How To Recruit A Kick-Ass Sales Team | Lessons from Whatfix – Prakhar Jain
Prakhar Jain is the Director of Global Sales at Whatfix. Prakhar has elaborate experience in building sales teams and scaling revenue. In this 2nd edition of B2B Binge, he shared his learning from building a kick-ass sales team at Whatfix.
For any company who is looking to scale, there are some key things I wanted to tie it up into a story, which starts from sourcing, what are the parameters to consider when hiring, a predictable hiring metrics, what is involved in hiring metrics, and how do you arrive at that.
The unanswered question: How do you attract the right talent?
The sales interview processes, in general, is never complete without touching this topic and then the capacity planning in general. So let’s get to the first one.
How do you attract the right talent? Now, there could be three different sales models in any organization. You know, when a company is pretty small, you’re thinking of a founder-led sales model with one or two salespeople. You want to make sure that you’re able to attract the right people.
Now is not the time to go on job boards. So as an organization, then you want to try your network. You want to make sure that you’re reaching out to your connections. You’re talking to your previous employers and seeing what sorts of people are there whom you could offer.
You talk to your investor network, LinkedIn groups, and communities, but don’t go to the job portal yet because, at an early stage, you need people who actually can hustle their way through, not so much a specialist in the initial stages.
When you grow the team slowly, with the sales model, it is just beginning with your two to five people. You need to have some predictability into what’s going to work for you. Rely on references from your employees heavily. That’s very important. They know what works at this organization, and they can help you find relevant people in no time.
Again, your network is the most important, keep on building and nurturing your connections. Business and startup communities are other ones. And if you look at the third one, which is when you have a well-defined sales process in place, then it’s where everything that you can think of comes in place, where all the sources, the job boards, the recruiters, the agencies, the LinkedIn and all of that comes in.
Now, you got to remember for startup founders, and it is imperative that you’ve got to build some thought leadership with time, as well as your company is growing. It’s equally essential to sort of attracting candidates mainly for this specific reason.
If you look at the tip, the top 1% of salespeople in any company are never looking out for jobs. I mean, these are the highest-paid employees. They probably, in some cases, earn more than the CEO. So they’re not looking out for jobs. They’re just doing very well. Their ex-bosses are calling them, and they always have a position available.
So unless there is something that attracts them with some thought leadership of some kind, it’s going to be hard for you to go back and look at what are the parameters to consider when hiring again to the new company.
Parameters of hiring a salesperson
When you start hiring, you can divide it by a variety of parameters, depending on
- What geography are you selling into? Are you selling an India, US, or Apac? Because cultural nuances can make much difference.
- The size of the deal. That’s very important as well because if you’re selling a $10,000 contract, it’s more transactional in nature. Your agreement will move much faster as opposed to when you’re selling a hundred thousand dollars a year. That becomes more of an enterprise field.
- Different company sizes you are catering: It translates into how many buyers would be involved as a part of your buying process. In SMB, the decision making is quicker as opposed to a large enterprise where it would take more time.
What ticks, why that is important is when you’re selling to Google. You could still be a very casual setting in a Brown neck T-shirt trying to sell your way through. Try that with a JP Morgan Chase, and it doesn’t work.
Based on the background of the person and the industry you’re selling to can be the very different size of accounts. You’re trying to expand into an existing account, and then the sort of skill set needed is very different as well.
When to hire a sales specialist?
Now, if you look at the bottom line, you need to hire generalists in the beginning. So just hire one person who could do everything for you. And then, gradually, when things scale, that’s when the specialist comes into the picture who could help you, with the SDR, BDR account.
Many companies have customer success managers and those differentiated roles, but that only happens gradually. Initially, when you’re hiring people, you just want one person who could do it all for you.
The hiring metrics and strategy
The hiring metrics created internally, which I’ve been able to develop over some time and to scale our team at Whatfix.
We have a scoring table, we have a weightage, and then we have the candidate score column where you multiply the score and the weightage to arrive at the final score for that attribute.
