In the first instalment of our How do you hire? series, we spoke to 3 Sales Leaders to learn about how they make the hiring process less of a numbers game and find their next sales superstar.
Hiring salespeople from the powers that be in your industry is one way to go about scaling your sales team. Another way is to look for fresh blood, who want to cut their teeth, gain experience and grow their career in the right environment.
With the right approach to hiring junior salespeople, you start to create a talent pipeline for the future. “We massively value the junior salespeople that come through,” says Laura Bolton, Group Revenue Director at Xref. “When we’ve hired great junior staff, they’ve quickly progressed into more senior roles. And become real Xref success stories.”
Hiring on top of an already chaotic workload isn’t without its challenges for sales leaders, though.
“Hiring is a huge distraction,” says Laura. “My responsibility is for the business to hit an ambitious revenue goal. Everybody needs to be in top form and their A-game. And it’s tough when you’re hiring to try and stay focused and not get distracted.”
Hiring the right people is a continual process, and when you get it right, you’re in a much better position for when you inevitably have another role to fill.
“Juggling hiring with the responsibilities of your role is a challenge,” says Guillaume Deront, Head of Market Development at Shippit. “It’s made a whole lot easier when you have a solid team to support you while you’re working on filling a position. We’re a young business, and we take pride in going the extra mile for our customers, so the team has to go above and beyond to fill in the gaps.”
Junior sales reps don’t have a set playbook. And that’s a good thing. Every company is different, and when you have someone come in thinking they know all the answers, they won’t be looking for new solutions or asking the right questions to find them.
“When you’re hiring junior salespeople, intrinsic qualities are far more important than experience,” says Sarah Topjian, Sales Manager at Employment Hero. “The benefit here is that you can coach hard skills and mould your salespeople to the way your organisation works. But you can't necessarily teach someone to be driven and eager to learn.”
So, what should you look for in a junior salesperson without an existing repertoire of sales plays?
“We know that juniors aren’t going to tick every box,” says Laura. “So you need to be clear on what your baseline is: what are the things that are absolutely mandatory? For sales, personal skills, relationship building, and communication are all key.”
Guillaume agrees, adding, “We can’t expect a certain level of competencies from fresh graduates, so we look for a genuine cultural fit and soft skills, not just what’s written on CVs.”
The ability to grind combined with a high “figure it out” quotient is essential. “For outbound sales, we need someone resilient and willing to have 100 doors closed on them before one is opened,” says Guillaume.
“We’re looking for their ability to think critically and articulate their thoughts and ideas. We want someone with a level of EQ that will enable them to get the best value out of working relationships with internal and external stakeholders.”
Attitude outperforms experience, and if they demonstrate ambition and resilience, Sarah believes “they’re already halfway there.”
You know what you want; now you need to find them. And that’s not always easy.
“One of the key challenges we’ve had is actually finding talent,” Guillaume tells us. “For juniors, we’re fishing quite wide, whether they’re experienced in retail or fresh out of uni, getting interest in the first place and momentum is hard.”
You can set your hiring process up for success with the right starting point: your job description. For juniors who have limited experience and points of reference about what might be the right role for them, a great job description will excite the right candidates and filter out the wrong ones.
“Don’t just use a generic job description,” recommends Laura. “The JD is your first opportunity to attract great talent who are aligned to your culture and your business. Be transparent about who you are. If you do that, you’ll get a much better read on suitable candidates.”
Hone in on the information that candidates care about. “When I ask junior sales candidates ‘What are you looking for?’, the most common responses I hear are a good culture, career progression and the opportunity to learn,” says Sarah.
“To display culture, I recommend using a variety of content on job ads, career pages and social media. At Employment Hero, we’ve developed video testimonials and photos of the team collaborating in and out of the workplace to add another layer of insight to our job ads.”
Now that you’ve sourced your candidates, let’s talk about getting to that shortlist of top candidates to start conversations with. The last thing you want chewing up your time is poor-fit candidates making their way through to your interview process, and an effective screening process will save you from this.
We know CV overload can quickly set in. “The sheer number of applications makes it such a manual process to get to the shortlist. That volume makes it harder to find the needle in the haystack,” says Laura.
How do you fix that problem?
Laura’s found asking questions early in the application process gives you an extra bit of valuable information to assist you in screening candidates: “For sales talent, ask them what their objectives and expectations are. Their responses will tell you a bit about their goal orientation, motivations and what they’re looking for.”
Want to skip the screening step altogether and get straight to the shortlist? That’s what Hatch is for. Based on our job analysis, we’ll know what you’re looking for; inbound, outbound, SDRs or an AE, and utilise our Matching Science to screen and assess in line with your requirements.
From there, you’ll receive a shortlist where you can check out the profiles of the best-fit candidates. Compare this to a 20-minute phone screener + time spent organising diaries + the difficulty of ending a call when it’s clear someone isn’t the right fit, and you’ll find Hatch’s shortlist is a huge timesaver.
Job interviews can be the predictable choreography of standard questions like “Where do you want to be in 5 years?” and “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”. This doesn’t necessarily leave you with confidence and conviction about who to hire by the end of it.
Take a few steps back before you move a candidate through to the interview stage to evaluate whether they’re already demonstrating the behaviours of a successful salesperson. Any nagging suspicions you’ve had up until this point about their behaviour will likely be magnified 10 times after you hire them.
“A candidate's behaviour during the process will give you an indication of whether they’re going to be great salesperson or not,” says Laura. “Are they following up? Are they contacting you? Are they going above and beyond? What questions are they asking?”
If you’re feeling good about what you’ve seen from a candidate so far, use the interview to assess their alignment with your values, goals and overall company vision. “We want to make sure we hire people who we see are absolutely aligned with our values. We probe into that during the interview process by asking questions around each of Shippit’s values,” says Guillaume.
In an interview with a junior salesperson, you’re unlikely to hear about their long-term track record of hitting sales targets. That doesn’t mean you can’t test their grit, tenacity and ability to achieve a goal in a different way.
“My favourite question to ask in an interview is what is their proudest achievement to date, and then further questioning about what they had to do to get there,” says Sarah. “One candidate said they had finished their first-ever marathon a few months earlier. After diving into the activities they had to perform in the lead up to the event, and the challenges they faced, it was evident that they had the motivation and perseverance that I was looking for. That experience translates well into what it takes to succeed in sales.”
Finally, always be closing. If you wait until the last five minutes of an interview to ask candidates, “Do you have any questions for me?” chances are they’ll have spent the last hour selling themselves to you, but have you sold them on the position and company?
Finding the right fit needs to be a two-way exploration. By allowing candidates to figure out if the role is the right fit for them, too, you’ll set yourself up for success in the long term and avoiding the dreaded churn of new starters.