Modern sales culture – especially amongst the ranks of sales leadership – has become a data-drive environment. If we use the right tools, and implement them as we need, there isn’t anything we can’t know about the performance of our respective sales teams.
It’s made us more efficient, more nuanced in our approach to sales, and more proactive when, inevitably, we have a slow stretch.
But while we’ve progressed rapidly in the realm of data and sales visibility, hiring the high-performing reps to actually navigate the busy weeks, months, and quarters every business faces has been rendered a secondary consideration.
We’re refining all the critical infrastructure around our sales funnels – but what about the people needed to actually fill it? If we’re going to understand every last detail about our sales org, then we should make sure that we have the team in place to handle the capacity we need.
“From a big picture view, sales leadership has to make sure deals are closed, forecasting is done, and learn to demo a particular tool in order to sell it. So, when you think of the role of selling, and where we spend most of our time, as sales leaders and managers, it is in that stuff,” says Bill Binch, Chief Revenue Officer at Pendo, on the recent edition of the Predictable Revenue Podcast.
“The other most important thing, though, is to have people in the seat and trained up. This is just as important as all the functions of the job itself. If you think about world-class selling organizations, they always put a lot of thought into hiring.”
Profiling your candidates
(Editor’s note: we chatted with Brian Gerrard, Outreach’s Director of Sales, about how candidates can evaluate the company they are applying to work for. You can read about our interview here, or listen to the podcast here)
According to Binch, the first step on the road to successful (and efficient) hiring, is accurately profiling the kind of candidates you want to attract.
Companies, of course, already think about the candidates they want to hire, but the profile they draw is often a reflection of another company, not their own. For example, some sales teams want to hire from the big shops such as Oracle, Salesforce, or SAP because they believe the salespeople that have experience at those massive corporations come with refined skills. Other companies prefer to hire from startups because they believe those environments teach a sales team how to hustle and get the job done, by whatever means necessary.
Neither scenario, however, is reflective of the values of the hiring organization. Binch believes this is backwards – why shouldn’t a company hire based on the values they establish, foster, and uphold? Why look to other shops as the template for what kind of person you should hire?
“Really, what are the values that we have? Do you want gritty, hustlers? Or, do you want polished salespeople? Hire the ones that match your values,” says Binch.
“And make sure you hire against those values. That’s the key. Have the cultural values, make them public, and match your hiring to them.”
Pendo’s cultural values:
Promote life outside of work
Maniacal focus on the customer
Biased to act
Show me the data
Freedom and responsibility
Each of these pillars represents a component of life at Pendo. As such, the candidates Pendo hires, are attracted to those values, and are able to mesh with, and enhance, the team as a result.
“The best thing you can look for in a sales rep is a history of performance, and hustle. But, those are typical. Starting internally, and building from there, is critical,” says Binch.
“That’s where things can get unique and special.”
Developing a thorough interview process
Once you’ve established a set of cultural values, and attract candidates based on those beliefs, it’s time to actually start interviewing. It is time to transition from the philosophical to the functional.
And just like the internal focus put on attracting the right candidates, it takes some strategizing to ensure the interview process yields the varied information needed to properly assess a candidate.
“You don’t want to ask the same old questions, and you always want to respond in a timely fashion,” says Binch.
“I believe, people in the hiring process should be handled with the utmost efficiency and care, no matter where they are in the process, or for what job they are applying for.”
For sales hires, the pendo team decided to split the interview process into 5 distinct sections, each guided by a different them, and led by a different person in the company. That way, a candidate gets to meet numerous members of the team, and each interview doesn’t traverse the same ground as the last.
Pendo’s sales interview topics (not in order):
Prospecting, metrics, and discovery
Technical acumen and intellectual curiosity
Selling against competition
Deal management philosophy
Because they’re good, detailed salespeople, the team at Pendo tracks the progression of each candidate as they would manage a sales cycle.
“We make sure we are cognizant of making sure we move candidates along to the next stage when necessary. And we have metrics, too. We track how many candidates get a job offer. Or, we track how many candidates actually get to the acceptance stage,” says Binch.
“It’s important to look at these numbers to determine the quality, or strength, of your candidate pipeline.”
Making objective decisions on your candidates
No matter how nuanced, and intelligent, your interview process is, it’s still hard to objectively rate a candidate. Human nature is to defer surface level insights such as “I like him or her” too often.
Of course, it is important to like the people you hire, but that can’t be the deciding factor. Furthermore, not everyone involved in the interview process is going to feel the same way about every candidate.
In those cases, how do you establish a fair evaluation?
“We use applicant tracking system, where you have to rate the person from 5 – 1. When it is straight 4s and 5s, it is very easy. When it is straight 2s, it is also very easy,” says Binch.
“But, when the rating is all over the place, it can be difficult. For instance, I have had some serious concerns about candidates in the past. In those cases, we met as a team, the team was very persuasive. So, I don’t know I have the perfect answer for you, as it is a hard process.”
An important element, adds Binch, to consider over the entirety of the process: is a candidate’s star rising or falling? Some candidates enter the process guns blazing, and blow everyone out of the water. But as more about them is learned, and they are forced to answer more questions, their star fades. They don’t have the experience needed for some of Pendo’s core sales requirements.
Other times, a candidate start slowly, but shows resilience and grit over the course of the process. That person, as a result, proves that have what it takes to be on the Pendo team.
“Is the candidate keeping up the intensity? That can be very important,” says Binch.
“I want to see them at their best, and that they want the job.”
Making tough calls
An unavoidable reality of the interview process, regardless of the system you choose to employ, is that worthy candidates don’t get chosen for jobs. There aren’t enough to go around, and, inevitably, someone leaves disappointed.
In those cases, Binch says it is critical to inform the candidate that didn’t get selected about your decision over the phone. Don’t send an email, or, worse yet, disappear completely. They have given a lot to try and join your team, and deserve to be told why they didn’t.
It’s tough, but it’s a learning opportunity for both parties – you can share some insights and feedback with the rejected candidate, and they’re able to ask questions that may benefit them the next time they’re in an interview.
“I make the call to say we aren’t going to hire them, and I’m candid on those calls,” says Binch.
“I want them to hear it directly from me. It’s not my favourite call, but if someone committed a lot of time to us, it is important to do that.”
For more Binch’s thoughts on hiring, including tips on effective training and how to keep newly hired team embers excited for their first day, check out the rest of his interview on The Predictable Revenue Podcast.