• Chief Revenue Officer

How to Find the Top 1% of Sales Talent

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Cornelius Willis
CMO, Clari

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Competition to find and keep top sales talent has always been fierce. 

That’s become even more true lately, as a whopping 95% of employees are considering resigning from their jobs, according to Inc. magazine

And it’s not just about who is most likely to hit their quota. They catalyze the teams around them, inspiring their colleagues to strike more and better deals.

For revenue leaders, hiring and retaining top sellers is easier said than done, especially if you’re an emerging brand competing with the Fortune 500 for recruits. But organizations that empower leaders to invest in the success of their teams can improve talent retention by 15 to 30%, according to Gartner, saving untold sums on attrition costs.

For this episode of Club Revenue, Madalina Paul, regional vice president of sales at DocuSign and former senior director of sales at Indeed, shared with me her insights on how to find and keep the best of the best in sales.

In a nutshell: top sellers want to work for leaders who have integrity, reliability, and the ability to listen. Unsurprisingly, these are among the attributes to look for when hunting for the kind of talent that can transform your organization. 

Top talent versus transformational talent

“Top talent, simply put, are the people on our teams that do more than what is expected, both in small and big ways,” says Paul. However, she points to an even higher caliber of employee worth chasing: so-called transformational talent, or “the high-impact employees that have a tendency to demonstrate initiative ... and have that slant towards action.” 

These are the people you want on your team. Not only do they tend to perform from a numbers perspective, they are the types of leaders (or future leaders) who can bring positive change to your organization and move it forward in meaningful ways.

Transformational talent often has a unique set of soft skills that propel them in their roles, according to Paul. Off-the-charts emotional intelligence, razor-sharp listening abilities—these attributes appear in top sellers but don’t necessarily show up on a resume, which can make it difficult to find these folks during the hiring process. 

How to hire transformational talent

Hiring is hard, and hiring the best of the best is even harder. But a process tailored to your desired outcome can help you avoid common pitfalls and set you up for success. 

Here’s how Paul recommends structuring the hunt:

  1. Identify the right candidate profile. “[Start] with the end in mind,” says Paul. “What are the markers of transformational talent for your organization, specific to the role type?” Just like you create a customer profile, carefully outline what it is that you’re looking to attract in a new hire. Identify the soft skills that would make someone successful for the role, and more broadly, the skills that your organization needs. Write it all down so you can refer back to your profile throughout the process.
  2. Tailor the interview to get to the heart of step one. “Identify the questions that would help [you] understand where [you] could find this talent,” says Paul. For example, at Clari, I’m going to ask different questions of a vice president of marketing versus a vice president of product. I want to delve into who they are and what excites them, and ensure their passions align with Clari’s needs. 
  3. Rate the applicant using a scorecard tailored to the role. Developing a scorecard can help you remove bias influencing who you hire, Paul notes. Hiring managers have a tendency to index on things like past work experience, which may or may not be a valid indicator of performance in the role you’re hiring for. A scorecard tied to the role in question, with an emphasis on finding the right skills, can keep biases at bay.
  4. Test the applicant. Potential hires may not love this step, but it’s one of the most important to ensure a good fit. Develop a test that maps to the specific requirements of the role and aims to assess whether the candidate has the skills that are essential for success. The exercise can help the applicant get a sense of whether it’s the right fit for them, too.

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Getting the most from your superstar sellers 

Being a transformational employee at one company may not translate directly to being one at the next. Which is to say, environment matters. Your culture has to be set up so transformational people can flourish, or they could get frustrated and leave. 

“Fundamentally, [transformational hires] have different values than the average employee,” warns Paul. “They're looking for the right leadership, the right employee experience, and they're looking for the opportunity to develop, grow, and learn, and to truly make an impact at the organizations that they work for.”

With that in mind, before embarking on a hiring spree, take a hard look at your organization to see whether you have the kind of conditions in place for transformational talent to thrive. That often means room for career growth, sufficiently challenging work, and mentorship. But it also means understanding what inspires and energizes that person on an individual level—and making sure the career path they’re on matches their interests, instead of lumping their needs into a one-size-fits-all plan.

“Survey and understand what's important to them,” says Paul. “Potentially, there are things in there that don’t always come down to a higher salary that we could implement. Things like collaboration, think tanks, and leadership opportunities, that help really make an impact on the day-to-day and the retention of this talent.”

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