Hi there, it’s Aaron and I’m sitting at Gate 25 in JFK in New York, waiting for my JetBlue flight back home to Los Angeles.  We just finished visiting Ceros here, a client implementing our outbound prospecting framework outlined in Predictable Revenue.

Ceros helps companies who sell online to “editorialize” their brands, which means they can easily publish interesting content & interactively show products to increase engagement (and sales) with consumers.

Waiting for my plane and with Ceros fresh in my mind, it’s a perfect time to write up an instruction guide based on a neat recruiting process at Ceros that was simple, yet remarkably successful in bringing in some perfect people to launch their USA sales team.

 Paul Fifield, Ceros’ Chief Revenue Officer (now CRO UniDays) is building sales and prospecting teams in the UK and USA.  Paul was based in London until a couple of months ago when he moved to Ceros’ new headquarters in New York (after a merger with CrowdFusion).  Paul had to recruit his first sales hires in the USA remotely, before moving here.  He discovered us in the summer through David Skok’s excellent interview Why Salespeople Shouldn’t Prospect, then read our book and reached out for help.

I’m excited at Ceros’ impressive results in getting their initial prospecting of three people team hired, trained and launched in just three months.

In their first four weeks of prospecting, the team has done much better than average, going from zero to having preliminary conversations with the online marketing departments of over 70 brands, including Chrysler, Cartier, General Electric and Hugo Boss.  Not too shabby!   (Remember, this is all 100% outbound; no inbound leads allowed here.)

It could take three or four more months to refine their early, sometimes awkward success into a humming leadgen machine, but Ceros’ leadership can begin to rest easier knowing they can they can predictably fill the top of their funnel with the meaningful conversations they need to consistently grow sales.

Here’s Paul:

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Great Hires = Fast Progress + Confidence Of Success

I can guarantee Ceros’ coming leadgen success primarily because – in addition to Paul’s obsessive diligence in learning & implementing our framework – he landed some stellar first hires!

Paul put together a neat, hands-on recruiting process (though it didn’t hurt that he’s also a great guy and Ceros is doing exciting things).  It took more time than slapping a standard job posting up online, but was totally worth it.

This recruiting process isn’t specific to sales, and could be used with adaptation for any kind of role at your company.

Paul’s Process, Step By Step

Here’s Paul’s process he used to so far recruit two prospectors and one more senior closer…

Step 1: Created A Clear Picture Of Who He Wanted To Hire

His starting point was a Hiring Guide we wrote for our clients, but most importantly for a new team figuring it its system, is to look for people who WANT to develop a career in sales, and have shown INITIATIVE in the past, ANYPLACE in life: they were rush chair, they started a non-profit, they were excellent in music or athletics, etc.

Comp questions? Here’s a post on Quora with details around comp structure.

Step 2: Wrote Authentic, Interesting Job Descriptions

He wrote up a job description that wasn’t the super-dry typical version, but explained a few details about himself and his vision for the company, sales team and role.

Step 3: Included A Video In The Job Description

The video makes it easier for people to get a feel for who he is and what he stands for, to better attract the right people and turn off people who wouldn’t be a cultural fit.

You don’t need to do some crazy or funny or wildly creative video to make it interesting and engaging to the right people –be yourself, don’t BS and keep it simple.

What kind of person are you looking for?  Why will they matter?  What do you want them to get out of working there?

Paul did separate videos for each role; here is the one for the prospectors:

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Step 4: Spread The Word

Paul didn’t need to do a big sourcing project; he got enough applicants (about 400 in total for all three roles) just by posting on LinkedIn and forwarding it to friends and acquaintances.

[Note from Paul: Next time I will spend more time ‘prospecting’ to find the right kind of people in addition to looking via word of mouth.]

Step 5: Assign Homework

With the people who applied, to anyone Paul thought had potential, he sent an email that laid out the steps of his interviewing process, and which included this request up front:

…I would like the following by end of day Friday 3rd August:

  • Up to 300 words on any aspect or trend within digital marketing that you find interesting.  It can be anything.
  • Up to 300 words on why you would be a great fit for the role, including an example of where you have demonstrated and entrepreneurial flair.

This had several benefits:

  • Reduced the junk by turning off people who weren’t serious (fishers/ shotgunners).
  • Informed Paul of their possible industry knowledge and – more importantly – writing style.
  • With the ‘entrepreneurial flair’ bit, Paul got a quick sense of whether he believed they’d be comfortable in a scrappy, entrepreneurial environment where everyone needs to contribute every day in tuning the machine.  He needed “builders” not “growers”.

[Update]: Kris Duggan, founder of BetterWorks, says in an interview “…the other critical thing we’ve done in our hiring process is to require every candidate to do homework…[for example] we just hired a director-level marketing position, and they had to come in and present their plan for what they would do for the company to drive their marketing strategy.”  Full article in the New York Times here.

Step 6: Defined Evaluation Criteria

Paul put the candidate who made the shortlist into a Google Doc spreadsheet that he could easily share with his team and us to review.  It was simple, including his criteria & rankings, the LinkedIn profile links of candidates, and any comments or notes

To sort through the batch of candidates and pick out the final best ones, Paul interviewed candidates by phone and scored on a 1-10 scale both their first essays and these criteria: Voice Clarity, Energy Level, Personality, Vocabulary, Attitude, Listening Skills, Questioning, Cultural Fit, Overall Score.

