Hiring for Sales Teams: Think Outside the Box

Devon-McDonald by

Last week, at our Strategic Planning Workshop, I spoke with a woman who works at one of our portfolio companies who, among other things (they are an expansion stage business afterall), is managing their sales function. She seemed to fit the “sales” profile to a T: well spoken, interesting, passionate about the company’s product and very presentable. This particular portfolio company has grown tremendously in the last year with her at the helm, so I thought to myself — wow, this woman must have a rockstar sales background. She’s nailing it!

Turns out, prior to her role at one of the portfolio companies, she was a partner at a law firm. The type of law on which she focused directly correlates to the product she is currently selling. I mean…think about it… she was a lawyer — she can make a great argument; she managed teams of people with big personalities; she can perform under pressure; she is used to working hard… and working A LOT of hours at that. I’m engaged to a lawyer so let me tell you — I am very familiar with these characteristics.

This profile sounds like a CEO‘s dream when it comes to sales management.

This, I thought, is an interesting lesson, particularly for expansion stage management that is hiring sales candidates — mid or senior level. Don’t rule out those candidates for sales roles who have not worked in sales their entire careers. If you interview an individual who is smart, savvy, hungry to succeed and understands the market, it might be worth your while to invest some time and resources to get this person up to speed on the selling process and the methodologies your business utilizes to acquire new customers/maintain current relationships. It’s not rocket science. It can be learned. What cannot be learned is the other stuff: work ethic, drive, passion, intelligence, etc.

A selling point with customers. The last thing a customer wants to deal with is a smarmy sales person who doesn’t know the first thing about the market. People buy from people they like and trust.
This woman can have an intelligent conversation with a prospect, as she has an expertise in the type of law that is relevant to the potential buyer. This background and skillset she possesses, as the team’s leader, can truly differentiate a company from the rivaling sales teams as seen through the eyes of the prospect — talk about competitive advantage. The first way to demonstrate to a prospect that it is worth their time to work with you is to show them you know/understand their pain points, and that you know their market. You don’t have to be the former VP of Sales from Microsoft to do so.

Think outside the box when you are hiring for sales… It’s probably one of the few business roles where the hiring manager can be truly flexible with the background of the candidates, given that personality and drive are such a major component of the hire.