In this episode, Steli and Hiten talk about sales hiring. Salespeople require a specific skillset that may be difficult to quantify and assess from a hiring perspective. Sometimes, it’s best to just see them perform. But, as this is not always possible, listen to find out what you should be looking for in a salesperson and the key indicators that can point you to a great, potential candidate for your team.

Time Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:38 – Hiten says sales hiring is an interesting process
  • 00:47 – “It’s a lot different in hiring marketing”
  • 00:52 – How do you know if a person is going to be good in sales? – “You don’t”
  • 01:15 – Steli has hired a lot of salespeople, but he can never say he’s hired a great salesperson
  • 01:33 – There are indicators, but the only way to truly know is to work with somebody
  • 02:02 – Ask certain questions or test prospective hires in certain challenges
  • 02:37 – Sales is based on performance
  • 03:50 – You only know somebody is good when you observe them work
  • 05:07 – Steli reserves his judgement until he works with a person for at least 3 months
  • 05:48 – “Alot of sales people are incredibly inconsistent”
  • 06:40 – Look for signals through observation
  • 07:00 – It takes a while to know a salesperson’s capacity
  • 07:45 – Steli has 3 categories for salespeople: people who are great in selling, people who are great in selling themselves as salespeople, and everybody else
  • 08:10 – People who are not good at sales will not be very convincing
  • 09:17 – Most people who are hiring for sales do not have a lot of experience in it
  • 10:00 – Another factor to consider is how easy it is to get them on your team
  • 10:42 – “If somebody is too easy to hire, they are probably not that good in sales”
  • 11:17 – “If you are in sales and you’re great at it, you’re not looking for a job”
  • 11:58 – Ideally, startups should not hire people who have a long sales career already
  • 13:37 – The best channel to get salespeople is to look at your network
  • 14:16 – You could hire an outsourced provider
  • 15:25 – “Who is somebody you know that could be amazing at sales, but would never want a sales job?”
  • 16:34 – Hire somebody who has the traits you’re looking for and train them
  • 17:43 – Before hiring anyone, ask yourself this key question, “Do I want to buy from this person?”
  • 18:36 – Want to know more about sales hiring? Check out Steli’s working copy for The Sales Hiring Playbook and enter the code thestartupchat to get access
  • 19:04 – That’s it for today’s episode!

3 Key Points:

  1. There’s no way you can know if a person is good in sales unless you see them work.
  2. Indicators to knowing whether a sales hire will be a great salesperson are not 100% accurate.
  3. Before looking outside to hire a salesperson, begin looking at your own network for possible hires, first.

Resources Mentioned:

Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.


Hiten Shah: And this is Hin Shah, and today … what we’re going to talk about is Sales Hiring. It’s probably going to be me, be me rapid-fire asking Stali many questions I can, because I know he’s still a knowledge on this topic.


Steli Efti: Let’s go.


Hiten Shah: First of all, on the sales side … I’ve hired sales people … it’s definitely been an interesting process, scaling a sales team is also an interesting process. Mostly because it’s a lot different than hiring marketing in my experience. I’ll start off with the first question on my mind, which is: how do you know that sales person is any good?


Steli Efti: Yeah. That’s probably the number one question I get when it comes to hiring sales people.


Hiten Shah: Awesome.


Steli Efti: How do I know that this person is going to be good in sales? My answer to that is, you don’t. You really don’t. You’ll never hear me say, “I just hired a great sales person.”


Hiten Shah: Okay.


