As a sales exec in a rapidly expanding organization, you have little room for error in building a sales team, especially when expanding globally. Rachel Bates, SVP of Sales & Marketing at IWA, first did it from her Boston office for U.S. outreach in 2017, then watched her Greek counterparts do the same in Athens at the end of 2018. Her key takeaway? Standardize your recruitment process.
“I was tasked to build out my sales team from three to about 50 in a one-year span,” Rachel says. “I probably interviewed at least three or four different candidates for each of those hires – and that’s with me only interviewing at the finish line. Each of those positions probably had several dozens, if not more than a hundred, applicants before they came to me.”
That’s a lot of resumes to sift through when building a sales team. A lot of interviews, a lot of assessments. Right?
“That’s right,” Rachel agrees.
It wasn’t ever going to be easy, but if I didn’t have a solid playbook or standard to follow when building a sales team from scratch, then I wouldn’t be even close to having the great team I have with me today.
“My colleagues Georgios [Gatos, VP of Growth] and Athina [Pitta, Sales Development Manager] also scaled rapidly in Athens earlier this year, very smoothly and efficiently, thanks to having a uniform process.”
The perils of winging it
Rachel stresses that it’s not just about the logistics. She checks off the risks of not having a standardized process: “When you’re hiring at scale, you have several recruiters and hiring managers interviewing at once. Without a uniform strategy, they’ll ask different questions and get different results, so you can’t compare and contrast answers.”
She highlights another issue, that of unconscious bias.
“There’s too much room for subjectivity when you don’t have a predetermined set of questions or uniform assessment strategy. Maybe some candidates just wow your team because they’re charismatic or they got on well with the person interviewing them, or another candidate is disqualified because the hiring manager was having a bad morning.”
Plus, it’s hard on the pocketbook
And then Rachel gets to the point that should concern you when building a sales team globally: your department budget. “The inefficiency [of a non-standardized process] can increase time to hire and cost to hire. When hiring takes longer, ideal candidates find other jobs and you go longer without a full team. And, subjective hiring means hires who are incompatible with the requirements for the job. That means higher turnover, and that can get expensive really quickly.”
Read more about how to manage the cost of your hiring process.
Georgios Gatos agrees: “If you don’t discuss what kind of skills you’re looking for and if you don’t craft a job ad that reflects these exact requirements, you’ll get candidates who don’t fit in their role. And then you’ll have to screen their resumes, realize they don’t qualify and reject them. You can save all this time with a carefully planned hiring strategy.”
It goes without saying: time is money. Rather than having to explain to your C-suite why your budget is overrun, talk with your hiring team and ensure there’s a standardized process in place that aims to improve communications in the hiring team, make sure everyone assesses using the same criteria, and be as clear as possible in setting expectations with candidates. Here’s how to achieve all this.
The standardized process of building a sales team
The standardized process consists of six key stages in the sales hiring pipeline, to be followed diligently for each sales candidate.
They are as follows:
1. Initial screening
5. Executive interview
6. Reference check
Each should have its own standard of evaluation. Let’s go through them one by one:
IWA data shows that the sales rep job is consistently one of the most popular out there among candidates. When asked why, IWA VP of Sales Mike Manzi – himself a major decision maker in sales team building – said: “The barrier to entry for sales is low, but it’s one of the highest paying jobs, so sales jobs get an extreme amount of applications.”
Because the number of applications for sales positions can be high, this step of the recruitment process is usually owned by HR, including the recruiter. But you can help optimize this process to ensure the right candidates move to the next step:
- Establish a feedback loop with your recruiter. Make sure your feedback is consistent and frequent in both directions. They’re here to help you and your team succeed.
- Have very clear parameters for what you’re looking for. Envision your perfect employee, with past experience in sales being the obvious measuring stick. Rachel also likes to look for interesting and diverse backgrounds – especially crucial if you’re building a global sales team.
This stage also includes the screening call; again performed by the recruiter. Think of the screening call as a “vetting” of the candidate to gauge their interest, knowledge, and expectations of the role. Your part in this is to work with the recruiter to build a list of questions to be asked at every screening call, to give you clear metrics to identify outstanding candidates. For example:
- What are your salary expectations for base and variable?
