting everyone on board from the beginning is essential. At Entelo we hold kickoff meetings between the hiring manager and recruiter first. This ensures alignment on the role, profile, process, goals, and timeline for each hire. Once the hiring manager and recruiter are on the same page, we do a kickoff with the broader interviewing team.

Establishing a timeline and process early on is important because it gets every person in sync. Once everyone knows their responsibilities--whether that means interviews, sourcing candidates, reading resumes, or helping with outreach--keeping everyone on the same page is far easier, which creates a better candidate experience and helps you more efficiently hire. At Entelo, recruiting is a company-wide effort. All hiring managers and their respective teams help source and build pipeline. This helps us find and hire stronger candidates.

Map the Process

Hiring is complicated. That’s why people often compare it to project management. At the very least, it requires communicating with dozens of people inside and outside your organization, facilitating dozens of calls and meetings, and making sure that the right information is shared with the right people on time, while also managing training and feedback for interviewers. There are a lot of moving parts and it’s easy for things to go awry.

The best way to avoid those problems is to map the process out from the very beginning. Explain to everyone involved what their role and responsibilities will be and make sure they understand what the commitment looks like. If they are too busy to help, find someone who has the bandwidth. Articulating the process minimizes unnecessary friction and clarifies goals and expectations. This allows the hiring team to focus on the goal of finding, assessing and hiring the best possible candidate instead of getting bogged down in avoidable bottlenecks and points of failure.

Define the Role

Every role is unique, especially in sales. The specifics of sales roles are defined by your organization’s product, sales process, deal size, team structure, revenue goals and other factors. A key aspect of finding and assessing candidates is creating a detailed description of the role’s expectations and responsibilities with your hiring team and the hiring manager.

There’s no one size fits all here, especially not in sales. Your sales process is unique to your organization, so be certain to include key stakeholders from within your sales team to create an accurate description of the role. It’s difficult to assess candidates at any state without a clear idea of the experience and skill-set your role requires and without a clear description, you won't be able to properly evaluate the candidates you do get into the funnel.

At Entelo, before we even start sourcing candidates we make sure that everyone has signed off on a profile of our ideal candidates. It doesn’t mean we’re looking for one kind of person, but it sets the table for the blend of experience, character, skills and other factors a successful hire should have. With that profile in hand, a recruiting and sourcing team can start a talent search with confidence. For example, after our kickoff, we decided we were looking for someone who had extensive experience selling enterprise, particularly SaaS, had 3+ years managing an enterprise sales team of at least 10 reps, and had experience selling into HR buyers. It was a very specific profile, but it helped us narrow our search more effectively.

One thing to remember, always be honest and up front. Sugarcoating reality will set candidates up for disappointment and give them a false idea of your business challenges. Own your competitive landscape and frame roles as an opportunity for inventive, creative problem-solving. The best candidates view problems as growth opportunities, and those are the people you want to hire anyway.

Tell a Compelling Story

Is your organization a rocketship of growth? Are you creating and selling best-in-class products? Are customers raving about you? Have you earned any recognition or awards? Do you have funding from great investors? Do you have a culture you're proud of? Those are things that will set you apart for smart, motivated people.

If you’re not sure how to sell your organization, think about what sets you apart and what candidates are looking for. For example, a few main areas sales candidates might focus on are:

1) product - is your product selling?
2) performance - is your sales team hitting quota and are quotas attainable?
3) compensation - what is upside and the possibility for a top performer (manager or IC)?

Sales candidates want to understand what your company’s growth trajectory looks like, if you’ve built a product that people actually find value in, and if your sales organization is hitting revenue goals. Consider what’s on the horizon and why right now is an important moment in the history of your organization. Dig into the specific challenges you are trying to solve and explain what makes your product and team special.

Paint as vivid a picture as possible of the ways your organization is changing the world for the better. Study after study has shown that people care about being part of something meaningful. That's why your organization's story is so important.

Also, toot your own horn. At Entelo we leveraged the fact that we placed 3rd on Glassdoor’s 2017 Best Places to Work list. We emphasized our strong culture and upward trajectory and it helped us find amazing candidates, including our eventual Head of Enterprise Sales.

Remember, your candidates are your audience, so frame everything in a way that shows them why they should want to work with you. Sell your story well and some of the best candidates will come to you.

Know Talent When You See It

After all the planning and execution, it’s mission critical that your team knows when you’ve found your hire. Just because it’s early, don’t be afraid to think you’ve found a winner. The worst thing you can do is leave a stellar candidate who checks all of your boxes hanging because you want to interview more theoretical amazing candidates who may or may not pop up.

It’s not something you can ever really plan for, but every now and then a true unicorn candidate might drop into your lap. In our case, I had been sourcing for our Head of Enterprise Sales role for months, bringing in very qualified candidates into the pipeline, yet none of them had worked out. Then one day, a thoroughly experienced and talented candidate reached out to us after seeing our Glassdoor Best Places to Work. It was the kind of scenario that happens very rarely.  I knew from our initial conversation that I had found our person.  We brought him in, interviewed him, had him meet everyone, including our CEO, and, as I suspected, he was the right hire.

But even the time spent with candidates you don't hire is useful.  Use every phone screen or interview as an opportunity to tighten your search. Work with your hiring team to figure out what was missing and what you want to see in future candidates. That allows you to sharpen your focus until you really hone in on A+ candidates.

One last thing, after you make a hire, don’t forget to leverage their Rolodex. After every senior hire, one of the first things we do is sit down with them to see if they have contacts for other roles we have open. The longer someone has been in the industry, the more people they know, especially in their respective departments and fields. In some cases, one hire can turn into 4 or 5 more hires in a short period of time (we've already found one additional hire through our Head of Enterprise Sales). If you’re a high growth company, there is no better way to find qualified talent in a short period of time, so be sure to leverage your new hires' networks. 

At the end of the day, the quality of your hire reflects the quality of your process. With the right planning, the right structure and a little bit of patience, you’ll find great people. You just have to know what you are looking for.

Amina Moinuddin is the first full-time senior business recruiter at Entelo, where she oversees the entire go-to market recruiting process and strategy. Previously, she was the 35th employee and the first recruiter at Optimizely.  Amina is a Bay Area native and studied Psychology and Economics at UC Davis.

Related Articles:
What Happens When You Standardize Your Interview Process
Why You Should be Hiring For Culture Add, Not Culture Fit
On the Road With Glassdoor, What Being a Great Place to Work Really Means

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