When We Stopped Looking for a Unicorn, We Found a Salesperson
On my mind right now is hiring. Specifically hiring your first sales person. Or maybe I should say it was on my mind. We just wrapped up the process.
First, recruiting is hard only in the sense that it takes time. There's a bevy of good ways to find potential candidates. And if you're a startup, it's easy to filter out the people who really want to be working for the Googles and Facebooks of the world. The hard part is getting really clear on what type of candidate you're looking for, so you know when you've found him or her.
If we were operating in a world not based in reality, I would have written the job description as follows:
Edthena is seeking someone with several years experience selling to enterprise accounts in the education industry. Experience building a sales process in an early-stage company preferred. At least two years classroom experience as a K-12 teacher. Minimum salary requirements or 100% commission preferred since you'll be able to close deals like a champ from day one.
This person is a unicorn. This person is mythical and likely doesn't actually exists. Feel free to introduce me if so.
So in the absence of recruiting a unicorn to join our team, we had to figure out what we truly valued in the person we were seeking. Our process was informed by our beliefs (and biases?) of what it would take to be successful.
Over time, we realized we didn't need or want a "pure play" salesperson motivated simply by closing a deal. This person might bring us the wrong types of customers for the wrong reason.
In contrast, we needed someone who is motivated by building a company that she believed in. This person would find customers who were not only willing to pay for our product but also would be "good" customers who had the potential to be satisfied by their use of our product.
We were additionally swayed by a reflection about the types of conversations we knew to be successful with current and potential clients. Being able to understand and speak to the nuance of the potential customers' situations on the ground -- from the perspective of being an educator -- was the attribute we valued most.
Where we landed:
The specific mechanics of a sales process and selling can be learned. The traits of someone good at selling can be demonstrated from past experiences other than selling. And, at the end of the day, a high-performing teacher is a good salesperson. She stands in front of students each day selling not only the lesson objective but the vision for all her students to achieve and get value from the experience.
Hopefully we're right (we think we are). And for purposes of clarification, since I do a lot of gender switching in my text above, we hired a "he."