Steli Efti: I’ve hired many, many sales people. I’ve helped others hire hundreds, hundreds. Maybe even thousands at this point, of sales people. I’ve been doing this for a long time and people consider me a sales guru/ You’ll still will never hear me say the words, “I just hired a great sales person”, because I don’t know until I know. There are indicators that someone might be good in sales, but the only way to truly know is to work with somebody for a long enough period to give them the opportunity to show what they’re really made of, and if they’re capable of doing a good job or not and more importantly, if they’re capable of being consistently good at sales, which is the hardest thing to find out there. I think when it comes to trying to figure it out, there’s a bunch of questions obviously, you could ask this, a bunch of things you can do in the interview process to look for their past success and track record to look for , to look for how they react to certain challenges, to certain questions, and all that is good. If you want we can talk about what kind of questions to ask and all that, but the sales … you need to think about hiring a sales person just like if you were a coach and you were trying to hire a great … let’s say … basketball player, right? You can ask a bunch of questions but ultimately, you’ll have to throw somebody a ball, and see how they play, because sales is very much a performance sport. It’s like every day they need to be able to show up every single day. No matter how they feel, no matter how everything else is working or not working in their life, and perform, and talk to people with enthusiasm, with energy, with clarity, negotiate; get their heart broken, get rejected, get massive deals that disappear right in front of them. Then being able to psychologically deal with that, and pick up the phone and call the next person. They’ll manage the next relationship. It’s a tough emotional gig. For most entrepreneurs out there. Being a sales person is like if you were fundraising forever of your . If you were raising money indefinitely, that’s how being a salesperson feels. I know a lot of entrepreneurs are like, “well, the fundraising part is most draining part of being an entrepreneur. And it sucks and, oh my God, so emotionally difficult.” Well, why? Because you’re constantly out there prospecting, creating pipeline, having meetings, pitching investors, trying to get their approval, managing through their objections, and still most of them will tell you, “No. I don’t want to give you money.” It’s a tough thing to deal with, so you only know if somebody is going to be good at dealing with that, and doing that job if you can observe them do it. Now, in the interviewing process, what that means is that I would always have somebody sell me something, right? I would never just talk theory. I would actually have somebody go, “all right what was the last thing you were doing? You were working XYZ company, you were selling XYZ for them. All right, let’s just role-play for a second. If I were a prospect, and you’re trying to sell me that product that you were selling for two years … Let’s just play it through: Ring, ring, ring. This is Steli, pitch me on the product, right? Give me a demo, or do the actual selling, demonstrate your skillset. It’s like I’m the coach and I’m throwing you the ball and go play, or throw … Do something … Show me what your skill is on the field, versus just talking about all the great games you have had, and all the great points you’ve made, and your career to this point. I would always, and as quickly as possible, have that person sell me things and pitch me, and demo me, and negotiate with me to see how they react in practice. Even then, eve if they are doing an amazing job, even if they have a great kind of CV, if they do a great job and then make an impressive impression in the interviewing process, I still reserve my judgement if they’re really going to be good at sales until I’ve worked with them for at least three months. If I have worked for somebody for three months or more, then you might hear me go, “I have an amazing sales person,” or this, “I’ve made an amazing sales hire.” If I just hired you, and you’ve worked here for a few weeks or a month, no matter how incredible that month was, I would still always reserve my judgement for later because I know that some people are great at selling at certain periods of times, specially when it’s new. When they just join the team, they’re full of enthusiasm, they put their best foot forward, they show their best side of them, but young sales people are incredibly inconsistent. The first month they’ve done amazing, and then the second month, BOOM! They’re not there anymore, or they’ve just had a big deal that didn’t go through and they kind of crushed their soul, and they aren’t able to pick themselves up. There are certain things that I look for in terms of consistency. Is this person showing up every day? The same time, doing the same type of activity, how does their stamina look like? What happens when they have a big success? Do they loosen up a little bit, show up late, and go earlier, and do less? Or do they push in harder after they succeeded. What do they do when they have a failure, or when they just had a big deal that didn’t go through. Do they get psychologically crushed, and are sick the next day for a few days, or are they showing up even earlier, going even later? Having more enthusiasm, more energy, putting in more work into it. I look to these signals. Is this somebody that can do the work every single day and do it consistently, no matter what. If the answer is yes, and once I got to that yes, then I’ll say, “yes, this person is great at selling.” It takes time to truly know. Obviously, you have to do whatever you can to best-guess when you make a hire, but it takes a while before you truly actually know if somebody is gonna be good at this.


Hiten Shah: I like that a lot. It’s very behavioral, which is unlike most roles, and it’s behavioral post the higher. That’s pretty interesting. Okay, I would love to give people some though thoughts on how you find these sales people. I know a lot of them aren’t LinkedIn, I’ve seen a lot of their bios and so, it’s a process of … Okay, if I’m looking for a sales person and I have a couple, how do I find more? Also, just of looking at either a first interview that I do, or even just their LinkedIn or their resume, how can I tell whether I should talk to them or not?


