Sales · Recruiting

Where can companies recruit great sales people?

Deborah Chang

October 22nd, 2014

I work most specifically in education technology, where I've found that one of the greatest limits to growth across the industry is lack of good sales processes, strategy, and talent.

My question then is, where can companies recruit great sales people? Where do great sales people get their training and experience? Where do they hang out online? What motivates them to apply to a sales position?

Any and all insights would be very welcome.

Brian Sharwood VP Operations at CareGuide

October 22nd, 2014

I think one very important consideration when looking for sales people is the stage of the startup you are in. There are good start-up sales people, who are comfortable without structure, and selling a product that isn't fully developed with undeveloped processes, but these people are vastly different from the people you're going to find if you go and recruit from something like a  Cisco or Salesforce type company. Be careful if you're a small, young startup from hiring from established companies because those people will expect more structure than you probably have.
Both people will be looking for good money, both in cash and equity, (and with sales people, good people cost money) but they are different people.

Jess Sugar Senior Payroll Sales at CareGuide

October 23rd, 2014

Interesting topic here. As someone who has struggled on the other side, I have a different perspective. In my opinion, knowing what exactly you are looking for is paramount, and communicating this in a job post clearly is key. For example: Do you want a sales person or a person with connections? A great salesperson, once they know their product can sell pretty much anything they can understand. However, they may not bring in revenue in the immediate, as they learn to grasp said service or product. Once they DO, they can grow your business long term. Someone with connections would likely 'hit the ground running' but it's very possible once their little black book has been sold they will struggle creating new opportunities. 
I had a boss (coincidentally he is in this thread) who hired based on instinct and personality, most of whom were not from the industry and many (including myself) were not formally educated. We were, however, all hungry for sucess. He geared a comp plan to financially and personally reward us. The hires under his leadership were infinitely more successful than the candidates hired later (by a subsequent leader) looking for people with much experience in the industry.
As a sales person, financial motivation is super important. Another great motivator is knowing that I will be simply thanked/respected for my contribution.
In terms of specifically where to find people? Look for online communities geared to startups (like AngelList or here in Toronto we have StartUpNorth, Facebook communities)...all local and might attract they type of personality you want. There is also something to be said for asking your own network for referrals. Someone's wife, brother, friend could very well be your answer. 

Rodrigo Vaca Product & Marketing

October 22nd, 2014

Deborah -

Sometimes we over-rate previous experience of sales people. While it's great to have someone been-there-done-that, sometimes that comes at a price: baggage about how they think sales should be run, handled, comp, etc.

I speak from experience. One time we hired a rep with many years of experience, but he just couldn't change/adapt to our process. Things didn't go well. Not only it was painful for both sides, but we also lost valuable time.

Sometimes you can get great sales people out of college (and if you're more progressive, even without college). There's a little bit more more of training that you need to do, but you can usually mold them to your way of doing things and process. This, of course, assumes you have a sales vp/director at the top that can make it happen. But if you subscribe to the lean startup philosophy (not sure where you are in your cycle), then you'll agree that there's a lot of value in founders/execs being involved in the sales cycle well past beyond the first few customers.

Now, I believe the above statement applies across the board to many different industries and sales processes - and I've seen it working across different markets and business model. However, I am not oblivious to the fact that enterprise and government (where a lot of education money is at) presents its own set of challenges.

A good rule of thumb to me is: the slower the sales cycle and the higher the average ticket item, the more experienced sales guys you'll want to hire (less room for error), but if you have a high-velocity sale cycle with a relatively low ticket item, then you have more room to experiment.

Here's a link to a brief article that helps visualize this: Not a direct answer to your question - don't have magic dust! - but I hope it helps a bit.


Eric Sullivan CEO at FoundationLab

October 22nd, 2014

The outlook I always have when looking for talent is first, good talent already has a good job so what am I willing to do to get them to come work with me and leave their current situation. I think there is very few circumstances where someone who is really truely good at what they do is out scouring for new opportunities. Unless they just went through and acquisition or something along those lines. So I would figure out what can you entice them with to get them in, and then how are you going to retain them. I would look to competitors in your market and see who their sales people are and start reaching out for some conversations. The direct route is always a good way to go. I usually will always just message them on linkedin or through their website depending if they have one or not for themselves.

Rob Roj Entrepreneurial Technical Sales

October 22nd, 2014

Selling in education is UGLY.  Long sales cycles, highly bureaucratic sales process (Huge RFI/RFPs), and small budgets.  I would try people with experience in the space because it's a really painful process to learn how to sell in the space.  I would look for ex-sales people from companies such as (formerly, Blackboard ( and Ideapaint (  These companies have made good inroads into education.  The first two are tech.  Ideapaint grew from 0 to $200M in revenue mainly in the education space in 2 years. 

Disclaimer:  I worked at and Ideapaint founders went to my MBA school, Babson.

Christina Tseng Product Marketing, Management Consultant

October 22nd, 2014

or, how can startup companies recruit great any people when you don't have money or energy to waste on bad hires? If you can't hire from your inner circle, try to structure the compensation in a way that allows you to try out salespeople without paying too much money. Be careful, though, even when you don't spend cash on new hire, the training, time and effort are still precious resource to waste on bad hires.

Even the most seasoned executives (Andy Grove, for example) gets the hiring decision wrong all the time, the sure way to know is to try them out. The good thing about running a startup is you can be nimble and flexible, try out new people on a contract/commission basis, this is especially true when it comes to sales. 

In general, I rather hire someone with good an attitude than the claim of having a good track record. 

Jimmy RD

October 22nd, 2014

The best sales people hang out where there's cash. Can you offer the potential for a 500k+ W2? As far as process goes, it's up to leadership to institute that. But start with VITO (to find opps) and MEDDIC (to close them). 2 sales process that have never failed great sales people!  

Jason Grisham Local

October 22nd, 2014

What I see is super sales people just exist and are rewarded. What I don't see is sales as a craft that is encouraged. Are you personally doing your best with every opportunity that is presented.

Eric Landeen Director at doxo

October 22nd, 2014

If you know the market you are focused on and you know a few people that are good proxies for the buyers in that market, then ask those people who the best salespeople are. If they buy things, then they will know who the salespeople are that they feel most comfortable buying from, and the companies that those salespeople work for. Get to know those salespeople by telling them that you're selling a product into the education vertical and asking if they know of good qualified people that know the space and could be interested. They may be interested themselves, but they should know of others that could be good fits for you. Wash rinse repeat. Use LinkedIn heavily. Salespeople are money motivated (mostly). Hope that helps. Best, -Eric

Mihir Shah President at Dishoom Foods, Inc.

October 23rd, 2014

 I've had salespeople with huge ego's who wouldn't or couldn't learn new processes or product information in depth. They became frustrated and then disrespectful to customers and potential customers. Just my story, but...

In your situation, one recommendation is to find someone who is a passionate about education - perhaps an ex-teacher or teacher who wants to make more money and is willing to learn and in it for the long haul.