If building a high-performing sales team is important to the success of your business, you might want to rethink what you're offering to your salespeople. I have a hunch that what you consider to be important is a lot less important to them than you might think. I’m also willing to bet that candidates for sales roles are evaluating your team and company on criteria you haven't even thought about.
A fat paycheck and awesome benefits are great, but they’re not the end-all, be-all for sales candidates today. Among other non-monetary factors, reps are looking for innovative companies that empower employees, provide them with opportunities to learn, and rally everyone behind a shared mission.
Why do salespeople choose one company over another? This question has been on my mind lately, so I decided to investigate.
To discover the answer to my question, I ran an informal survey. Thirty salespeople from different companies told me what criteria they used to choose their current position.
Given this was a completely open-ended question, the results were surprisingly consistent -- 10 common criteria emerged.
If you’re growing your sales team, you’d be wise to rate your company across these 10 categories to determine how attractive your company is to sales candidates. I’ve included quotes from the individuals I interviewed so you can hear why these features are important to them in their own words.
What Salespeople Look For When Choosing Where to Work
1) Solid Compensation Package
It should be obvious that a competitive compensation package is the bare minimum required to assemble a great team. But to my surprise, only one of the 30 salespeople I surveyed explicitly mentioned anything related to money. Specifically, she said the “unlimited earning potential” of the role was a key factor in selecting her current position.
While I'm hesitant to say that compensation wasn't important to the other salespeople I interviewed, it certainly isn't what attracted them to their companies in the first place.
Takeaway for sales leadership? If you are trying to attract top sales talent, you certainly need to offer a solid package. But more importantly, you need to put thought into the other criteria sales candidates are using as well.
2) Meaningful Mission
While compensation was the least mentioned criteria in my survey sample, the importance of and belief in the company’s mission was the most common. It seems that salespeople -- like most people -- want to believe in what they're doing.
Moreover, reps want to feel like they are helping their clients achieve something. That is why the mission of the company they work for is critically important -- they want to know that their work is having a concrete impact on people’s lives.
“I took my job because I wanted to bring a product and service to market that challenges the status quo,” Dan Benavidez of EquityEats explained. “I want to be a part of the crowd-funding revolution and help restauranteurs fund their growth."
Geoffrey McLaughlin of Jebbit similarly embraced the mission of his employer as his own: "We help our clients to better educate prospects and capture more data about their site visitors. I get excited about the impact of this.”
Elena Saletsky, a relative newcomer to sales at influencer marketing technology vendor Grapevine put it this way: “When I made the decision to join Grapevine, the main thing that excited me was that I would be a part of a company that was cutting-edge in the marketing tech space and a big player in changing the landscape of traditional marketing and advertising tactics.”
Company missions are nothing new, but the importance salespeople place on them seems to be on the rise. According to a Bentley University PreparedU study, "88% of millennials said that it was a priority to work for companies that are socially responsible and ethical, making the world a better place."
To recruit top salespeople in the future, it'll be important to not just have a mission, but one that has a positive impact. As a member of Generation X, this feels refreshing to me. Mission wasn't something that I ever remember hearing about when I was looking for a job, but upon reflection, it's one of the reasons I joined HubSpot.
3) Consultative Selling Process
It's not just about having an important mission that can help people, however. Salespeople want to bring that mission to life in the right way too.
The reps I talked to didn’t want to just “push products” -- they wanted to play a more important role in their customer's lives. And to do that, they knew they would need to take a consultative approach to selling.
"The aspect of my role that most excited me was the ability to work consultatively with clients. I was excited for the opportunity to get to them on a personal level and help them find the perfect job,” said Joe Sitzwohl of CloserIQ, a platform that helps salespeople find jobs they love. (Meta, I know.)
HubSpot’s Matthew McHardy (with five years of selling under his belt) expressed a similar sentiment: "It’s easy to find a sales job at any ground-and-pound shop where effort equals results. What makes HubSpot different for me is the consultative approach that we live and breathe. I really enjoy getting a deeper understanding of a prospect’s goals and challenges."
We've written extensively about the forces changing the sales profession at this moment in time. Buyers now go to the web to educate themselves before ever speaking to salespeople. Consequently, forward-looking sales teams are spending less time cold calling, convincing, and coercing buyers and more time attracting, guiding, and partnering. To do this, they're hiring and developing consultative salespeople who can and will take the time to diagnose the customer’s problem and customize a solution.
The salespeople I surveyed find such an approach highly motivating. They seem to get satisfaction out of researching their buyer, asking questions, and actively listening,so they can truly understand and help. They realize that selling in a consultative manner is becoming critical for salespeople who want to stay relevant, as more and more transactional sales jobs are automated.
