The #1 priority for a VP Sales that most people get wrong (hiring)

Jan 4, 2023

Collin Stewart

One of the most crucial aspects of sales leadership is the ability to build a top-performing team with reps that hit quota month after month. But hiring the right people for the right roles is easier said than done.

Daniele Di Nunzio is the VP of Sales at Storyly, a user engagement platform that embeds Stories content in mobile apps and websites. He joined the Predictable Revenue podcast to discuss how to hire SDRs and AEs, what to look for in your first sales hire, and what most sales leaders get wrong in the hiring process.

The most important skill for sales leaders

Most VPs of Sales are never asked about their hiring process before starting at a new company, but Daniele thinks it’s one of the most important aspects of his job. 

The founding sales team can make or break a company–if you hire the wrong people, it’s expensive and time-consuming to replace them. That’s why it’s critical to bring on a VP with hiring experience and a network of talent to draw from.

The real cost of poor hiring

Most founders underestimate the risks of poor hiring. Especially in the early stages of a startup, hiring the wrong people puts the entire company at risk. 

Once you factor in the missed sales cycles, unattained quota, and the cost of hiring and training a replacement rep, a single bad hire can cost up to a million dollars in lost revenue–and the smaller the company, the larger of an impact that loss has.

If you’re a founder looking to hire a VP of Sales, don’t forget to ask about their hiring process, the expected expenses, and the personal network of sales talent.

The sales hiring process

According to Daniele, up to 40% of salespeople are considered wrong hires, while 20-25% end up in the middle of the pack. Very few reps turn out to be top performers. 

But there are steps you can take to increase the risk of finding a great rep and reduce your risk of hiring the wrong person.

Make it measurable

The interview process should be highly structured, with each candidate asked the same questions. Take control of the conversation and try not to go off on tangents. Use scorecards to rate each response.

When you ask about past quota performance, ask for specific numbers. Great reps will know these numbers off the top of their head because they’re proud of their quota attainment. If they say they can’t remember, that’s not a good sign.

Ask for context

Don’t take their resume at face value when assessing a rep’s past performance. Always ask for context around quota attainment. If a rep reached 130% attainment, were other members of the team hitting similar numbers, or were they the only ones to go above and beyond?

Ask about their process and the rest of their team as well. Being the top performer on a team of five differs from a team of 50. 

Likewise, just because they didn’t reach quota doesn’t mean you should automatically discount them as candidates. Instead, ask them what happened. It’s possible that their former employer set unrealistic numbers, and they may have been the top-performing rep at just 75% of their quota.

Look for team players

Don’t believe any rep who tells you they closed a multi-million dollar deal on their own. If the candidate can’t acknowledge who else was involved or is unaware of the part other team members played, that’s a red flag.

Ask who else was involved in the deal and what their role was. The best salespeople are proud of their team, and you want to hire someone willing to communicate and collaborate with other departments in your company.

Ask them to pitch their product

A common mistake sales leaders make during the hiring process is asking the candidate to perform a demo of their product. Although a rep may be able to improvise, selling a product they’re unfamiliar with isn’t the best test of their sales skills.

Instead, ask them to pitch a product they’ve sold. With an unfamiliar product, you’ll be better able to fill the role of a prospect and ask the right questions.

Treat the interview process like a sale

The entire hiring process can be considered a sale, where the candidate sells themselves as the right fit for the position. How the rep handles each part of the process will give you insight into how they’ll handle future deals at your company.

For example, did they reach out to other employees and ask questions? Did they connect with you (or the person interviewing them) on LinkedIn? Did they do their research and come prepared? Did they follow up?

This is a good indication that they’ll perform similarly with future prospects. 

hiring SDRs Predictable revenue

How to find the right SDRs and AEs

To recap, ask each candidate the same questions and use a scorecard to grade their responses. Always ask for context around past accomplishments, and treat the interview phase as a pseudo-sales process.

The interview process can be lengthy (plan to spend upwards of an hour with each candidate), but it’s better to be thorough now than to rehire six months later. 

Lastly, you’ll need to check each candidate’s references and perform a “meet the team” interview to ensure the new rep fits your company’s culture well.

Hiring the wrong person is still possible, but this process greatly reduces the chance of that happening. Daniele says these extra steps have reduced his 6-month churn rate for new hires from 40-50% to less than 10%.

Traits to look for when hiring SDRs

As we’ve discussed in other blog posts, sales experience isn’t the most important factor for success as an SDR. Great salespeople can come from all kinds of backgrounds, including acting, retail, hospitality, teaching, and the military. 

That’s why you should focus your search on soft skills like creativity, communication, and curiosity. Also, consider what transferrable skills a candidate might possess from past jobs. 

For example, selling online requires pitching on camera–which an actor would already be comfortable with. 

What to look for in a company as a VP of sales

How should you evaluate the offer if you’re a sales leader and a new company has recruited you? 

First, look for an indication the company has found product market fit. No matter how skilled of a salesperson you are, you won’t be able to scale revenue without that key component. 

If you’re not sure the company is there yet, look at its turnover rates. If there’s a high churn rate on the revenue team (especially leadership), that’s a sign they haven’t achieved product market fit yet.

Secondly, look for a founder willing to listen to your input. The CEO should be invested in understanding the sales process and how you’ll achieve success, but they should also trust your opinion as a sales expert.

Who to hire first out of founder-led sales

One of the most common dilemmas for startup founders is who to hire first as they build their sales team. Daniele recommends starting with an SDR, someone who can book meetings and fill your pipeline with qualified leads.

In those early stages, filling the pipeline is the hardest part. Start by creating that demand before hiring an AE or VP of Sales. Look for someone with a few years of experience who wants the opportunity to become an AE. If they perform well, you can then promote them and let them hire a second SDR. 

Once you have a team of three and a scalable sales process, you can start looking at hiring a sales leader to take over.

The most underrated aspect of sales leadership

An effective hiring process can make or break your revenue growth. Invest the time and resources into hiring right the first time, and you’ll save yourself a bigger headache.

If you need help building a top-performing sales team, reach out here to learn how we can help. Our coaches can walk you step-by-step through the hiring process and design a custom outbound sales strategy to accelerate your growth.

If you want to connect with Daniele to learn more about hiring SDRs, you can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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