Sales Hiring for Startups against the odds

How This Startup CEO Hired the Right Sales Leader DURING COVID-19


Oof, 2020 was a wild ride of unknowns, what-ifs, and massive economic and psychological shake-ups across the world. Amirite?!


I have been inspired by my clients – startup and growth-stage companies – who have been able to roll with the punches of this unpredictable pandemic. The one thing they all have in common…? Dynamic sales leadership.


So, if you’re on the hunt for a CRO or VP Sales, read on for the keys to success when hiring a sales leader in or out of a pandemic – because the right one will have the skills and the chutzpah to navigate both.

How attractive is your company to sales leaders?


Interviewing is a two-way street and you can bet the best candidates will be assessing how well you and your company navigated the twists and turns of the last year. High-performing companies revisited their go-to-market strategy – not just once, but multiple times throughout the period and were able to iterate successfully on the fly. Here are three things they prioritized in 2020 and will continue to do in 2021:


1.  Put the Customer First:  Pre-pandemic, 62% of B2B buyers switched suppliers due lack of alignment with changing needs and expectations. Ultimately, buyers want their personal and professional needs to be understood and met, and, boy, was this magnified in 2020. Companies that were able to contextualize emerging requirements and rapidly respond to the shifting priorities of their customers outperformed their competition.


2.  Validate Product-Market-Fit:  The best companies ensure that their product meets the needs of the market, regularly testing basic assumptions. This is done by considering the market by segment, noting any sectors still experiencing economic pressure, and evaluating each based-on criteria indicative of PMF, like Customer Concentration, Customer Satisfaction, and Repeatability. Effective companies routinely isolate the elements of their offering that resonate most with their customers and couch them against competitive alternatives to assess true differentiation – including the worst competitor of all time – Mr./Ms. Doing Nothing.


3.  Pivot Based on REAL Customer Input:  In good times or bad, your go-to-market strategy must change with the demands of your market; and as a result, your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) may need refining. A meaningful way to do this is to assemble the people that matter in one place. By listening (to understand, NOT respond) first-hand to customers, you can more easily test, iterate and tweak your messaging to meet the market where it is versus where you think it should be or want it to be.


Once you’ve pressure-tested your company’s ability to excel in these areas, you’re ready to make your sales leadership hire.


Hiring ain’t easy, but there’s help:


Finding A+ sales talent is always a challenge – especially if you’re a startup or growth-stage company. These sales leaders are a rare breed with a specific profile needed for both growth and scale, as previously detailed in Kelly Ford’s Seven Cylinders Your Sales Leader Best be Firing On. No surprise that #3 is my personal favorite.


Once you identify the right pool of candidates, you’ll need a comprehensive job description and standardized method to evaluate them. A hiring scorecard is the essential ingredient to my secret sauce; my go-to tool to dramatically increase hiring success and avoid a 7-figure mess.



Candidate Scoring Matrix 4

You can find my methodology for creating a customized scorecard here.

The Softer Side of Hiring:


UX is not only for your product and customers, it applies to every aspect of the hiring process. As mentioned, A-players not only attract, but retain A-players, and every phase of the process, from screening to onboarding, needs to radiate personalization and professionalism.



The list shown below might seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often these basics are overlooked unintentionally by busy CEOs. Trust me, as a recruiter, I’m the first to hear when a candidate’s experience is lackluster. Paying attention to the social nuances of the process will ensure that you attract and retain a top-notch leader, one that stays for the long haul, growing and scaling alongside you and your company.


How to Create a Great Hiring Process 5


Originally written for Edison Partners.