On this episode of the podcast I interview Kristie Jones about hiring your first sales rep. Kristie has more than 15 years of sales management experience in the SaaS industry. She is the principal at Sales Acceleration Group where she helps founders build, grow and scale their sales team by improving process strategy and people to accelerate revenue.
How Kristie started working with SaaS companies
She got out of college with a journalism degree and went into retail. The first company she worked for was a small privately-owned company that was selling e-learning management system and it was referred to as subscription model back then.
The first SaaS company she worked in was back in 2000 and she spent 10 years there as VP of sales.
How to make your first hire
You need to start with your job description. Your job description is to the company what the resume is to the candidate.
You want to tell them a little bit of your company, you want to tell them a little bit about the position, you want to firmly outline what the non-negotiables are.
Do you require a college degree, what are the number of calls that you need to make in a week?
You can also list the available perks such as dressing casually, foosball table and remote work. You can also share your mission and vision. You can also share some flavor of the company person, a company she worked for as a consultant said we like to break out movie quotes at any particular time.
Give them some reasons why they should choose or apply to your company over others.
Posting your job description
You can post it as a paid LinkedIn job site, you should also put it on your website. You can also set a budget limit per day for the number of times you want it viewed per day and after that you can cut it off.
If you have hired a few people for your startup, they can also put it on their LinkedIn page and share the link to the LinkedIn posting or your website.
Hiring remotely for early stage startups
When you are hiring your first or second sales rep it is advisable to have them in the office because you are trying to build culture. It is possible to do remote work but there is management by walking around which can happen in a smaller office with few people where you get to overhear phone conversations or something comes back in an email and you can turn to the chair and say, hey, how I do that?
How to hire for the right sales role in your business
You have to ask yourself if you want to continue playing sales rep as a SaaS founder. Most founders don’t have time to prospect or they suck at it. An experienced sales rep should be able to come in and hit the ground running once they understand your product and value preposition.
Once you have got 30 or more customers then you are probably going to need someone to manage those accounts. You don’t want your higher-level executives or higher paid individuals at the companies to service people on a daily basis that just need to run a report or setup a dashboard or perform a dashboard request.
Founders often don’t know the difference between hunters and gatherers. Most times when a company is struggling with revenue and sales, it is because they have hired a gatherer who should be managing accounts instead of hunting for new business.
The content of the contract for the roles
The compensations structure needs to be in there so that it is not a mystery. She makes her clients make an appendix A with the variable compensation structure.
You need to put the base salary, you need to list PTO, you need to list benefits, you need to list variable compensation. If there is a change in compensation, so if you are going to look at a base salary review in six months you should put it in the offer letter.
An offer letter that says base salary of $50,000 plus variable compensation without explaining how they arrived at the variable compensation is not fair because people need to know what they can expect to make and what is going to be expected of them.
How to go through applicants
We have an inclusion diversity issue so there is a website that people can run their job description through for gender neutrality. It will pull out words and tell you if there is a lot of masculine or feminine words in what you wrote or if it is neutral. We are shooting for neutral.
You also have to use specific words based on whether you are looking for a hunter or a gatherer. If you are looking for a hunter you are going to use more aggressive words because those words won’t scare them off.
If you are looking for a nurturer or someone to manage your clients after you have onboarded them then you need to be softer around the edges. You need to run these things through to know if you have excluded a gender unintentionally.
On the piece of paper it is important to look at a few things. How many years they have been out of college as most of her clients are looking for college degrees?
What are the jobs they have chosen out of colleges?
She also likes former athletes, former military leaders, people who have worked their way through college, social extroverts.
She looks for progression and things that indicate that they have a track record of success such as 40% increases year over year or making the president club.
Sometimes people even list on their resume the tech stack they have used such as experience with salesforce or zoominfo or outreach or salesloft. The technical experience they have acquired means one less thing you have to onboard and train them on, which means they get up and running quickly.
The percentage of applicants that are typically chosen for an interview
About 10% or 15% of applicants are phone screened. For every 10 resumes she will probably phone screen one and for every 50 to 70 resumes, she will phone screen about six to eight.
She also compares the resume to the LinkedIn and if it doesn’t match up, that is a red flag that she takes note of.
The next step you need to take after selecting the applicants you want to interview
She used to schedule phone interviews before but now she does it over video with zoom. She mostly hires for startup SaaS companies so she is not very concerned with what they are wearing.
The interviews are 30 minutes and she follows a strict formula. She looks at their past experience and focuses on three things about every job. She wants to know the compensation structure, how you left the company better than you found it and why did you leave the company or why you intend to leave the company?
It is important to get the deal breaker questions out of the way as quickly as possible in the first 30 minutes phone screen so that you don’t waste anybody time going forward.
Compensation structure is generally a deal breaker. Another deal breaker could be we don’t have an office so you have to work remotely.
How to choose from the applicants
You are going to choose people that fit your compensation structure and what you need. The most important answer is around what do you bring to the table that is how did you leave the company better than you found it?
