Hiring Talented Sales People

As you can see, I have been spending alot of time with my portfolio companies hiring in a number of functions to create growth. That is obviously a good sign. Hiring is such an important skill, there is no science to it, but research and common sense help. I am sure you remember the old adage, hire slow, fire fast. Anyway, when it comes to sales people, let me give you a rule of thumb-never hire sales people that have stuck around in a declining business for too long. Any sales person worth his weight wants to be where the action is, and if the company is not growing, the TALENTED PRODUCERS ALWAYS LEAVE FIRST. It may sound like I am being master of the obvious, but sometimes it is hard to remember this, especially since many sales people interview well. Do your research on their background and the companies at which they worked. Be extremely careful about the candidate that rode a company from $40 million of revenue down to $10 million because you can bet that if the guy was hungry and talented, he would be somewhere else!

Published by Ed Sim

founder boldstart ventures, over 20 years experience seeding and leading first rounds in enterprise startups, @boldstartvc, googlization of IT, SaaS 3.0, security, smart data; cherish family time + enjoy lacrosse + hockey

4 comments on “Hiring Talented Sales People”

  1. Ed,

    Similar to your post about forecasting, I think a couple exceptions need to be addressed.

    1. Look at the deals and dollars. I know people who sell for once “high flyers” that stuck out the bad times and have made some great money in the process. Meanwhile, because of ramp up time, jumping ship at the first sign of trouble can result in some lean years.

    2. I would be just as critical of someone’s background that mirrored the trends. Selling big deals for the leading vendor in a hot space in great. I’ve done those kinds of deals and didn’t feel bad when I cashed the commission checks. However, this doesn’t guarantee that the talent needed by your portfolio company exists.

    Example: A guy had a great 18-month run at Ariba in 99 and 2000, but left after they missed their numbers and talked about challenges within the market space. He then spends the next 24 months with two failed startups. Meanwhile another Ariba employee sticks it out while the revenues of the company decline. However, he inherits some good long-term accounts and builds the relationships that help him close significant deals with a new product suite. Who has the talent and who made the $? If I’m hiring for a startup, I may very well pick the individual who took chances and “lost”. However, I need to be ready to pay some recruiting fees when everyone on the team bails at the first bump in the road.

    I think it’s like a stock. If I were interviewing for this position today (knowing what I know), would I accept the role? If not, go look for something better. “Better” is the key word here. I know many people that are playing musical chairs and accepting new positions that have the same challenges and problems as their last role. Only the name business card has changed. With a stock you have the option of cashing out and waiting. In your career not many have that option.


  2. Agree on your points-hard to generalize for all companies and potential hires but good to know what barriers need to be overcome. Adding to point #2, if you are with an early stage company, it is always better to have a sales person that has been successful selling in missionary/early stage markets than someone who has only sold with the wind behind his sail. Early markets require a different type of selling, more creativity, etc. to get a deal done. Ask yourself if the potential hire is a demand creator or order taker?


  3. hi ,I was reading what you all have to say and got some good advises from hear, but can anyone tell me how to find sales people?i’m in UK.

    Many thanks

  4. I am a young company who experienced enermous amounts of growth the first five years. Now in year 6 I am finding myself leveling off and facing letting people go. I lost my two key sales people (of a sales department of 3) as the experience I gave them allowed them to pursue “bigger” interests. After about 16 months my reps should be making $45m and hitting $50m going into their second year. Which makes me an entry level company. I provide enormous amounts of training and have no desire to be a company that hires large groups of salespeople and let survival of the fittest work them out. Although I am understanding why often companies manage salespeople this way. Since sales people are the least loyal of the staff, I have thought about some sort of stock option pay off after two years. I don’t have any experience with this and obviously would want to be careful in who I offer it to. Any advice anyone?


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