Hiring & Retention

How To (Successfully) Source Your First 2 Sales Reps


Jason Lemkin

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 4.43.22 PMWe’ve talked a lot on SaaStr 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.  Don’t cheap out and try to avoid paying a recruiter fee and/or other paid channels.  If you had a good network here yourself, you’d already have used it.  And the last thing you want is 100 Craigslist and Angellist responses.  I doubt any will be good enough.  Use a recruiter that does nothing but sales reps of your ACV or type.  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.  Use one of the various video recruiting sites as well
.  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, and we’ve gone on to do this on SaaStr.com’s Get In Early series.

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 approximately 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, simply pass.  Their last director or VP will always say if they were great, or at least, pretty good.  If they won’t provide a positive reference — that’s a huge flag.  And if practical, ask to talk to a customer / ex-customer, ideally one that has bought more than once.


Published on August 31, 2015
  • How much runway do you give new reps? What “if” there is one rep on board but not A or B player, etc. Tough not to “cheap” out when always looking at spend, no definitive ROI (too early), etc. any more words of encouragement or to convince others need to step up on pay scale?

    • Jason Lemkin

      I give them one sales cycle. Others will give 2, but I think that’s a waste. If they can’t close some deals in one sales cycle, I fear they never will.

  • #5 is not fair! I’m a 25 year sales vet mostly around ecommerce. I reported to Roy Rubin, the CEO of Magento when he told all the people he made promises to,
    to “F-off” and sold the company to eBay. I was twice quota and walked on principal, but you say i need to get a guy like that to vouch for me and be my reference, even if he’s a total douche???? Why does he get all the power? Why can’t I give my next opp 2-3 bosses and tell them why they were good or bad bosses, what I did to sell more and better, add 3-5 customer references, etc. I can show you sales records, training, process, demos and a bunch more, but with the waive of a hand, some ex-CEO gets to have my opportunity brushed aside because you added it as a blog point? Why do you recommend this when we all know there are good and bad ceo’s?

    • Jason Lemkin

      Well, I stand by the point, but I think you raise a good one on CEO vs. VPS. I’d take the feedback of a VPS a rep reported to way over a CEO, who often isn’t a sales manager. In any event, it’s fair that not all references will work. I think then be upfront on that is key. “I killed it at XXX, but the CEO will say YYY.” That may be fair.

Share This