Hiring Tips: How I Built A Sales Team That Scales

Shaya Fidel is the Head of Talent at education technology company Top Hat, which has grown from 10 to 90 employees in her 2 years there. Nearly half of the company is made up of sales–and Shaya is to credit. Quickly identifying the talent that aligned with her organization, Shaya lured several representatives from Groupon (and received a Cease and Desist letter, her crowning achievement as a recruiter!) before building out a training program for younger hires. So, how did Shaya know what to look for when building the team? Find out what qualities stand out and what questions she asks candidates when hiring for sales.

Making the first sales hires

When Top Hat decided it was time to hire sales representatives, we came up with a profile for a candidate that we felt would thrive in a transactional, high volume, outbound sales environment.

At that time, we didn’t have the infrastructure or sales training program in place. As such, we knew that we needed people who would be self-directed and could hit the ground running. So, that meant hiring people who had previous experience that mapped directly to our sales process.

Groupon got mad because we poached so many of their top people they sent us a Cease and Desist letter. I considered it one of my crowning achievements!

Building a training program for new sales hires

Now, Top Hat is excited about the sales training program we have in place. From a talent acquisition perspective, that has really opened up the possibilities for us! That means we can hire people right out of school and really help them build/shape their career. We definitely had to drill down into what the core competencies were that made our top sales performers successful.

Rather than just looking at the superficial characteristics (ie: had a similar job in the past and was successful), what personality traits/characteristics did they have that would work in our culture? Work ethic, coachability and assertiveness are three of the many things we look for. We look to previous work experiences as well as extracurriculars, academic performance & social relationships they had in high school and university and how they talk about them.

Using Topgrading to hire for sales

We Topgraded senior hires starting in 2012, but we rolled it out full force and now Topgrade everyone who comes on board starting in January of 2014. (For those who aren’t familiar with Topgrading, it’s a chronological walk-through of a candidate’s academic and work experience). Like any new process, it was a little clunky at first and everyone had to get accustomed to it.

It has definitely helped us with our hiring decisions, especially on the culture side of things. With sales, for example, we don’t want a candidate who crushed their quotas at their last job and is a nightmare to manage. Or someone who has switched jobs a bunch of times and will be a flight risk. Topgrading helps us identify trends like that and has really helped everyone be more consistent in their interviewing as well rather than just going on “gut” or relying on a few superficial questions. We also weave in behavioral interviewing as well and definitely don’t exclusively rely on the Topgrade when evaluating candidates.

3 questions recruiters ask on a phone screen

1. What are you looking for in your next career move/where do you see yourself taking your career? (Definitely want career alignment here! If they tell me they want to be in marketing or product, that’s a red flag)

2. If they’ve been in sales before, I always ask about sales performance. Sales is pretty straightforward, so I ask about percent to goal and also about activity levels.

3. Why do they like sales and why are they good at it? I look for passion and enthusiasm here, ideally surrounding the hunt and the close.

3 questions hiring managers ask during interviews

1. What would your manager rate you on a scale of 1 to 10? What are your strengths? Where are areas for improvement?

2. What would you rate your manager on a scale of 1 to 10? How could she/he improve as a manager?

3. What was the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced?

We like to see how much pressure they’ve actually been under in the past. It doesn’t have to be a professional challenge--we just want to see if they’re going to crumble under the type of pressure that working for a high-growth startup often brings.

Sales is an especially interesting function to interview for. So much of their job is about communication. We’re really looking at that all the way throughout the process, more so than for other roles.

How do you know if someone is NOT a good fit? (Any red flags?)

Jumping around from job to job HUGE red flag for salespeople. Either it means they’re bad or they’re a flight risk and will leave for the next shiny, new thing. Both are problematic for obvious reasons.

What’s your advice for a company making their first Sales hires?

That first sales hire is incredibly important. For a first hire, I would go slightly more senior--someone you could build a team around but also someone who isn’t afraid to get his/her hands dirty. You also need someone who is completely comfortable with a lot of change and is entrepreneurial. You think you have your sales process down pat and know what funnels and activity levels should look like? Spoiler alert: that’s going to change. That is, they’ll see something that may not be working and instead of complaining about it will come up with a solution. They’ll iterate, get data on it and iterate again. Whomever you bring on early on needs to not only tolerate, but also thrive in an environment that’s fast-paced, constantly changing and really loves sales.

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Talent Operations