Do you run a pitch-and-close sales shop? It’s time to stop. Adopting a consultative, inbound sales approach will be critical to recruiting top salespeople as more and more companies and candidates embrace more modern way of selling.
Need help with this? Use HubSpot's free sales training to help your sales team learn consultative sales.
4) Opportunities for Growth
In my experience and based on many of the survey responses, the best salespeople want to be challenged. Not just for the sake of it, but because they know that challenges enable them to learn new skills, and new skills lay the groundwork for career growth.
The reps I talked with were eager to take their game to the next level. They want to work in an environment where they are challenged to continuously improve.
Shea Allard exemplifies this attitude. “I chose HubSpot because I knew it would be challenging and competitive,” he explained. “I was also looking for a company that I could grow with. I wanted an established team with a kickass culture I wouldn’t mind being around all day.”
Based on my small survey sample, candidates like Allard seem to flock to growing companies. If your company is resting on its laurels, and not proactively trying to grow top line revenues, it'll be hard to recruit competitive salespeople who want to grow their careers. Perhaps it's a chicken-and-egg thing: A company resting on its laurels will struggle to attract people who can drive growth, while a company hungry for growth will naturally attract a team of salespeople who are determined to drive it.
5) Transparent and Committed Leadership
More than a few salespeople in the survey mentioned the importance of a transparent culture, where leaders are approachable and company plans and progress are shared. They want to be kept in the loop.
A veteran salesperson with 20 years of experience, Shea Baker of Cross | Over said he was looking for "open communication, transparency within the organization and executive commitment to success and innovation."
"I love the kind people, the transparent and non-political culture, and the ability to contribute meaningfully to a thriving, well-run organization.” said Dominique Anderson of Wayfair, another 20-year sales veteran.
Salespeople also want to know that the company leadership is competent and committed. No one wants to work for a company that is poorly run. Michael Levar, a sales rep at R1 Software, accepted his position with the company after a significant change in corporate leadership.
“The tipping point was realizing the new leadership was far better than the old leadership, and senior management was committed to the success of the business line,” Levar said.
6) Empowerment at All Levels
Transparency is a necessary first step to employee empowerment. Without transparency, it's difficult for salespeople to know what problems to solve or how to solve them. But the salespeople I surveyed are also looking for companies that encourage team collaboration and the opportunity to contribute ideas and solutions.
Salespeople don’t want to be cogs in a giant machine. They want to be empowered to act, innovate, and improve the company. David Deckard of Continuum Managed Resources has 20 years experience in sales. Here’s how he explained his choice to accept his current position: “I joined Continuum because it is a growing company in a field that is always expanding. The culture of Continuum is one of collaboration, growth, and opportunity that fit my internal need for a sense of achievement and contribution.”
People like David are looking for more than just a paycheck. They want to be able to make a contribution. Top-down organizations that don’t enable employees to tackle larger business problems alongside executive leadership will have trouble attracting top-performing salespeople.
7) Two-Way Feedback Loop
Another dimension of employee empowerment is the ability to give feedback. Because of their unique vantage point within a company, salespeople have valuable insights and ideas on how to improve processes and products. Several survey respondents said they wanted to work for a company where their voice would be heard.
“What excited me the most was that I could have a voice from day one. Many organizations are poor on receiving employee feedback. Not Equity Eats," Benavidez said. "I’ve been able to improve internal as well as external processes, and provide feedback that helps us grow in new ways.”
A true commitment to soliciting and listening to employee feedback is more than a poster on the wall, however. Salespeople are good at distinguishing between companies that pay lip service to feedback and ones that truly value it.
Josh Gillespie, 10-year sales veteran currently at PandaDoc, agrees.
“I enjoy sales and building up revenues from scratch, but the main value-add for me was having an impact on the product,” Gillespie said. “I’m not a developer, but I’ve had a chance to help shape our roadmap based on the feedback I've gathered from key accounts, and by reporting back what buyers want. I get to work hand-in-hand with my CTO and CEO, and this experience is invaluable as my expertise has grown beyond sales into product development and project management.”
8) High-Quality Products
Salespeople know that the old saying "A good salesperson can sell anything" is a load of crap. And with that in mind, they aren't going to sign up to sell crappy products.
A few salespeople in the survey indicated that they specifically sought an employer based on the prestige and quality of its products. “The company I work for is a Japanese company known for its quality in stainless steel tubing for medical devices,” Kuldip Medhe from Teshima International Corporation said. “They have a reputation of higher quality and more precise engineering capabilities compared to other, less expensive players in this space. I'd much rather address objections to our premium price than handle product quality issues.”
