How Grandma Might Help You Land a Tech Sales Job

October 2, 2015 Mark Emmons


Job interviews can be all about thinking quick on your feet. You have to be ready for any kind of question.

Maybe even one that involves your grandmother.

Jason Vargas, the managing director of outbound sales at Datanyze, explained why during a recent webinar. Hiring sales development reps with a knack of concisely explaining complicated tech products are a must for him. So his interview process focuses on learning if candidates can make technology sound simple.

And that brings us to good ol’ nana.

“We ask them to describe our products as if you were talking to your grandma,” Vargas said. “We’re looking to see if they’re using a bunch of jargon and buzzwords, or if they actually are simplifying it. Can they break the complexity down so even their grandmother can understand what we do?”

That was one of the tips offered in the “How to Source, Hire and Retain Your Best Sales Development Reps” webinar presented by Silicon Valley technology companies LeanData and Datanyze. Vargas and Brian Birkett, LeanData’s vice president of sales, co-hosted an online event designed to help businesses identify talented reps who can do the heavy lifting at the sales cycle front end by qualifying inbound leads and doing outbound prospecting.

Birkett said the tactics he uses in the hiring process are similar to the way companies go out searching for new business.

“The idea is you’re treating your candidates like prospects,” he added. “Sometimes I’ll even have our SDRs do sourcing. You’re reaching out with cold emails and enticing them into the process. I like to say that you’re selling the sizzle when you reach out about a position. You want to make it relevant, personal and actionable so that you have a shot at selling these candidates. All you want is an at-bat to talk to them.”

Birkett, who has hired about 60 reps during his managerial career, said posting positions on job boards can be a useful first step. But he makes sure to craft memorable pitches that capture the flavor and passion of the company in the hopes of attracting interest from like-minded people. Birkett, though, doesn’t stop there. He aggressively casts a wide net – that includes contacting sales reps at other companies through LinkedIn.

“You go beyond the typical way of looking for job applicants,” he said. “This is where you’re going to find your cream of the crop. . . . I would much rather have candidates who come in as a diamond in the rough.”

Once you have a deep pool of candidates to consider, vetting them should involve a structured interview process, Vargas said.

Datanyze has added 14 reps in recent months. During the interviews to fill those positions, Vargas made sure to ask all of his candidates the same questions. There’s the one about grandma. Can they take him through their resume in 30 seconds or less? Name a feature that might improve our product?

“This gives them a chance to showcase their creativity and critical thinking,” Vargas added. “It doesn’t really matter how feasible the feature is. We’re looking for a grasp of what we already do and some forward-thinking.”

He also designs tasks that mimic the work performed in the sales rep seat – leave a voicemail, send a cold email, source two ideal leads.

“I’m a big believer that the interview process should have an aspect of the actual job,” Vargas said. “That’s why we create an assignment that simulates a day in the life of a Datanyze SDR.”

Once you’ve found your ideal candidate, you need a compensation plan to get him or her in the door, and then also maximizes retention in this hot job market.

Greenhouse is another tech company that has been ramping up quickly, expanding from five to 25 reps over the last six or so months, said Kevin Chiu, the sales development manager. Chiu also appeared on the webinar and outlined the various ways that reps can be compensated through a combination of base and variable pay.

Every company is unique, Chiu said, and it comes down to tailoring a system that works best for your business.

“You have to ask yourself: What are the kinds of behaviors that I want to incentivize?” he added. “Do I want to incentivize activities? Do I want to incentivize results. Or maybe a little of both? You don’t want SDRs setting up demos just to set up demos. You want them setting up demos in your ideal customer profile.”

For instance, Chiu said three metrics to base compensation can be: Qualified opportunities created, pipeline generated and revenue sourced. Whatever a business chooses, he added, the expectations of how a sales rep is rewarded must be transparent and consistent.

“Make sure there’s a service agreement between the Account Executives and the SDRs so everybody is on the same page,” Chiu said. That’s because you don’t want to create a situation where one AE might move a deal forward – financially rewarding an SDR – but then a similar deal goes to a different AE who doesn’t move it. “It can cause confusion across the board if the exit criteria isn’t clearly defined,” Chiu added.

A well-crafted recruitment strategy, all three said, must create the alluring picture of an environment where top sales reps believe they can thrive.

“I look at it almost like the sales process itself,” Birkett added. “You’re building your inbound engine.”

To hear more from Birkett, Vargas and Chiu on how to build an account development team, you can watch here. Also, LeanData and Datanyze have partnered on the new eBook “How to Build a Successful Sales Development Team” that features practical advice from sales managers at cutting-edge technology companies. You can download the eBook here.

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