Sales reps are the most expensive GTM resources and the backbone of growth, yet all too often sales and HR leaders overlook the process behind successful hiring. Leaders are often vague about what sort of background they want to hire for. Or they thoughtfully spell out what they’re seeking but don’t stick to it in practice. Worse, after only a fraction work out, they fail to learn from it and the turnover treadmill continues — reducing sales efficiency and team morale. So building a process to hire great AEs is a worthy investment of time that will pay dividends for years. This article lays out a 6-step process to maximize your chances of hiring great reps that have the background, skills, and knowledge to be successful — and move the needle for your business.
Step 1: Define responsibilities
Start with the seller’s day-to-day responsibilities and what success looks like. What are they responsible for across new logos, expansion, renewals, and adoption? Are they selling into mid-market, enterprise, or large global accounts? Is it a highly consultative sale with a dozen stakeholders, or is it a transactional process for a small company? Is the product complex, requiring them to answer technical questions or conduct bespoke demos, or is it straightforward? What industries will they sell into? Beyond their responsibilities, what does success look like? For example, she self-sources one-quarter of her pipeline, closes deals in 4 months on average, and ends the year with a mix of mostly small and medium-sized deals alongside one or two large ones.
Step 2: Analyze today’s team
Next, examine the attributes of today’s high and low-performing reps. What do your top sellers have in common? What do they do well? Which skills and knowledge did they have when they were hired, and which did they instead learn on the job? For those who didn’t work out, why were they unsuccessful? Recognize those patterns and document them. Depending on the size of your team, over-index on the more recent hires that more closely represent the next 10 reps you’ll bring on board.
Step 3: Identify rep competencies
Organize your rep competencies into four buckets (the following is not comprehensive):
- Industry & Product, such as previous experience in your industry and the end customer’s industry, how those end customers make more revenue or lower costs, pain points, and product knowledge
- Selling Skills, such as prospecting, qualification, objection handling, discovery, use case articulation, negotiation, deal strategy, building a business case, time management, trust-building, and internal collaboration with SDRs and SEs
- Abilities, or the soft skills applicable beyond just sales, including executive presence, grit, extraversion, curiosity, attention to detail, polish, confidence, and coachability
- Background and previous roles, such as selling into the enterprise or to a particular buyer; new logo rep, or an account manager; specific companies they worked for; startup or mature company experience; and years of experience
Step 4: Prioritize the critical attributes
Step 3 likely led to a laundry list of attributes, so stack-rank them and identify the top 7-10 things that are most likely to lead to success on your team. Include in that exercise other functions like customer success, marketing, sales engineering, sales development, and product to ensure all voices are heard.
Step 5: Create a scorecard
You’ve articulated what makes for the ideal rep, but many skills are on a spectrum. Spell out what each attribute actually looks like on a scale from 1 to 5, including concrete examples from real scenarios your team has encountered. For example, for a 5 on product knowledge, it could be a quote from a real demo an SE ran with a prospect. For a 2 on social selling, it could be the minimum elements of a LinkedIn profile. This ensures everyone is on the same page when interviewing and selecting candidates, from the veteran sales manager in Enterprise West to your recently hired Mid-Market lead. It’s important to note that excellent reps don’t enter the company knowing it all. There is a ramp-up period. So consider breaking out (a) the minimum starting point needed before being hired and (b) what level they must be at once trained and fully ramped. For instance, perhaps a 1 out of 5 on industry expertise is acceptable — they can learn that on the job — but they need a 4 out of 5 in negotiation because that is too hard to train.
Step 6: Establish structured interviewing
Lastly, how do teams test for these skills and knowledge and evaluate candidates consistently? Work with your HR organization to devise structured interviews — interview questions, case studies, role plays, and more — that test each competency and allow you to calibrate a 1 vs. a 3 vs. a 5. More on hiring best practices here.
With this 6-step process, you and your entire company will know precisely what sort of rep you’re hiring for, with all the specific attributes prioritized and calibrated. As your teams speak with candidates across the globe, they will take a consistent approach, ferreting out the bad and selecting the good – whether those interviews are in Louisiana or Luxembourg. As a result, rep performance will improve, turnover will decline, and CAC will get more efficient. You’ll also create a winning sales culture that maintains high standards so that your team of 10 is as high-caliber as your team of 100.