She also reminds startup founders that not everybody is a good startup candidate, for example, if they have been in a fortune 500 structured company where they wore their suit and tie every day, they may not be a good fit.
She tells her clients to pick about six or seven competencies that are the most important to them from a list of 15 or 16 competencies.
Sales skills is definitely one of them but she often recommends that startup founders get risk taking, independence, strategic thinking, objective judgement.
She builds behaviour based interview questions.
After doing the interview independently, she will bring in someone from the company. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the founder but it must be someone who has interview skills and who understands what they are looking for.
Two extra steps she takes before onboarding a candidate
She puts candidates through two more steps so you don’t waste your money. She is an assessment person and she uses a sales profile test by Wiley and Sons. The test has a very strong verbal and maths portion. The most successful hunters score high in numeric ability and numeric reasoning.
She also runs them through a sales assessment test which gives her an opportunity to interview them one more time. At this stage of the interview they are interested in hiring the candidate so they want the person to be comfortable with them.
They bring the person that is going to supervise them so that they can see how the manager and the employee gel together.
She also gives the candidate the opportunity to ask the manager direct questions about anything they want to ask, this could be questions such as how often will we meet, will you be call monitoring, will you be helping me with demos, questions about the founder, the person who will manage them or the company. These questions are particularly useful for someone who has not worked at a startup before.
How to onboard the successful candidate
She previously worked for Gainsight Customer Success Software Company out of silicon valley before she started her consulting software company four years ago.
After she signed her offer letter and was two weeks from starting, a package came to the house and it was t-shirts, mugs, cheese, wine and a letter from the CEO about how excited he was that she was starting. The wonderful gesture made everyone in the family feel great and they believed the company was a good choice for her.
She helps her clients with a two week hour by hour onboarding plan written in place, it includes instructor led training, job shadowing, formal meet and greets with head of departments or other people in the company and software training.
They also need to read blogs on the website and sit with the product people so that they can understand how the product works.
She schedules a 30 minute end of the day wrap for the first two weeks, you can use this time to guide the employee through activities such as getting on a call or going to a demo. The schedule can be rearranged every day.
You need to throw a happy hour in the first week, give them a lunch buddy in the first two days and use this period as an opportunity to do community bonding. You need to make them feel welcome.
Maximizing employee success besides onboarding
You need someone to help you get some of the KPIs in place. There are activity metrics and result metrics. She spends a lot of time on activity metrics with SDRs. As they get more experienced, she moves towards results.
You need to understand sales maths which involves knowing what you want at the end and taking the aggregate of all the pieces that go into that and come up with a I need to have this many deals in the pipeline which means I need to talk to this many people or have this may discovery calls.
If you need 10 new deals in the pipeline and only a third of the people you talk with go into the pipeline, you need to know the number of people you need to know the number of people you need to talk to so as to get the number of deals in the pipeline.
There are a lot of great resources for SaaS founders such as SaaStr
Why new reps hate to be micro-managed
The definition of micro-managing varies but it typically means people are asking me things that they can figure out on their own.
She believes that you should be able to manage your sales rep no matter what position of sales rep they are to about 75% with your CRM system.
You need to have a one on one with them every week, if they need sales training you may need to send them out for that.
In the first 45 days make sure you over-communicate because it is not about KPI and metrics at that point.
She tries to get new reps on the phone as soon as possible. If she starts with them on a Monday, the following Monday they are on the phone because the longer you wait to get them on the phone, the bigger the fear factor becomes because they start to figure out what they don’t know.
At the end of every day, you need that debrief time to say, what words did you hear today that you didn’t you understand?
SaaS is full of acronymns so she often ask reps to take a legal pad and write down everything they hear even if it includes eavesdropping in the office that makes no sense to them.
During the 30 minutes debrief at the end of the day, they can ask her questions and tell her if they are facing any challenge that has stopped them from working.
The services she provides for startups
Most of her clients have just gotten some sort of funding and they are trying to hire their first sales rep or get the first step of the sales process put together. She does four major things which are hiring help, sales training and coaching, fractional sales leadership, evaluation and strategic planning.
When she works with early startup founders, she does everything from picking a CRM system and implementing it and customizing it for you, helping you to hire a salesperson, putting a formal like outbound prospecting strategy together, your sales cycle together and doing the sales training along the way.
She refers to herself as a one stop shop for all things new startups and she has been doing this for funded and non-funded companies for 20 years in SaaS.
Sales Acceleration Group – Experts in driving sales success
Sales Acceleration Group Resources – Productivity audit, sales glossary and more
SaaStr – B2B SaaS training, events and more to scale your SaaS business
Salesforce – We bring companies and customers together
ZoomInfo – B2B Database | Business Leads & Company Contacts
Outreach – Sales Engagement Platform, Sales Automation
SalesLoft – The #1 sales engagement platform that helps you understand your customers needs and respond in meaningful ways
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