Step 7: Interviewed Candidates At Least Twice, First By Phone & Then By Video Or Meeting

The sales team works mostly by phone and online web meeting.  Paul wanted to interview the candidates first by phone and then – if they weren’t eliminated – by video or meeting, to isolate & test their different communications skills.

Paul says that through the short written essays he saw some people were immediately easy to remove as poor writers.  Then in phone interviews, some obviously couldn’t talk. Finally through video or in-person meetings, some were also obvious “no’s”.

By taking more, smaller interview steps, he made it easy to disqualify people who just weren’t a fit, and thus focus his attention on a more focused, higher quality set of possible candidates.

For the Account Executive (closer) and the prospecting roles, their ‘final challenge’ was to have candidates do two simple presentations : one on themselves and a second on any other topic of interest to them.  It’s an insightful way to learn about them and show both personal and business confidence.  Here’s an excerpt from the full email, you can see how simple it is:

For the meeting…I would like you to prepare:
– A 5 minute presentation on yourself
– A 5 minute presentation / sales pitch on a topic that is of interest to you

Sample Interview Questions & Themes

In another area of his tracking spreadsheet, Paul took notes on some candidates’ answers and topics through the process such as:

  • Give me up to 5 mins on your work experience and education
  • Talk me through your piece on digital marketing
  • Talk me through the example you gave of entrepreneurial flair
  • Do you want to build a career in sales?
  • Did you watch the video?
  • Talk me through your understanding of the role
  • Hunger for learning and developing (Paul’s assessment)
  • More @ Openview: 20 Great Sales Interview Questions

Step 8: Set Comp Expectations

We usually advise companies doing big new things (new products, teams, markets…) to avoid commission-based comp plans as long as they can.  You can’t put together smart commission plans until you’re smart about your sales machine, and that can take a lot longer than you want.

While you’re learning, better to pay salespeople a flat amount per month or with discretionary bonuses until you have enough experience and data to put together a practical (not arbitrary) plan that includes commissions.

If you put a sales team on a commission-based plan too early, when you’re arbitrarily guessing at realistic sales and business goals (even when based on other companies just like yours), you’re setting yourself for a no-win situation.

Either: 

Very rarely, the sales team will blow away the targets and you (or your board) will be upset at paying them “too much money” (although everyone agreed to it ahead of time), then quotas will be jacked up and commissions decreased, thus frustrating the reps….

Or:

…and this is the one that happens 95% of the time with new products and companies…the sales team totally misses goals because the goals were, in hindsight, unrealistic and arbitrary.  And the sales team is again left very frustrated, and perhaps financially desperate (never a good thing) if they need at least some commission income to pay for basics like rent.

Regardless, people aren’t happy and trust in the executive team takes a big hit.

Because lead generation drives growth & sales, figuring out a predictable way to generate quality leads will get you and your team to realistic comp plans faster.

Step 9: Extend Offer & Celebrate Acceptance!

Optional before offer: the more senior the position, the more important it is to do blind reference checks.  For junior positions, they may not be important.

Now get ‘em started, and make sure they are getting actively trained and mentored for at least six weeks to three months.

It’s very disorienting to start at a new company, and it takes about three months for people to feel settled and confident.

But What Did The Candidates Think About All This?

Here are a few words about it from his first two USA hires…

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Final Advice From Paul

Having made bad hiring decisions in the past, and learned what doesn’t work, Paul also had this to say about recruiting and what worked so well this time:

1) DON’T BE AFRAID OF DOING IT ALL YOURSELF – Doing all the recruiting yourself can take a lot of energy and attention, but only you will be the best judge of who’s a fit and what you need, so make sure you own it.  The right recruiter can be incredibly helpful, like our friend Elliot Burdett at Peak Sales Recruiting, but use them to assist you in doing it, rather than hoping they can do it for you…see the difference?

[Note from Paul: I felt it made a big difference that ALL communication was from me.  All follow ups were from my email account, all rejections from me etc.  I wanted everyone to know I was personally running this process, and that i was totally accessible throughout.  No assistant, no recruiter, no jobs@ email address.  It added to the personal touch and authenticity.   I also made sure every single applicant had a reply (something that was appreciated by everyone).   I feel very strongly that for the early hires into whatever team you are building, the process must be run personally by the manager or exec responsible.   Talent is EVERYTHING and must be prioritized.  Other tactics can be used as you start to scale of course.]

2) DON’T SELF-SABOTAGE WITH IMPATIENCE – One bad peach can spoil the bunch.  Don’t let impatience trip you into making a bad hiring decision you’ll regret later.  Better to take longer and get the right person.

3) FOLLOW A MULTI-STEP PROCESS – It will keep you sane, ensure you don’t make dumb mistakes, and create a better experience for everyone involved – candidates, you and your team.  Most importantly, it can help you avoid impulsive / impatient hiring.

What Do You Think Of This Funny Recruiting Video?

Check out this article and video on Fast Company about Shopify’s funny recruiting video:  When Recruiting The Best Candidate Means Taking A Chainsaw To An Owl

Does this make you like Shopify more, or less?  They do a great job of appealing to the people they want…while turning off people who won’t be a fit.  For you perfectionists – yes this is high production value, you don’t need to do videos this fancy!

Paul on “Predictable Revenue”: Does It Work?

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