Idea in brief: excellence, ambiversion, humility, lovability and servitude are a winning combination for software sales pros. Throw in a little provocation and you're off to the races.
Hiring practices are changing in front of us. Companies like Google are unveiling data that shows that typical patterns (school ranking, degree, brain teaser results, etc.) don't correlate with job performance. And many classic hiring approaches completely backfire.
What does matter? Well, at Google it's intellectual humility (embracing others ideas when they're better) and cognitive ability (processing information on the fly). Google also looks for an element of excellence that increasingly isn't based on a university experience at all: 14% of Google employees on some teams didn't graduate from college.
With a relatively robust 2015 likely ahead, many of AGP's clients are ramping up their sales teams. Accordingly, we often have conversations around what hiring criteria they should use.
Here's what we've learned, from building our own sales teams and helping others:
* Excellence Matters: the best sales folks have a light confidence that has come from success. There's no question about it: if they've been great before, there's a good chance they'll be great again. And accomplishments feed overall happiness, per Martin Seligman's research on positive psychology. But greatness can be demonstrated in many ways: music, sports, academics, service, volunteerism. The important thing is to look for people who have constantly worked hard and performed well against objective, measurable standards.
* Ambiverts Win: the old adage that says extroverts make the best sales people? Wrong, according to Daniel Pink, the best selling social psychologist who draws on work from Wharton's Adam Grant. It turns out that people who both listen AND communicate really well, and who are able to adapt to lots of situations, sell the best. And those introverts? They're only slightly less productive than the extroverts -- so don't count them out!
* Humility is Crucial: per Google's points above on intellectual humility, generally humble and appreciative people tend to do much better with companies over longer periods of time (at least in our experience). Have a candidate who refers to themselves frequently in the third person? Notice a big watch that seems to scream how well they've done? Pick up an overabundant tendency to suffer from the fundamental attribution error (e.g., "my success is because I'm great; any failures were circumstantial")? Chances are, these signals of a lack of humility will cause the candidate to struggle to do well consistently.
* Lovability is Required: we all make snap decisions, as Gladwell classically outlined in Blink. And with prospective clients for your company, time and again we've found that people buy from people that they like. And really, as Barbara Frederickson demonstrated, they buy from folks they love (even if they wouldn't describe it as love, their brains deeply appreciate a state called "neural coupling"). So, for hiring? Trust your snap judgement. If you don't "love" that prospect for a sales role immediately? Keep looking.
* Servitude is Rewarded: one of our biggest "ah-ha" moments in sales was when we realized we never had to actually sell anything. All we needed to do was genuinely help people in a way that made it easy for them to buy. Like Jim Collins' Level 5 leaders who blend deep humility with intense professional will, service-oriented sales people have a winning platform.
Finally, a recent trend in enterprise sales is the use of provocation, per the TCG perspective in HBR. While provoking buyers doesn't work in all situations, a sales person who knows when and how to be provocative has one more big tool in their kit to draw from.
Of course, you will want as much experience, chemistry and value alignment as possible. But given that, look for excellence, ambiverts, humility, lovability and servitude. And see if you can find a bit of provocative glimmer. Building a team of folks with these traits may not ensure that you win -- but it will dramatically improve your likelihood while helping you create a great company culture along the way!
Idea in brief: vulnerability-based trust is instrumental in building cohesive teams, organizational health, and high-growth companies.
Per previous posts on Purpose, Linchpins, Multi-Threading and more, I spend a fair amount of time working with organizations on fundamental cultural concepts. Through my personal experience at four high-growth startups, coupled with my ongoing work with 20+ software companies at various stages, I've become convinced that organizational health is the critical foundation for company growth. While it doesn't ensure success, it's extraordinarily hard to build a company without it.
One of my favorite authors on the topic of healthy organizations is Patrick Lencioni. While his fables are airport classics, the 2012 best seller The Advantage is a must-read. Specifically, his early perspectives on building trust have been game changing for many, myself included.
