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  • Writer's pictureJay Green

7 Tips To Hire Your First Salesperson

Updated: Feb 6

In the pivotal early stages of a SaaS startup, the hiring of the founding account executive carries significant weight.

Data shows that 40% of all account executives hired are 'mis-hires' which cost organizations significant losses in money, time, and resources. Mis-hiring on the first account executive is even more debilitating because it can jeopardize early monemtum, put a financial strain on the organization, along with impeding the ability to raise additional rounds of funding necessary to keep the startup afloat.

This guide is designed to help startups understand the traits and characteristics they should watch out for when choosing their first account executive.

Overview of 7 tips:


1. Prioritize industry experience


  • Your number one goal should be hiring an “A” player who has a proven track record in your industry - your hiring strategy must reflect this

  • Focus exclusively on candidates who exhibit genuine enthusiasm for your industry, have proven results in selling to your ideal customer profiles, and possess the necessary technical aptitude (if selling a technical product)


  • Candidate evaluation and interview collaboration will be much smoother - you’ll have an easier time evaluating if the candidate is the right fit

  • You’ll hire a salesperson with experience executing a similar selling motion to similar customer profiles which will lead to a quicker ramp and faster success

2. Have an open mind on compensation


  • After filtering your candidate pool to only accomplished sellers in your industry, avoid narrowing it further by fixating on a specific compensation package

  • Consider candidates with 2+ years experience selling in your industry at your ACV (or above) along with a strong culture/personality match


  • Hire a salesperson that will match the founding teams’ ambition and passion

  • Gain valuable insights into the contributions candidates of different compensation levels will bring to your organization to find the right person for you

3. Don't overlook candidates from larger organizations


  • Top performers at established larger companies often possess a wealth of qualities essential for success in startups, including, unwavering work ethic, intelligence, great sales training, and self-driven initiative

  • When speaking with these candidates, make sure to assess their skill and comfort level with prospecting for their own opportunities (especially if most or all of their opportunities currently come from inbound methods i.e. marketing or SDRs)

  • Exercise caution when considering non-top performers at larger companies. If they can’t prove their strength throughout the interview process, move on


  • Continuing to prioritize the hiring of founding salespeople who not only meet the experience requirements but also align strongly with the essential character traits necessary for success at your startup

4. Consider non-traditional compensation plans


  • Instead of adhering to industry-standard commission splits (like 50% salary, 50% commission), opt for a more simplified approach to woo the best candidates to your team

  • Our recommendation is to offer an above-market base salary and a fixed percentage of ARR from closed deals

  • Consider whether a draw commission model or extended ramp plan might make sense to add additional incentives that align with short term goals to ensure your first salesperson remains motivated to learn early and fight through inevitable bumps in the road

    • Guaranteeing commission for one or two quarters is a great way to ensure you hire someone motivated that won't bail if the early days are challenging


  • By deviating from a standard compensation plan you can prevent scenarios where candidates make an apples-to-apples comparison of your offer vs others at more established companies

  • Because they won’t be able to gauge their true earning potential by comparing it to others at your company, this will ensure they see the upside without getting fixated on a fixed OTE that may be unatainable until they start to generate momentum

5. Establish trust during the interview process


  • Establish strong communication throughout the interview process

  • Overemphasize that their selling expertise will be relied upon and trusted when making decisions that impact them

  • Be transparent around what success looks like from a revenue and non-revenue perspective and share your plans for the next few years so they can get a full picture of how the company (and their role) might grow over time


  • Quicker time-to-hire while ensuring candidates understand your current situation and what’s expected over the next few years

  • Candidates are more likely to accept offers when they trust you and are excited about the position and future opportunities

6. Engage a GTM advisor in the interview (and beyond)


  • Unless you have a deep sales background, utilize an existing GTM advisor or ask a trusted sales leader in your network to participate (ideally someone who is familiar with your industry/product)

  • A seasoned sales leader can help you craft the right interview process, quickly identify top performing candidates, and assess the transferability of their skills to your application

  • The advisor can also play a key role in selling the candidate on your startup, especially if they’ll act as a mentor and meet with the salesperson on a bi-weekly or monthly basis


  • Enhanced candidate assessment to give you a second opinion on the right-fit salesperson

  • Provide candidates a vote of confidence in your startup through an ‘advisor validation’ (especially if they’ll act as a mentor going forward which could be a strong selling point to strong founding account executive candidates)

7. Test the candidates' skills throughout


  • Don’t hesitate to incorporate practical tasks into your interview process, even if you encounter contrary advice on social platforms

  • 30/60/90 assessments are a great way to assess their enthusiasm, professionalism, entrepreneurial acumen, and adaptability

  • In addition, incorporating a short presentation into the process (our favorite is to ask them to sell you on their current solution) is a great way to uncover their sales skills and energy/personality


  • Not only will this result in a more comprehensive and insightful candidate evaluation, but, it’ll also provide the candidate a deeper understanding of your company and what is required to ensure you're confident in their abilities

Final note

  • Your founding account executive is a role you can't afford to gamble on

  • If at any point in the interview process you don't feel 100% comfortable with them carrying the torch for your business or representing your brand, continue your search

    • Mis-hires at this stage can be really painful, especially if you mis-hire a few times in a row


About ClosedWon Talent

We help startups build revenue teams for long-term success by avoiding mis-hires on core functions to maintaining growth rates, preserve cash, and ensure strong employee morale.

We're not traditional recruiters. Led by a founding team with a blend of GTM leadership at bootstrapped, Seed, and Series A startups along with deep expertise in GTM recruiting by supporting 150+ funded startups since 2019.

We'll help you build your team like we'd build our own. To learn more about how we might be able to help your startup grow, choose a time convenient for you here.



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