The sales characteristics that we judge our candidates on are:
- Domain Experience
- And various other sales characteristics.
In this case, I would like to see “How the candidate did adjust to the last two jobs?” For example, if I give them a tricky scenario like; the deal is now going off the charts, how would you adapt to it? In this particular scenario in the interview process and the answer, we will figure out how much they would be able to adapt to our process.
The same process can be extended to every other attribute. Make the process exact and exhaustive to not go wrong in your hiring process. If you are a candidate reading or watching this, you might be wondering that this is a lot that I’m being judged on. However, now the parameters are public and keeping it open that you know what you are being judged on. So it’s easy for you to prepare for it in advance and, you know, being good at it.
I’ll give you simple feedback on coach-ability. You know, some of you might be thinking that how can someone test coach-ability in the interview itself?
Well, it’s effortless.
Let’s say we do a roll call or a mock call. And as soon as a mock call is done, I give you some feedback right on the request, right after the input is presented, I asked you to do another mock call. What I’m trying to test now is that are you able to implement the feedback that was given to you on the next request itself, in the next 10 minutes. If you’re ready to do that, you’re very high on coach-ability. If not, then depending on how much you can do.
We adapt. So there are definitions.
Keep interviews simple
Keep the interview process is very simple—a four full rounds in typical that is how a startup would like to do as well. You don’t want to make it seven rounds and eight rounds and make it very complicated for candidates.
From a hiring perspective keep it simple, the screening would usually happen with the recruiter. Just try to check the candidate, previous sales history try to validate the prior success. They’ve had all the sales processes, their understanding of it.
And so on, then we are looking at the telephonic process, which is around preparation domain experience. Now, any candidate who comes for a sales interview, please ask them to pitch their company.
The second question is, what do you know about us and the competitive landscape? The third question is what sort of research you have done. If we do not get our answers to these questions, right? The interview is done in the next 10 minutes.
We do not want to proceed because we do understand that in that form of a scenario, the candidates won’t survive. The aggressive culture that we have and it’s not a good state to be in. So that’s how we do it.
Round three is pretty much a demo round. We can ask you to do a demo of your product or what this product choice is yours. We are all trying to test you on all the skills mentioned earlier.
Round four is pretty much around the behaviors. They’re all curious. Did you ask the right questions as a part of the process and judging you on that now again?
A quick step for startup founders and companies who are looking to hire salespeople would be to create a recruiter cheat sheet with all the materials that you’re expecting candidates to research in one single layer.
Now, when I say that, what I mean is that. You should be able to create it about your company, your competition landscape, the funding information, who are your customers are, all of that in one single place that your candidates can go through.
Firing your best hires: the most feared question
Now I’m going to be taking up a topic, not so well discussed and not so well received, that is firing. Lessons in sales hiring can never be completed without addressing, firing. As I said earlier, don’t make it personal in general, as a sales manager many times we have to do it. It’s a part of the business.
Most of the time, firing is based on performance. So you should give enough time to the candidates to ensure that they get getting enough time to prove their metal. Never be too focused only on performance is what is the learning that we have had in.
That’s because many times, you might be putting in the effort, but because of the product or other factors, you’re not able to sell. So measure the candidate on hard work and not so much only on the hard numbers. Give them some feedback. If you don’t have an official performance improvement plan, try and put people on some form of metrics where you have them understand, give them some feedback around. Find what’s not working. Give them some time and then see if they can improve.
Cultural misfits are a big one. You want to ensure that you weed them out early. Anything related to cultural misfit is not suitable for your organization in the long term. Another thing sale managers could do is just following their opportunities and these carefully to see the level of effort if everything that could happen in a deal is happening or not.
Just a general tip! Many times people measure the success of a salesperson basis, what they’ve done in their previous jobs. It’s not necessarily that just because of them being the top performers earlier will be, will they be a top performer if your organization as well?