- What was your average deal size, conversion rate and sales cycle in your previous / most relevant role?
- How many deals were you closing per month?
The goal of this stage is to whittle down resumes to a manageable list of top candidates to evaluate in greater detail during the interview stage and onwards.
Your recruiter has now provided you with a list of candidates who passed the initial screening phase. This is where you and your hiring team come in – the face-to-face interview. Ideally, you’ll have at least two: one with the hiring manager to whom this new hire will report, and one with a member of that hiring manager’s team. In some cases, you can even have the candidate’s potential direct report be an interviewer.
Again, have a ready list of interview questions that you’ll ask every candidate, with clear evaluation criteria to help you select the ones to be moved to the next round.
For example, you can ask the following:
- What was your favorite closed deal and why?
- Describe the process of how you won the deal.
- Explain how you managed to meet your quotas in the past.
- Where in the sales funnel do you excel the most?
For more sales interview questions, check out our tutorial.
Interviews can be anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes or more. This also allows your hiring team to see the candidate’s personality in action, taking care to stay close to the questions being asked and expecting tangible answers. Don’t be swayed by charisma and selling points (they are in sales, after all!).
Assessments are great indicators of a sales rep candidate’s intangible skills. With the right kind of assessment tools, you can assess the candidate’s ability to onboard and process information, communicate in a convincing way, adapt to dynamic and changing environments and thrive in them, and strategize on the spot when a challenge arises during a conversion opportunity. And, standardizing the assessment stage leads to consistent, unbiased data – which has been shown to increase tenure in a job.
Luckily, the assessment stage is one of the easiest to standardize. For instance, you can use a general aptitude or intelligence test (GAT) to help assess a candidate’s cognitive abilities. There are also numerous assessment tools out there that your entire team can use – here’s a list to get you started. In many cases, you can choose to give out assessments before the interview stage, so as to discuss results with candidates when you speak to them.
The assignment stage allows you to evaluate coachability and resourcefulness. Yes, we’re talking about the infamous “sell me this pen” approach. Put your sales rep hopeful in the hot seat by replicating job requirements, and see how they perform. For example, try:
- The business development assignment: You ask the candidate, on the spot, to identify potential customers or personas, and then you role-play the outreach conversation with them addressing you as a potential customer.
- The closing role assignment: You ask the candidate to deliver a 15-minute presentation on your product or service.
When you’re looking to fill an account executive role, you can give the assignment details to the candidate prior to the interview, to give them time to prepare. When it’s for a business or sales development rep, give little to no preparation time, since their job will require them to think on their feet and adapt their approach quickly.
Assess how the candidate responds to feedback on their assignment, as a way to evaluate how coachable they are. Ask them for a do-over if applicable, paying attention to how they’ve incorporated your input.
Finally, here’s where you come in as an executive. The candidate is nearly at the finish line. Your opportunity here is to set the expectations of the role and the company for the candidate, and give them a window to ask questions. You’re looking for questions that are curious, contextual, conversational, and not “canned”.
At this point, the candidate is in a high-pressure situation when speaking with you. That’s fair and expected. They’re not just talking to a recruiter or interviewing with a potential colleague. You’re the actual decision-maker. Turn that to your advantage by paying attention to the candidate’s ability to “close the executive”.
Since executives are, as a rule, the decision-maker in a company, you want sales reps who feel confident when talking to professionals at your level. This is your opportunity to assess that.
The reference check is often an afterthought in the recruitment process when building a sales team or otherwise, but it should not be. In fact, it could be the most important factor in the whole process. The candidate’s ability to line up two references demonstrates their ability to follow up, organize, and respond to requests, particularly if the role is for an account executive. If references don’t return your calls, or give you less-than-stellar feedback on the candidate, then you can disqualify.
Check out our in-depth tutorial on reference checks, plus an email template to request them from candidates.
Moneyball for your hiring process
You may have seen or heard about the film Moneyball, the story about a baseball manager applying straight-up metrics to his team-building strategy. Think of this as Moneyball for your hiring process – having a clear set of KPIs, processes, and goals in your recruitment process.
Next time you’ve been tasked to build out your sales team, as we’ve seen Rachel and Georgios do, follow this process and adjust as needed to minimize costs and maximize output when building a sales team.