Inside the Mind of a Top Performer
We're thriled to share a guest post from Amy Volas: a sales fanatic turned entrepreneur who was bitten by the startup bug many moons ago and couldn't imagine spending her time anywhere else. She created Avenue Talent Partners to help with the tremendous task of growing startups through one of their most valuable assets—salespeople. When she’s not working, she’s spending time with her cat, dog, and husband—in that order (jokes). You can find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Inside the minds of sales all-stars: how to attract them and keep them.
With unemployment at the lowest it’s been in almost 49 years and the market booming, hiring the cream of the sales crop is about as difficult as ever.
I’m seeing this a lot with the searches we’re engaged with (especially in Tier 1 cities like New York City, which are ultra-competitive right now). Recent studies are also showing this is the case. That said, even in this market, there are tried and true ways to attract the best to your business.
Here are the top ways to attract and keep top salespeople… both from my personal experience as a top performer and also what we’re seeing as we’re talking to candidates we engage with as sales recruiters.
Where true sales all-stars are found…
A lot of the struggle to find truly talented salespeople comes from looking in the wrong place. The truth is, top salespeople are almost always happily employed. Very rarely will you find one who is actively looking for a new role.
So when you (or a recruiter you’re working with) post a job description and collect applications, it’s very rare that any of the people who are coming your way are going to have the skills you were hoping for.
Instead, you have to engage the most talented salespeople in a different way – by reaching out to them and showing them why you’re worth working with directly.
An important note, though: this is not about pitching them! Instead, it’s about finding common ground on the 5 things below.
What top salespeople care about most in a company.
These aren’t the only things, nor do they apply to every top performer out there. So it’s important not to lose sight of the individuality of each person — but they are the things most frequently mentioned by the candidates we talk to.
1. Collaborative leadership and culture.
We recently went back through the data from our conversations and interviews past with account executives and found that this was the number one thing they cared about when considering a new role.
Namely, that your leadership and culture was “collaborative.”
This means a lot of things. But from my experience (as well as what they were saying), here’s what “collaborative” really means:
Voice – meaning sales leaders invite their teams to share their ideas and create psychological safety for them to do so freely (plus listen to the answers and act on them).
Transparency – meaning sales and executive leaders are transparent about what is really going on with the business.
Alignment – meaning the sales team, sales leader, and the business are all focused on the same goals.
Communication – namely that it is timely, clear, and proactive.
I can tell you from firsthand experience that each of these can be a total showstopper as a salesperson. Without them, it’s hard to be successful.
But the startup leaders who do this exceptionally well have teams who are killing it.
2. A compelling product and mission.
It’s been said that “the first sale happens in the heart of the salesperson” and I couldn’t agree more.
It’s why the product and its viability were always one of the first things I asked about with any company I was considering working with (or any recruiter who came down my street).
It’s also why most of the salespeople we talk to for our clients always want things like:
“Does it solve a real problem?”
“Is it a ‘smart’ solution or a ‘me-too’ solution?”
“What is the product-market fit like?”
But, this also goes much deeper for many too. As Simon Sinek has said, “People don’t buy what you sell, they buy what you believe.”
So it’s important that you have a compelling mission to go with a compelling solution as well. Think about “why you do what you” do as much as “what you do” and infuse it into all aspects of your interactions with candidates. The goal is to find ones who think your mission is compelling!
3. Growth potential.
Winning salespeople want to be on winning teams with opportunities to do big things. Period. They’re not going to invest their skills, time, or energy into something that isn’t going to provide that. This is why the solution your product provides is so important.
But it’s also why passive sales candidates you’ll engage with want to understand things like:
Your total addressable market
Your market share
Your win rate
Your run rate
Strong performance in these areas translates into opportunities for them to progress in their individual careers both in responsibility/title as well as dollars and cents. Plus, they’re indicators that your business is growing steadily as well, which indicates stability.
4. Your comp plan.
All-star salespeople want to be rewarded for their efforts without the dangling unachievable carrot. That’s a big part of why they’re in sales!
Here’s what that means for comp plans (from my experience and from what the people we talk to say):
Uncapped commissions – why limit your own growth by eliminating the incentive to reach for the stars? Give them a reason to blow it out of the water for you!
Easy-to-calculate comp plans – I see too many commission structures that take an algorithm to calculate. Make it easy for your people to be rewarded (and know how they’ll be rewarded) for their work!
Follow through on what you say you’ll do – There is literally nothing more demoralizing as a salesperson than to have your employer look at you and say “We’re going to have to make changes to (i.e. reduce) your comp plan.” Do this regularly and your top performers will walk faster than you can possibly imagine.
5. Candidate experience during the interview process.
Top salespeople are like luxury buyers who spend $1000/night on a 5-star hotel room.
So if you want to bring in high-performing employees who are going to move the needle, you need to make them feel like they’re at The Mark in NYC – not the Best Western.
You do that by creating an engaging candidate experience during interviews:
Know who you need to hire – A lack of focus in this area creates doubt in the mind of someone who knows why they do what they do and what they do well.
First-rate service and proactive communication – Keeping them engaged and working proactively to collaborate during this process is paramount.
Personalization – Everyone wants to feel important. Let them know you care regardless of whether you hire them or not.
A concrete and defined interview process – The moment you run a top performer around even for a second (like flying them out a second time, adding extra assessments, etc.), they’re checked out.
From my personal experience… do not underestimate the importance of these things. Remember: passive candidates aren’t looking for anything new in the first place. So wasting their time is a sure fire way to turn them off!
Now that you’ve got them… how do you keep them?
First and foremost, keep the things above in place and pushing forward! These are the fundamentals that build a great place to work for salespeople.
But I want to call out two in particular that are probably the most important.
1. Work to enable your team every day.
As I always like to say, everything starts from the top down. Meaning, you as a leader are responsible for setting the tone and culture with everything you do.
Work to improve yourself as a leader each and every day and move heaven and earth internally to make your team successful.
Here are some of the best ways to do this:
Spend time out on the sales floor (asking great questions) every day!
Spend time with your buyers so you can manage up/work with Product, Marketing, and Customer Success teams effectively through real insight versus what you’re assuming from what your CRM tells you.
Break apart deals and opportunities together for stronger outcomes.
Measure on impact versus activity. This is key for incentivizing the right behavior!
As you look for tech, think about what truly supports the strategy versus throwing a bunch of tools that can overwhelm the team.
The best leaders I’ve ever worked for had teams who would fall on their swords for them because they did these things well!
2. Create new opportunities to grow.
If there’s one thing that the cream of the sales crop craves more than anything else, it’s the ability to grow. So it’s important to keep each team member moving towards the next milestone in their careers, comp, and more.
Developing a mutually agreed upon plan so all parties can win together with regular, open communication is key. And it starts in the hiring process! This is hard work, but trust me – the moment your top performers feel they’ve reached the top, they’ll start looking for something else!
Above all else, fueling everything you do with transparent communication and the Golden Rule will help you more than anything else.
It doesn’t do you any good to oversell your business or to do something you wouldn’t want yourself. In fact, it does more damage than good, because losing them later is more painful than having them say “no” now.
So work to improve each of these things above and soon enough you’ll have salespeople more than excited to talk to you!