Fundamentally, Lencioni argues that trust is the basis for any cohesive leadership team. Sounds basic, right? Well, until recently I viewed trust as predictability + empowerment. My early notions were that if my teams felt like I trusted them to do their work relatively independently, and if they felt like my reactions were pretty reasonable and predictable, we'd then develop a trusted relationship.
I was wrong.
In reality, what Lencioni and others have noted is that vulnerability-based trust is what enables people to truly connect. What does he mean by this? Specifically, "At the heart of vulnerability lies the willingness of people to abandon their pride and their fear, to sacrifice their egos for the collective good of the team" (p. 27, The Advantage, Lencioni).
Vulnerable teams are willing to bring their raw, fragile, broken selves to their work. They're willing to admit weakness at times and to ask for help. They develop trusted relationships as they feel like other members of their team understand them better (minimizing miscommunication and maximizing bi-directional empathy). But, even more importantly, each team member understands that by being authentic and transparent, other co-workers then have "dirt" that they could use against them.
When coworkers withhold judgment and actually don't misuse new insights, deep trust develops. Then, the magic starts.
Personally, I've seen this magic occur countless times over the last couple of years since I gained this vulnerability-based trust insight. For example, when I bring my deep, true, raw and vulnerable self to a professional relationship (without going overboard, of course!), barriers seem to come down, collaboration increases, productivity soars and innovation is uncorked.
How might you incorporate the concept of vulnerability-based trust into your work relationships? Lencioni has several exercises to try. I've found a modification of Personal Histories (p. 28) works well.
Concretely, encouraging people to share a quick story about what they found challenging as a kid (often by informally doing so myself -- in the right situation and to the right level), opens up all kinds of new perspectives and conversations. It can be incredible to see people soften and view one another differently as they glean just a bit of the back story.
From there, the foundation for vulnerability-based trust can develop through Duos, a concept that transformational consulting gurus SY/Partners can help unpack and foster.
Overall, I'd encourage even the most hard-charging of high-growth executives to explore vulnerability-based trust. You might be amazed at what it does for your meaty business stuff (e.g key metrics around revenue growth) -- and also for the overall energy of your company.
As Alder Growth Partners has grown to serve more than 25 companies, while working with dozens of other CEOs and entrepreneurs informally, we're often asked: "how should we think about sales compensation in 2015?"
For SaaS and enterprise software companies in Austin (or markets like it), we're currently seeing a three tier trend. The below data is anecdotal and somewhat subjective -- but seemingly representative (and in line with head-hunter surveys and experienced sales folks' feedback). And it fits trends that we've seen over more than 15 years in B2B software businesses:
* Inside Sales/Market Development ($40K/$40K): for a junior seller expected to close smaller deals (e.g. <$50K per year) and/or develop opportunities for senior sellers, we're generally seeing a $30K to $50K base with an opportunity to double the base via 100% quota achievement.
* Emerging Sales/Account Executive ($75K/$75K): for a sales person with 3-5+ years of experience, capable of running face-to-face meetings and closing medium-sized deals (e.g. $50K to $150K per year), compensation is often in the $60K to $90K base range, again with an opportunity to double the base at 100% quota.
* Senior Sales/Account Director ($120K/$120K): for a strategic, provocative revenue leader, equipped to drive larger deals (e.g. $150K+ per year), navigate complex organizations, and comfortably work with C-level buyers at larger enterprises, compensation is usually in the mid $200s -- or even higher in many cases, with unlimited upside that takes top performers into the $300s and beyond.
Of course, the compensation models above also need to have appropriate quota, commissions, accelerators and other elements to them. And different models make sense at various stages of companies, especially early when equity might be a bit looser, cash is tight and ASPs (average sales prices) might be lower.
We'll tackle more thoughts on approaches and best practices in coming posts.
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Steve Semelsberger is the Founder of Alder Growth Partners.