Jared Fuller at PandaDoc feels the same way: “I joined because I loved the product and knew I could treat it as my own." His colleague Taft Love joined the company after using the product as a client. Due to his prior experience, he knew first-hand it was a product he could stand by.
9) Company Maturity
Quite a few sales pros indicated a preference for getting in on the ground floor. They find it exciting to work for early-stage companies and start-ups.
Sidharth Sharma of BrowserStack puts it like this: “When I joined BrowserStack, it was at the starting point of its exponential growth and they were forming their starting sales team. Before I joined, the two-member sales team functioned more like support. As the fifth member of the team, I was able to play a big role in setting up our sales processes and optimizing our sales strategy. Now, we're bringing on enterprise customers and growing the company faster. The most exciting part of this opportunity was the opportunity to start something from scratch.”
According to Gillespie (PandaDoc), “My goal was to be one of the first salespeople at an awesome startup with a great product because you get to do more than just sell.”
You might worry that you’ll lose out on great sales talent if your company is past the startup stage. But in my experience, larger companies can still provide an entrepreneurial opportunity by empowering employees to tweak existing systems and by providing mini startup opportunities within the company. As the guy who founded HubSpot's first startup within a startup, a large company with an entrepreneurial infrastructure is the best of both worlds: Resources to help start something new and the encouragement to do it.
10) Learning Opportunities
No doubt that startups are exciting, but another one of the reasons reps join early stage companies is because they'll learn a lot. In startups, salespeople are asked to do more than just sell -- they participate in marketing, services, product, and many other functions.
But again, just because salespeople learn a lot at startups doesn’t mean they have to work at an early company to expand their horizons. Having worked on both small and large teams, I'd argue that there's another way to learn: Learning from people who have already done it. In fact, for someone early in their career, I'd recommend joining a company that has a lot already figured out. When you do join that startup, you'll have more experience to draw upon and confidence when making decisions. I wish I did it this way. Instead, I tried my hand at running my own startup first and spun my wheels for a few years, before joining HubSpot's accomplish team of serial entrepreneurs.
Either way, though, salespeople seem eager to learn new things. Whether it is learning more about sales or learning more about business in general, they are continuously looking for opportunities to gain skills and knowledge.
Brian Signorelli joined HubSpot’s sales team four years ago with no prior sales experience. Signorelli said he was initially “excited to be in sales for the sake of actually learning sales itself.” Today, he’s a senior sales manager.
Another HubSpot sales team member, Kevin Rich, explained his choice this way: “I joined HubSpot because I felt there was a great opportunity to be exposed to various aspects of the business outside of sales. Having insight into marketing, finance, legal and other areas of the business helped me develop more quickly as a professional.”
To Build a Great Sales Team, Build It Purposefully
Want to build a great sales team? You have to build a great culture in lock-step.
You might have a brilliant idea and an incredible product, but without a solid sales force to convert leads into paying customers, you'll probably struggle. So it is critical that you attract the best possible salespeople to your company.
Understanding what motivates a great salesperson is one of the first steps in assembling a team of top performers. And those first few hires are critical, as they'll create the culture that attracts and sets the tone for your future hires.
If you're a bit further along in the process of building your team, but frustrated with the quality and quantity of sales candidates your company is attracting, you might want to consider spending more time and effort building your culture. Evaluate your company's sales culture using these 10 criteria and brainstorm how you can more purposefully create an atmosphere that will be appealing to more candidates.
HubSpot's co-founder, Dharmesh Shah, uses this analogy: "Product is to Sales as Culture is to Recruiting." Just as it's hard to sell prospects a crappy product, it's really hard to sell a crappy culture to a great candidate. Creating a culture that is attractive to salespeople requires thought, planning, and maybe even a bit of engineering (take a cue from your friends in product development).
However, don't just build a great culture for recruiting purposes. Build the right culture because it's the right thing to do for your business, your existing employees, your customers and for you. Being fairly money-motivated myself, I was initially surprised to see how consistently salespeople were interested in the same non-monetary job qualities. But after considering the survey responses for a bit, I found it very refreshing.
Building a sales team of reps who only care about getting paid doesn't sound like much fun to me. Building a team of continuous learners who are eager to help their clients, grow their careers, and help their companies grow, and who are inspired by the mission and want to help figure it out with me --- that sounds quite rewarding.
Full disclosure: I’m on the Board of Advisors for Grapevine and PandaDoc.
Originally published Jun 28, 2016 7:30:00 AM, updated September 14 2018