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What Top Sales Execs Look for in Their Next Opportunity

While there are lots of sales professionals out there, the elite tier of sales professionals is the hardest to recruit. Not only are they generally achieving 100%+ of quota at their current organization, but their skills are also in demand with all of your competitors. Meaning, if you don’t set up a sales-positive environment and work hard to market your organization to this prospective talent pool, you will likely struggle with hiring 

As a recruiter with 20 years of experience recruiting top salespeople, here are the top 5 things top Sales Executives look for and how to best position your organization to land them. 

Culture & Leadership 

Sales executives are looking for a home; they don’t want to be jumpy, they want to stay long-term. Salespeople want to join an organization that does the right thing. One that’s principled, has values, walks the walk, and focuses on being both customer and employee-centric. Practically speaking for sales, it’s an organization that brings a high level of integrity, transparency, and value to its customers. 

This means a highly seasoned sales candidate is looking to make an impact, not sell a highly commoditized solution. They want to sell a solution that’s differentiated in the market and delivers true value. To secure a high-performing salesperson you need to showcase how your organization builds long-term partnerships with your customers. How the product/service delivers value over and above market competitors. Whether this is on a micro-level (bringing a value-driven solution to customers) or macro-level (changing the market and reshaping the industry) this is what a high-calibre executive needs to know in order to join. 

Transparency is so valued because of the constant change and churns within technology organizations. We often interact with sales candidates who are frustrated by the dramatic difference between the mission and expectations presented during their interview process versus the reality once they’re onboarded. 

We’ve heard companies changing up the product salespeople are asked to sell, geographic patches/territories, compensation plans, leadership teams, etc. This puts candidates in a bad position. Yes, they can be flexible and a “team player” but only to a certain extent. Understandably, candidates feel duped if their role changes in these very material ways during their first year on the job. 

How to Put Your Best Foot Forward

When interviewing and recruiting top talent being forthcoming about potential changes or speaking to ambiguity in the market provides candidates with the transparency they are looking for. If you know changes are coming, ask the candidates what changes/transitions they’ll be open to. This saves everyone a lot of time and frustration as a candidate will no longer feel duped. Your organization also won't have to worry about losing a top salesperson over these shifts. 

Another way to land top performers is by building and promoting a strong culture. Having a strong presence online, especially in a very competitive market will help to differentiate and better market your brand. Whether this is through your website, Glassdoor, or Google Reviews make sure these present an honest and positive image. Having awards that speak to your culture (or industry) also helps to add third-party validity that your culture is as strong as you promote it to be. 

Opportunity, TAM & Historical Performance

Whether you’re using a third-party recruiter or internal HR team, these people must have the data to present to candidates. When recruiting a top-tier salesperson, reviewing their historical performance is essential to making an informed decision - the same goes for a candidate. They need to be able to assess your numbers and feel like they are walking into a setup where success is highly likely. 

Whoever is doing the interviews has to have the data in hand to speak on the specific territory, what historical performance looks like, existing customers, customer journey, impact of the product/service, and future opportunity. Interviewers need this data to get candidates hooked and excited.

How to Put Your Best Foot Forward

Information that can be shared should be. Be as upfront and honest as possible. If there is confidential information, try to convey the main insights without compromising confidentiality just in case a prospective candidate goes rogue. 

A company (and the person who interviews these reps) needs to be able to answer all of these questions and freely share information during the interview process or they won't be able to ‘sell’ a top rep. 

Product Innovation & Investment

Often we speak with candidates who are frustrated (and looking to make a move) because they were sold based on a solid funding raise, a good tech stack, and TAM. But when they join and start to sell, they realize the product is not nearly ready to go-to-market. In fact, it needs 12+ months to be truly ready based on what the customers are saying they need. 

For those with a longer sales cycle or a complex tech stack, not only would it be 8-12 months to close a deal then add those additional 12 months to get the product implementation ready and you’re asking a rep to wait almost two full years before they can realize a return on their investment in your organization.

Another issue that plagues the tech world is the lack of support. Not having a solid implementation team leads to user frustration and deals falling through. A salesperson needs to have confidence in the implementation team, support team, and the product are all customer-ready and able to provide value. 

How to Put Your Best Foot Forward

Of course, the investment has to be there but sales candidates also need to have a full understanding of how in tune the company is to their market, what stage the product really is at, and most importantly that a company is ready to manage those hard-won customers. Top sales executives are looking to sell value - a high-value product with USPs that solves customer problems in a way competitors cannot. This messaging needs to be clear, concise, and well communicated so a salesperson feels confident enough to take those messages out into the market. 

Career Growth & Professional Development

Top-performing salespeople are always looking to learn; not just learn on the fly but also in a structured manner. They want to know how they will be taken care of and how their talent will be invested in. A prospective employer needs to showcase they truly care about professional development and investing in employees. 

How to Put Your Best Foot Forward

Showcase that professional development is not only offered and available but also strongly encouraged. Showcase what steps, funding, and/or internal programs you offer. If you’re not currently running any or offering those types of benefits, connect with those in the industry or sales training companies who can make suggestions and provide guidance on professional development within the technology sales industry.  

Earnings Potential 

Top sales executives don’t want to be capped. Companies that offer uncapped plans, especially for those hires in charge of hunting have a leg up on their competitors. While you may have a competitive base pay, it’s only part of the puzzle. Top salespeople need to see uncapped potential and accelerators in their comp plans. Another issue to note, most of the time equity and stock purchase are seen as add-ons, not a foundational element to a compensation plan so this should never be the main draw to your compensation plan. 

It is also important to consider, candidates being pulled from existing roles are leaving commissions on the table. That's an important consideration. If the company can offer a sign-on bonus as well as a guaranteed ramp period to take care of someone starting out, candidates are more likely to look at this as an act of goodwill and faith in their abilities. 

Strong competitive benefits, vacation time, and allowances for home offices and/or working on the road are all standard features so the compensation plan is where you need to place the most thought. 

How to Put Your Best Foot Forward

To land the best, companies need to be forthcoming and competitive with compensation plans; these plans also need to be straightforward and clearly articulated. Candidates need to know and believe, nothing will be a bait and switch.

What changes are you looking to make this year to improve your ability to land the best technology sales executives? There may be low-hanging fruit, easily actionable by your Sales or HR teams. While other changes may require much more forethought, planning, and shifting. For those mid-longer term opportunities and changes, it's time to start planning and actioning as the market for top sales talent is not letting up any time soon.

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