Steli Efti: Yeah, those are great questions. I categorize sales people in three buckets. There are people that are great at selling, right? There are great sales people. Then there are people are great at selling themselves as great sales people. And there is everybody else who is in sales, but shouldn’t be. Right? Shouldn’t be at all, they’re not really good at sales, and they’re not even good at selling you that they might be good at sales. The people that are truly not good at it … Usually, you’ll know because they will not be very convincing. Even when they talk to you, you would think, “I don’t want to buy from this person,” this is number one criteria by the way. The number one criteria you should apply is, do I want to buy from this person? And if the answer is no, no matter what they’re career is, no matter if they tell you they closed a billion dollars in deals last week, whatever it is, don’t hire them. If you don’t want to buy from them, don’t hire them. Most people are just in sales, but really, truly good at it. They’re so bad at it, that they kind of convince you that they’re good at it. Right? That’s easy, if you don’t want to buy from these … If you don’t think, “Wow! I would really love to have this person sell me things. I could buy from this person, any and every day. I instantly trust this person, I get . This person seems to have integrity, but also just authority, and confidence and all that.” If you don’t feel like this would be a great person to buy from, don’t work with them. Now, these other two categories, and here is my simple help on how to differentiate: most people who are hiring sales people … I’m not necessarily … especially in the , almost everybody who is hiring sales people doesn’t have a lot of experience hiring sales people. There’s always kind of a difficulty on how to judge if somebody is going to be good at this or not, and there are a lot people who have become good at convincing entrepreneurs, of convincing engineers, of convincing people who don’t have a lot of experience in sales that they could be great at this. These are the black sheep of sales in my mind. The way to differentiate people that seem to be great at sales and people who are great at sales is, how easy it is for you to convince them to come and join your team. A few things here. Number one: if somebody is truly great at sales, they’re making a ton of money. If you’re great at sales, you’re making a lot of money usually. If you have a sales career, you’re making a lot of money, and you have lots of offers, and you are very much in demand, so its very unlikely that you are looking for a job, and it’s very unlikely that if I offer you a job, or if I tell you that I’m currently recruiting and I’m looking to talk to people, are you interested to explore the opportunity? It’s very unlikely that they are going to be super excited about it. Those would be my warning signs. If somebody is too easy to hire, they’re probably not that great at sales, if they have a sales career. This is an important “If”. If they’re already in sales, if they have a sales career and they’re great at it. They’re incredibly expensive, but they make a ton of money and they have no interest in changing what they’re doing because they have too many offers anyways, already. It’s just like an amazing engineer, or developer, right? If somebody is truly incredible, it’s not that easy to hire them. Easy to hire would be a red flag for me. If you make somebody an offer, or somebody is looking … if you’re in sales, and you’re great at it, you’re not looking for a job. Its almost impossible. You’re not actively looking for a job. You’re in sales, and you’re like, “I’m trying to find my next gig, I left them company, or they fired a month or two months ago, and currently applying to jobs, and trying to find a job.” You’re not great at sales, you’re just not. It doesn’t mean that you’re not a great human. It doesn’t mean that you’re not a great person, but you’re not great at sales, if you have a sales career. I would look for how easy it is to truly get somebody if they already have a sales career. Now, all that being said, I think that most of the time, you will not want to hire people that had a long sales career already in a very successful Especially, in a startup. And the reason for that is because of what I mentioned, they’re going to be insanely expensive. They’re going to be incredibly hard to hire and to convince to join you. Also, they typically are used to having a bunch of advantages going for them, that made their life, that made selling easier, right? So, they’re going to want some stability, and some clarity of what is your product, what is your market. Many of of them will like to have bigger ticket items to sell, so they’re going to look for massive enterprise deals, or any kind of other item that has a big price tag attached to it, because that means that they can make a ton more money. They are going to look for more structure in terms of competition plans, and bonuses and all that. Typically, they’re going to look for things that are probably not getting placed in the early days of your startup. Once you are scaled, yes. In the earlier days … we’re talking when you’re still below a few million dollars in revenue a year. It’s going to be really hard for you to hire somebody amazing that has a long sales career, and is in sales right now. I wouldn’t even try, or look for that. The risks to not hire somebody good, are way too high. Typically, I would not say, “go to LinkedIn, look for people with a tedious of a sales career and look for those three or four criteria, and then make an offer or reach out. I would go back to the thing we’ve always been saying on this podcast when it came to hiring and recruiting, which is that the best channel, the first channel, the , is to actually look at your network. One thing that often times limits people when it comes to sales hiring, is that they think about hiring sales people … This is a big difference between hiring developers or designers than sales people, is that a lot of people think: if I need to hire a sales person, I need to go out and look for people that have sales career today. In a startup, or in general, that is just not true. Most of the people that we hired at the last X-Sales where we were like, been the outsourced sales provider for startups in Silican Valley, and we were doing all these hundreds of different campaigns, and we’re like the experts in Sales Campaigns and managing sales people with the best sales team in the Valley, and all that good stuff … Almost every single person we hired, had no prior sales experience. Because most people that have the potential to be great at sales … they can grown up wanting to be great sales people, they didn’t think they want to be in sales, but they just have the gene. They have the talents, they have the capabilities, but they might be in a different career path right now. They might be doing something different, but if you get to know them, you’d realize that they can be great at sales. There’s a lot of talent, typically, that competitors are not going after, that is kind of in a blind spot, because they could be great at selling, but they are not getting sales. Another question, is how do I find these people if they’re not in sales already. It goes back to referrals. The question I would ask to people is, “Who is somebody you know, that could be amazing at sales, but would never want a sales job, or has a totally different career path? It’s like everyone of them … Everyone has a friend that is just really charismatic, really great with people, really good at making things happen, and we think: wow, this person could be amazing at sales, but they’re not even in the sales career. I’m really curious to meet these kind people. I would ask that to hire, who’s somebody that could be great at sales, but they would never want to work here. They would never want a sales career? Who comes to mind? You’d be surprised that almost every single time people have some names. They’re like, “Yeah! That guy would be incredible at this, but right now he’s doing his MBA in corporate, or right now he’s working as an engineer, actually, in a totally different field. I would call up these people, and step by step, they would fall in love with the company, the idea, and ultimately, they’d be like, “You know what, yeah, I heard that I could be good at sales many times. I thought this, but I never wanted to have a sleazy sales job. All the companies that were hiring sales people, it always seemed like that’s something I don’t want to do, but you guys are different.” And we would hire these people and train them on the ABCs of selling. Training somebody to know your product and know how to do the basics of selling. It’s not that tough, but if you have somebody that is raw talent, that is great at communicating, that has a high level of dealing with rejections, and that has all the required criteria that you’re looking for in somebody who’d be great at sales. I’ve been able to hire a lot of amazing people and get them from zero experience in sales to being great at sales, to then moving on becoming directors of sales, VPs of sales, Sales Managers, in a lot of really incredible companies, and started off like probably long careers in sales. Although they never thought of themselves as sales people, and they would’ve never applied for a sales job.


