June 24, 2015

how to find salespeople for a tech startup firm

Finding great salespeople has always been a challenge because selling requires core aptitude and personality traits that less than 20% of the general population possesses.

On the other side of the coin, hiring salespeople for a tech startup can be even more difficult because many people do not possess the requisite technical aptitude to understand the very technology they are selling.

Put the two together, and you can see how the numbers work against hiring managers looking for both.

Which is More Important: Industry Specific Knowledge or the Ability to Sell?

Businesswoman holding the justice scale

Of the two aptitude sets, the aptitude to sell must be in place and is key to long-term sales success.

This may seem counterintuitive to a tech company whose very culture has been built upon technical prowess and expertise, but it should not — just as great technical people respect the special prowess required to innovate and operate in the technical industry, the same level of specialized prowess is required to generate and sustain performance in sales.

Even the greatest technology will not sell itself, so you need to start by finding a sales hunter, someone who scores very well on a sales aptitude test that measures for Drive. Once you have identified this high-potential salesperson, you can then begin to determine if he or she can learn the technical information he will need to be credible in the technology marketplace.


Identifying the Right Sales Aptitude

As you may already know, extensive data and research shows that high performance salespeople share three, innate personality characteristics that push them to succeed, to compete, and to shield them from rejection . . . a combination most people do not possess as a complete package. These traits include:

Need for Achievement

A salesperson who pushes himself, hard, because that is just how he is wired. He wants to do well for the sake of doing well.


Someone who loves to compete, and not just with his coworkers, but even with the prospect, which he sees as a part of a wonderful contest of wills. He wants to win the prospect over to his point of view.


This is a salesperson who is supremely optimistic. He does not take rejection personally; it is simply part of a game he loves to play.

These three, non-teachable characteristics form the master combination of Drive, and all three must be in place to predict a favorable outcome after training and deployment.


Use Technology to Find High Aptitude Sales Candidates

The best way to find and identify candidates who have this core aptitude to succeed is through a scientifically constructed sales personality assessment that focuses on these traits.

The tech world is built on data, so why not use unbiased, data-driven hiring tactics to help you determine whether a sales candidate has these traits, before investing significant time and money in the vetting process?

Further vetting through behavioral interviewing and references are of course necessary, but the process becomes infinitely more efficient when only high aptitude candidates are allowed into your recruiting process.

This can take some patience on the front end because a high percentage of people who apply for sales positions do not have the aptitude to achieve and sustain high performance. But given the enormous cost of hiring, carrying and, ultimately, terminating unsuccessful salespeople, usually into six figures per failed salesperson, it pays to develop a very rigorous program upfront.


Employing Your High Aptitude Salesperson into the Technology Market

Once you have identified and hired a high aptitude salesperson you must then determine if he has enough technical intelligence to carry the sale on his own or far enough before bringing technical personnel into the conversation.

If you determine that your new recruit does not have the necessary technological expertise to handle selling on his own, you have two options.

  1. Provide him with in depth sales training specific to your company’s technology.

Take the time to train your new hire on your company’s products and services and the technology behind them. Training can take several months and it may be helpful to partner your new salesperson up with a seasoned employee to maximize their learning and training.

  1. Team your new hire up with a technical engineer.

Planning work

If you do not have the time to train your new salesperson, pairing him up with a technical person, also known as a technical engineer is another alternative.

The idea is your new high-Drive salesperson can be out hunting for new business and scheduling meetings with prospects.

When those meetings are conducted your salesperson will be joined by a technical engineer. The technical engineer’s job is to handle the prospect’s technological questions or concerns.

This was the approach IBM used in its formative years to great success. Their salespeople were very smart and could “talk tech,” but for the deeper tech conversations they always had a technical engineer at their side in the meetings. The key thing to keep in mind however is there would be no meetings without the highly Driven salesperson churning up leads in the marketplace.


In summary, sales requires a specialized personality and skill set, much like technology requires a specialized personality and skill set. You would never hire a computer scientist or engineer that is not equipped to handle the technology mission. The same standards must be applied when hiring salespeople for tech startups. The process starts by determining if a candidate has the core aptitude to succeed in sales. Everything else builds from that foundation.