How to win the war for sales talent

by Jordan Wan
business-person-smiling

A high performing sales team is invaluable to a growing startup. Winning the most promising candidates is a cutthroat battle.

It takes a lot more than a generous compensation package to get top candidates to accept your offer. You need to show them early on that they’re joining a company that values every member of their team.

Here’s how a startup can successfully compete in the war for sales talent.

1. Proactively work on employer branding

To position your company for success, you need to have a plan for employer branding. It begins by determining your core message. What do you most want prospective employees to know about your company? What adjectives do you want them to associate with you?

Here are some ideas for executing employer branding: 

  • Design a career page that will showcase your company’s core values and culture. It’s one of the first places a candidate will go to check you out. Make sure to sell your company by showing candidates why they should work for you.
  • Encourage your employees to post about their jobs on social media. Don’t tell them what to post. This almost always feels inauthentic. Give them open-ended prompts such as “What do you like best about working here?” It’s also helpful if your official social media team engages with employee accounts.
  • Create content for job seekers, such as blog entries and videos. Post this content prominently on your careers page.
saleshiringplaybook

2. Provide a competitive compensation plan

business-person-looking-at-documents

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how great your culture is if you can’t offer sales professionals a competitive compensation plan. Make sure that your compensation package is among the most competitive in your region. Just being average isn’t good enough for attracting top talent.

Your compensation plan should be simple to understand. Don’t make recruits do complicated math to project their earnings. Give them examples of how much money they might expect to make with the plan. If possible, back it up with real data on the current benchmarks for sales rep compensation in your city.

Here you can find example compensation plans for XDRs and AEs.

3. Make your interview process speedy and convenient for candidates

Do your best to make sure that candidates have a great experience by making the whole process quick and convenient. Here are some best practices for doing that:

  • Create a short but efficient interview process. Try to limit your interview process to a total of 3 meetings: an in-depth phone screen, a first meeting, and a final pitch. Having extra rounds of interviews isn’t necessary. When you know what you’re looking for, it’s easier to pinpoint which candidates will be moving forward.
  • Use a grading rubric to identify the perfect sales candidate. Make sharper hiring decisions by understanding the risks for each candidate instead of trying to predict who will be successful. Design a meeting where you can extract all the necessary information you need to decide whether you want to move forward with the candidate or not. A good rubric will allow you to focus on specific areas of exploration, giving you a better overall read on the candidate. 

Candidates can get frustrated when they have to keep returning for more interview rounds and when they meet one person at a time. Rescheduling interviews and adding more meetings to the schedule can elongate the hiring process and increase the odds of losing out on a great candidate.

4. Offer a clearly defined career path

professionals-at-whiteboardThe best sales professionals aren’t content to tread water in their careers. They want to know that there’s a path for progression at your company.

Walk potential candidates through the possibilities for advancement. Ideally, you should show them that it’s possible to advance in a managerial role or as an individual contributor. If you haven’t yet, design a concrete career ladder that’s easy for them to follow.

Point to examples of people who have advanced within your company and briefly explain how promotion decisions are made. Recruits want to know that they stand a reasonable chance of advancement if they deliver results.

5. Highlight opportunities for continued learning

Top sales professionals want to improve their skills. In your recruiting pitch, make sure to include information about opportunities for continued learning. Let them know a little about how the process works and talk about your own experiences with continued learning. Say, “since being here, I’ve gone to this conference and am working on developing my skills in…” Ask questions about their own goals in continued learning. Present your sales team’s mentorship program and any special leadership training program that you offer. 

Show candidates that they can look forward to a bright future at your company. If you can do that, they will want to work for you.

6. Show candidates your sales team culture

salespeople-collaborating

Clearly communicate your organization’s goals and values to all prospective candidates. Show them that your sales culture is focused on self-improvement. And while your high-performing sales representatives are invested in helping others improve, they’re also set on addressing their own areas of weakness. Additionally, describe how transparency is part of your culture and how your team members feel empowered to discuss important issues with their managers. 

Also highlight your culture-building activities. Candidates need to know your company is not all about business. Discuss how you normally have team nights, company offsites, and president’s club.

7. Get candidates excited about your product

One challenge new startups face in recruiting sales reps is having a product that’s relatively unknown. Many sales representatives worry that they will have difficulty selling the product. Prepare a quick demo you can present to candidates. Describe the relevance of your product in today’s tech scene and what it can do for your clients. Maybe highlight some exclusive features.

It’s important to show them that you have a great product that is poised for success. Show them that your product works by talking about the testimonials you have received. And don’t be shy to drop some big name clients you’ve brought in so far.

8. Sell your company’s mission to candidates

business-man-thinking

Prospective employees want to work somewhere that offers more than just a paycheck. Communicating a strong sense of mission will do a lot to convince employees (especially millennials) to join your company.

Explain to candidates how your B2B solutions impact real people: “Our software makes accounting much easier for small business owners.” Knowing this information will make candidates more excited about working with you.

Talking about any volunteer work or philanthropic activities that your company participates in can also be a big plus.

Wrapping up

Finding top sales talent is one thing. Getting them to actually accept an offer from your company is another. The war for sales talent is vicious and every high-growth startup is competing for the best ones. Having a well thought-out hiring process where the candidates are the priority can be the difference between winning or losing top sales talent.

Want more advice on hiring and growing a high-performing sales team! Get a free copy of Steli Efti's book Sales Hiring Playbook!

GRAB THE SALES MANAGEMENT TOOLKIT

About the Author

jordan-wanJordan Wan is the Founder and CEO of CloserIQ, a talent strategy firm helping companies build high performing sales organizations. Prior to CloserIQ, Jordan led new business sales at ZocDoc and managed sales technology and analytics for 100+ salespeople.