Hiten Shah: Yeah, I love that. I mean, that was obviously, going to be my question and you went really deep into it basically. I think, what a great way to end it, which is basically, that you can hire people that deserve the opportunity, I guess, that are junior. There’s a bunch of take aways. I would just say that, is there anything else that people should know about hiring sales. At least from a most basic level.


Steli Efti: Yeah, I mean … There’s a ton more, but I think we covered all the basics. Even if you just take just one take-away that was … Ask yourself, do I want to buy from this person? Am I excited about that? Don’t think, is this person good at sales? Don’t think, does this person have a huge role of exp. Could they sell a million dollars? Does he or she look like, or walk like, what I think a sales person should? No, no. Just ask yourself, do I want to buy from this person? Do I feel like I would trust them, and I would want to follow their advice, and I would want to buy whatever they are selling? If that’s the only take-away, then you’re already way ahead of most people that are hiring sales people. Because most people don’t trust their own judgement, and then they make bad hires. There’s a lot more tactical thought. How to ask interview questions? What criteria to look for on sales people, how to onboard them an all that. I’m currently working on a little book project. It’s going to be called, “The Sales Hiring Playbook”. Let’s do this, if you listened to this episode and then you want more, and you think you need more, you can just go to and there’s going to be an early copy. I’m still working on this, still changing it, but you can take a look and then give feedback. You’ll just have to type in as the code, “thestartupchat” is your code to get early access, and then you can get a lot more stuff about sales hiring, but I think we covered the most important stuff.


Hiten Shah: Alright, well that’s it. I have nothing else to say about sales, except I hire as little sales people as you can.


Steli Efti: There you go. I was just just about to say, you have a lot to say. I just didn’t give you space to say.


Hiten Shah: No, it’s okay. You’re the expert on hiring these people. You’ve hired thousands of them.


Steli Efti: All right, that’s it from us for this week.


Hiten Shah: Bye.


Steli Efti: Bye.