How to Successfully Hire Your Very First Sales Reps.
A 6-Part Test:
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— SaaStr (@saastr) May 1, 2023
We’ve talked a lot on SaaStr over the years about how to hire a Great VP of Sales, and how you have to close the first 10 or so customers yourself, and how when you do go to hire your first sales rep — make sure you hire two.
But how do you get those first few reps right, when you haven’t made the hire before?
We’ve talked about how to make sure your first reps actually work out, as well as The Top 10 Mistakes made hiring reps, but we haven’t put a list together of what to do.
Here are 5 suggestions:
1. Use Recruiters and other paid channels. Or At Least, Don’t Be Cheap Here. Even when cash is tight, contingent recruiters at least are still worth the price. If you had a good network here yourself, you’d already have used it. And the last thing you want is 100 random Craigslist and Angellist responses. I doubt any will be good enough. Use a recruiter that does nothing but recruit sales reps at your ACV. At least to help. Pay them, and be very responsive to them. They’re on a contingent basis, so don’t leave them hanging.
2. Get them to ideally sell you first by video, at least to share some passion for the product. Or at least, get them to respond in writing about how they’d sell your product. Post a video telling them about how great your product is, the rep sends back a video telling you why he or she can sell your product until the cows come home. This worked well for me as a founder/CEO.
Video is an amazingly effective filter, and on your side, it’s a chance to pitch prospective reps on why you are offering a great opportunity for them. Remember, the good ones you’ll have to sell back … ’cause there are so, so, so many start-ups that are neither Hot nor Obviously Cool. And they all seem to pay the same. So …
3. Insist on 2+ Years of Experience at Your Deal Size. Don’t go too green or inexperienced, at least, not at first. Later, when you have a real VP of Sales, you can hire all different types. Including those who have never sold SaaS before, or even, anything at all.
But you can’t. You can’t because you don’t know yourself. Again, don’t go too cheap here or you’ll pay far more in hard and soft costs in the end. Get 2-3 years of on-point SaaS experience, i.e. at a SaaS company that sells at your approximate price point. At least, get 18 months as an AE (not just as an SDR).
4. Don’t worry about on-point domain expertise. Don’t try to hire someone out of your vertical or niche. You can help the rep there. Instead, try to find someone great who can sell at your price point and type of sale (transactional vs. solution).
If your product is truly a technical sale, you may need reps — at first — that have made technical sales. That’s true. But even in that case, the products don’t have to be remotely similar. It’s much more important the ACVs are similar.
5. References Really Do Matter Here — from Customers Too if possible. Sometimes, references are just a Check the Box exercise. Not here. If his or her last boss doesn’t say the rep was great, either pass or at least find out why. Their last Director or VP of Sales will always say if they were great, or at least, pretty good. If they won’t provide a positive reference — that’s a big flag. And if practical, ask to talk to a customer / ex-customer, ideally one that has bought more than once. If you get a great reference from both a customer and an ex-boss, and they’ve sold at your price point, and you’d buy from that … I’d make the hire.
(note: an updated SaaStr Classic answer)