Tactical tips for hiring a salesperson in the US

Mohit Garg

21 February 2022
#Build in US #Hiring #Sales

In the previous blog, we had a more conceptual conversation on how you need to approach hiring for first sales hires in the US. We also reviewed the timing, context and hiring profile leading up to the selection process. In this second part, we go in-depth on the sourcing and interviewing process.

You’ve made the decision, you have the budget. So, what do you do next?

Do your research

When it comes to identifying the desired rep profile, LinkedIn is the best place to start. A good place to start would be to look at sales reps at companies that are seeing success in selling products and services similar to yours — ideally with similar buyer persona and ACV. Few traits to look for:

  1. Does their career show a steady progression?
  2. Have they stuck around for at least a couple of years in their previous jobs?
  3. Any mentions of Presidents/excellence clubs or quota attainment? Many top reps will include their quota achievement % on their LI profile — this is generally social proof of their performance
  4. Have they experienced rapid scaling, ideally starting from your stage (Series A -> B and beyond)


Once you have identified a few LinkedIn profiles that appear to be a good match, save them in a list as you will need to go back and compare and contrast, even if those reps may not be ready to enter your hiring process.

Create your funnel

Nothing works as well as an authentic message from the founder sharing why you think they will be a good fit for your mission. It is however a tough talent market and if you do not have a lot of experience in hiring for sales, you may not be able to present the right impression on the candidate. Candidates not only want to hear about how great your product is, but more importantly they want to hear about how other sales hires are seeing a lot of success, especially if they are doing well in their current job. And you do want to hire reps who have been successful in their current and previous jobs.

Sourcing candidates can itself be a lot of work. When it comes to getting a feel of what is out there in the market, the agencies can accelerate your learning curve and pitch you and your company to the candidates. I have partnered with Betts Recruiting and The Lions in the past and have had a good experience working with them.

Leverage the agency

Approach the agency with your ideal sales rep profile and share the LinkedIn profiles from your research. Ask to see broad profiles and comp ranges. You can even ask the agency to show you profiles of candidates they’ve recently placed in organizations you admire or compete with. The sample profiles that they provide helps you gauge the the capability of the agency to source top candidates and they can also get you educated on the current comp. benchmarks. You can also download current comp. benchmarks from Option Impact or ask your investors to share comparable data from their other portfolio companies.

It helps to provide the agency a list of companies you want to hire from. Most agencies will do this free of charge and won’t charge until you make the hire or may ask for a retainer that would be applied towards the recruitment fee for your first hire.

The candidate is not the only one selling themselves

Ok, now that you have a list of candidates, you need to spend time in creating a pipeline of interviews by either you or the agency pitching your company and the opportunity.

Don’t go in with a one-way evaluation mindset. Let’s be very honest, it is a very competitive market out there and job opportunities are abundant. You’ll have to convince them that not only can they succeed, but also the market that you operate in has immense growth potential. Give examples of how you or your offshore team has closed deals. Remember, you’re selling yourself, your company, and your vision.



Narrowing the list

Once you have shortlisted your candidates, it comes down to the actual interviews. There are going to be smooth talkers and people who will make large promises. It’s their job. Your job is to be a detective, ask them questions that will give you clues to how well they could fit in your company.

So, what do you ask them? Here are a few interview questions:

  1. How much quota were they carrying vs what was their achievement? If they only highlight a certain quarter, they may hit quota on one lucky deal, probe further on achievement of their annual numbers. What is your current breakdown between inbound/outbound pipeline and conversion?
  2. We are talking to a number of candidates for this role. What makes you the best fit for our company and this role? Startup fit and culture fit. Depending on PMF (product-market fit), you look for someone who can do evangelistic sales. They can sell the vision. It will also answer if this person needs a playbook or will be the one who builds the playbook.
  3. Who was the best manager you ever had? Worst manager and why? This question tells you about their coach-ability, self-awareness and philosophy on sales culture.
  4. When it comes to sales at <their current or past company>, what was your sales process? When they made sales, was it through an RFP or a trial? This tells you the sales process they’re tuned to and helps draw parallels to your startup. Ask questions on how much support they had in their current company. If they had full support, ie, were handed leads, then they were not doing a lot of prospecting. So you need to figure out if they can be a fit for a position without support.

The mock pitch

Once you have narrowed the list down to final candidates, a mock pitch will seal the deal and see the candidate in action. The mock pitch can be for your company/product or from one of their existing or previous jobs — ideally a sales conversation that you can relate to. The bar on their ability to communicate value and handle objections should be a lot higher if they are presenting a pitch from their current or past experience. Here is a sample evaluation sheet you can use to objectively evaluate the pitch.

Reference checks

As you get close to offer stage, back channel and references are very useful. It may feel like this is too much effort for one position but this is part of making your first sales hire. These early hires will not just represent you but also the company.

The most objective and effective back channel calls are blind references, but it is unlikely that you will be able to directly connect with the candidate’s past managers or colleagues. Therefore, you may end up relying on candidate supplied references.

Most candidates will have a ready list of references ready to go. Candidates will not give out references casually, so asking for references is also a good way to qualify the candidate’s interest in your company. Expect the candidate’s reference to say good things about them but you have to probe and read between the lines. Here are a fews tips on how to run an effective reference call.

Start by assuring the reference that the reference call is confidential. It is a big decision for you, and their candor is appreciated. Here are a few questions to ask:

  1. Did you directly work with this person? What was the extent of your visibility to the candidate’s performance?
  2. Would you rehire this person?
  3. What kind of jobs would you recommend this person for?
  4. At what kind of company and stage would this person be a good fit?
  5. What does the candidate need in order to be successful?
  6. How would you grade this person on a scale compared to other people that you have worked within similar roles (this one is tricky, so you have to either ask in the context of a specific skill or give the references the option to not answer. If they choose not to answer, that also tells you something 🙂


Hope you found this article helpful. If you have specific questions or resources, find me on Twitter, we love feedback. If you think you’re building something interesting, you should reach out to the good folks at Together. Their operator network is second to none. You can write to them at hello@together.fund.