3 ways to make your startup magnetic to top sales performers


Time and Forbes both predicted 2017 would be a job seekers market. And they were right — 2017 has turned out to be a great year for anyone looking to make a move in any industry.


But as a startup, that also means hiring the cream of the sales crop to help you grow your company’s revenue has become even harder. With so many jobs out there, people tend to check if the grass might be greener somewhere else.


The good news is, “better” means much more than your comp plan these days. Comp is important, but there are a few other things that top performers care about just as much. I can personally attest to this as someone who has worked with startups in the tech space for the better part of 20 years.


So if you’re struggling to convince high-quality sales people to join you or are suffering the effects of making the wrong hire, here are 3 things you can do to flip the script and engage the best salespeople in your marketplace.



1. Connect them with what you stand for.


You’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking about how to present your value prop to your customers. But one thing I don’t see a lot of startups doing well is connecting their potential sales hires to that same value prop in a way that makes their company compelling to work for.


I’m speaking from experience when I say, it is exceptionally frustrating to try to sell something that just doesn’t have any legs (it’s a surefire way to not meet quotas).


That’s why it’s just as important to get your value prop front and center to those who might want to work with you. If you want top performers to get excited about your startup, get them excited about your value prop to take away any doubts about whether they will have to try to sell a dud or not.


Here’s how you can do that:


  1. Identify what problems your product solves and why. It may sound obvious, but what your product does best and why you do what you do are two essential parts to getting a salesperson excited about selling it.
  2. Connect the what and why to the things your next hire would want. Don’t leave it to your candidates to piece it together themselves…connect the dots for them. Think about it from their perspective and show them why your product is worth evangelizing and why they should work with you.
  3. Show them the proof. There are few better (or more persuasive) things for sales people than concrete evidence and success stories of how your product is solving problems for your customers. These are an instant reassurance for top talent that they won’t have to sell something that doesn’t really work.
  4. Be honest. It’s okay to not be perfect. Open ‘Pandora’s Box’ and truly show them what’s inside:  the good, the bad, the ugly, and the true opportunity to make an impact (and not just what you think it is, be ready to back it up). This is as much about you and your hiring/growth goals as it is for them and their career trajectory.



2. Show them you’ve got their back.


Sure, leadership matters to all of your employees. But for sales people it is essential. Things like unreasonable goals and expectations, or not giving them the proper support can quickly impede their ability to bring in the revenue you were expecting, and can also result in lasting damage for your company.


So just like in your hiring process, you need to treat your existing sales team like an investment too in order to build a productive sales culture for your startup. Which is the kind of culture that gets the talent pool drooling over the idea of working with you.


Here are four ways you can do that:



  1. Have clear hiring goals. You need to a good idea of what qualities and abilities you need before you can ever hire a salesperson that’s going to excel at your startup. Do this first before you ever start to interview, because it will make you even more valuable to the right talent when they see the potential to work with a talented team.
  2. Coach and mentor every member of your sales team. Sales in particular requires an attitude of constant improvement and real support through collaboration. So showing top talent you have a process and environment that encourages it is one sure way to let them know you’ll have their back when they start working with you.
  3. Listen to your sales team. No really. LISTEN. Sales is a tough job, and even the reps with the highest levels of perseverance and the thickest skin need a sounding board. Encourage team members to approach you with thoughts and ideas to make the business stronger, and use these sessions to learn about the roadblocks your team is facing to improve upon them so they can drive the company’s revenue up.
  4. Be transparent. After 20 years in sales, I’ve learned that any interaction with a customer has to be authentic and transparent to really be successful. The same applies with your sales team too. After all, you’re trying to make your startup enticing to work for, and people really connect with authenticity.


It should go without saying, that this is far from a complete list – there are so many things that go into great leadership. So if you want to learn more about how grow as a leader, I would highly recommend you to start with Simon Sinek.


If you start working on these things with your current employees, before long, you’ll have people beating down your door to work with you.


3. Show them you respect the sales craft.


One of my mentors took a chance on me back in the day when he brought me on to prove his product really had value in the marketplace even though I was a guinea pig hire.


He was not your typical head of sales though…he had never actually been in sales before! But because he recognized that, we crushed it together.


Because he respected and valued my talent, my ideas, and gave me the proper support and guidance, we were able to REALLY make our solution “sing”. The result? We built a sales function that carried over 50% of the total company revenue!


Stories like this show why it’s critical to keep your people engaged, and show them you respect what they bring to the table for your organization. Because when a startup begins to prioritize money over people, things start to go downhill very quickly.


Two of the best ways you can show your sales team that you respect their craft are:


  • Set reasonable goals and targets based on solid market understanding.
  • Give your team some freedom on methodology (sales is as much of an artform as it is a science).


If you do those things, your sales team won’t feel like you expect the impossible out of them and will likely perform better.


And that’s really the key, because when highly talented prospects see your team kicking serious butt, they’re going to be more likely to want to jump in and do the same. Everyone wants to be on a winning team!


The mindset that ties this all together.


If you haven’t picked up on it, each of these three action steps gives A+ talent a reason to care about your company because it shows you care about them and value their experience.


The reality is, just like your customers won’t care about your product or service simply because it exists, top sales performers aren’t going to care about it or your company either unless there is some way it meets their needs.


And since a dynamic work environment is a huge driver for salespeople, anything you can do to create that is going to greatly increase the value of working for your startup in their eyes.


I want to try something different: many people who follow my content are on both sides of this equation, and I think it would be valuable to have a frank, transparent discussion.


So I’m curious, what other things have you all found that draw you towards working with certain companies? Drop a comment below with your thoughts!


As always, thanks for reading 🙂


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-Amy Volas