Hiring Capacity Planning
Now, this is capacity planning. It would only be relevant to founders as a candidate. You don’t care about it. Things you should consider every time you hire a person. How much time typically does that take for you to hire one sales rep? If it’s one to three months, that’s when you know you want to do your capacity planning from that perspective. You see, it’s the time to ramp up.
In this case, which is three months to wrap up, ensure that you are prepared well enough in advance to accommodate for that. If an average sales rep is giving you the productivity of somewhere between $400,000 per year to a million dollars per year, do the backward math from a company perspective that how many reps are needed.
And then, you create the hiring plan accordingly. But if you need X million dollars at the end of the year, this is the ramp up time. It is time to hire. So you go back accordingly.
What is the success ratio of a hire? Now according to the industry standards, one out of three people succeed in your organization. You might want to account for that as well.
When you are targeting a $5 million ARR and want to make sure you don’t miss it. So typically, you always want to over plan as a founder to ensure that even if the team performs at 80% of your quota, you have still met the company goals.
AMA with Prakhar Jain
The following is excerpts from the AMA session with Prakhar.
What are the traits to look for when hiring for an SDR?
A-So, you know, typically when you’re looking for an SDR, it depends on how you define it as well. That’s the first thing to look at. Different companies have their definitions, like for us, and NCR is a person who is doing inbound.
So lead sales reps to the website. They pick up the call in, they pick up the phone and call that person, qualify them. When you’re looking for an SDR, you want to check through a lot of what is in there. If you look at the first one, the SDR, their abilities, how quick are they, and how responsive are they to leads that are coming in?
If it’s an inbound process, how quickly can they research stuff? What’s the quality of the phone call? Are they able to handle the call bell? Because when you’re uninterruptedly calling people, you want to make sure that you’re doing that job well enough, and you know what that objection handling skill in general.
Test functional skill apart from all the behavioral skills you would want to test like they go high impact in their previous organization, the success et cetera, but from more functional expertise, I would want to do some mock calls with them and test some of these skills out.
What is the kind of experience that you look forward to in a background for a sales rep?
My background is not sales as well. It is my first sales job, so there is no right fit. There is a 30 people sales team. Then the room for hiring somebody with a non-sales background is much less because we understand the learning curve would be longer. You want people to come in and run through the process, but it is no light matter to hire a kickass sales guy. Predictable hiring metrics can only get you closer to that because when you sum up the total and see the score and compare it to two or three different candidates, you will see some scoring a lot higher than the others.
But as you saw the industry average and the success, the issue of higher-end one is two, three. I mean, even after all of this, there are all probabilities that you might go wrong. So I only wish there was a right answer to it.
What are the top three things that you look in a candidate for sales?
A-So the most important one out of this for me would be that how motivated are you to join my organization? You know, one is, you know, you want to join this organization because it’s just another job for you. But second is that I want to join this organization because I am passionate about what you guys do. It’s easy to make that out on a call. So I’m checking how excited are you about this? Because, if you are passionate, then you will do well in your craft.
Second is your tolerance. If I push you special out in an interview rounds, how good can you be? And how can you survive? I will give you all the worst of objections you have thought of, and I will still want to see that. How do you handle that?
The third one would be more how rigorous you are in the process. I’ll probably ask you specific examples around, give me some examples of how data-driven are you and you know, certain cases where just because you were so thoughtful in the process, it calls a good business impact. So talk to me a little bit about that. And then I would look at that, and then all of the other things become pretty much superficial.
Prior success is something we would want to look at if the person is indeed from a sales background.
How do you validate the prior success?
So you’re going to tell me that you met 300% of quota quarter on quarter. I’m going to ask you, give me your last two weeks’ bosses’ number or email address to reach out to. I would ask them that because salespeople are good at making stories. I mean, that’s all we do, right. And to validate those stories, there are measures in checks needed as a part of the process as well.
We also ask you specific questions around. If you get to see a hundred percent, we are going to deep diving into that 300% that explained more on what’s your ticket size. How many deals did you close? What’s your pipeline? Like just deep dive into numbers. And if somebody were cooking up stories, they would get caught somewhere.