Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Great Sales Team | Sales Executive Recruiters | Cowen Partners

      The Ultimate Guide to Hiring a Successful Sales Team

      Ash Wendt, Cowen Partners President & CRO Recruiter

      By Ash Wendt, President of Cowen Partners Executive Search

      Cowen Partners President & Sales Executive Recruiter Ash Wendt has compiled this Sales Executive Hiring Guide to highlight what CROs do and what it takes to hire the best CROs for any C-suite or industry.

      A large part of a company’s success depends on its sales team, which means you need to make sure you’re hiring the right salespeople for your business. Of course, hiring the right people for your company is easier said than done.

      According to the Harvard Business Review, annual turnover among U.S. salespeople is around 27 percent. The wrong salespeople on your team are not only costly for your business, but they also create a time-consuming hiring and onboarding process when those wrong hires eventually quit or are let go.

      In the below guide, you’ll learn how to hire the right salesperson the first time around so you can quickly build a successful sales team.

      Do You Need a Chief Sales Officer or a Chief Revenue Officer?

      The chief sales officer and chief revenue officer roles are similar in that they both typically lead sales operations. Both roles can provide a competitive sales strategy and establish a top-level sales team, however, each role brings something different to the business.

      CSO vs. CRO

      A chief sales officer mainly focuses on hitting sales targets. A CSO knows how to close deals and keep VIP customers coming back to your business again and again. The CSO also closely oversees the sales team by managing the hiring and training of all members. Working closely with this team, the CSO analyzes sales data and improves the sales strategies to further company goals and achieve or surpass sales targets.

      A chief revenue officer, on the other hand, plays a broader role. A CRO is responsible for an organization’s overall revenue, which ultimately involves much more than just the sales department. The CRO role interacts with sales, marketing, and even operations to ensure departments are working together to achieve company goals. The CRO works in conjunction with the sales and marketing teams to create a strategy that will attract customers and ultimately increase sales, thus boosting revenue.

      Both a CSO and CRO will benefit your business, but which one to hire ultimately depends on what your company needs to improve. For instance, if you need to close more client deals, then a CSO can fill the role. However, if you need to improve sales and marketing collaboration then a CRO would be a better fit. Once you determine the sales areas that need the most improvement you can find the right person for your company.

      Start by Recruiting a Sales Leader

      Hiring your first sales leader isn’t easy, but it’s a necessary step to creating a more powerful sales team.

      Below are three important questions you should ask a potential sales leader during the interview process.

      1. What are the differences between your previous company and this one, and how would those differences impact your sales methodology?

      Sales leaders tend to lean heavily on past experience when selecting sales methodologies and compensation plans. Asking about the difference between your company and the candidate’s past employers will give you an idea of potential weak points in the leader’s experience as it relates to your business. Make sure you also know your own company’s sales methodology so you can find someone with the right experience, whether you do freemium sales, inside sales, field sales, or another avenue.

      2. What kind of salesperson would you hire?

      You don’t want a candidate who hires the same type of salesperson every time. You need a leader who will choose a sales member based on company needs. As the candidate goes over what kind of salesperson they believe is right for your company, make sure you also ask what kind of salespeople they’ve hired in the past. If they’ve only hired one type of salesperson, it could be a warning sign they’re not a right fit.

      3. How would you structure the compensation plan to fit our business?

      Compensation plans are a crucial aspect of any sales team, so make sure the leader you’re hiring understands your business model, sales model, and company expectations. If the leader is to structure the compensation plan, they’ll need to understand how to adjust expectations and benefits based on what your company has to offer.

      Ultimately, you want to choose a sales leader who is willing to think outside the box and adjust their sales team model to fit your needs. You don’t want someone who is going to copy everything they did for their last employer because chances are the same structure won’t work. A great sales leader will know how to structure the sales process and strategies to fit your business and meet your goals.

      Perfect the Sales Hiring Process

      Once your sales leader is in place, you’ll need to work together to perfect the sales hiring process. One reason sales position turnover is 27 percent is because companies don’t take the time to properly construct their hiring process. Below is a seven-step plan you can use to improve your sales hiring process.

      1. Construct a Candidate Profile

      A strong idea of the perfect sales candidate will make the hiring process a lot easier. If you know what characteristics, qualities, and experiences you’re looking for, it’ll help you weed through candidates a lot faster.

      To construct your candidate profile, take a look at your top team sellers. What aspects of their backgrounds, traits, selling styles, and motivations do they have in common?

      2. Develop an Interview Strategy

      Structure your interview strategy around your candidate profile by creating a list of questions and interview techniques that reveal the various qualities and characteristics of your candidates. For example, roleplaying can be particularly beneficial during sales interviews. During a roleplay scenario, you get the opportunity to see how a candidate thinks on their feet as well as assess many other characteristics.

      3. Set a Hiring Timeframe

      A hiring pipeline is important for keeping the hiring process moving and timely. Set realistic time frames for accepting applications, contacting candidates, interviewing people, hiring, and onboarding. A solid timeline and hiring pipeline will keep your company organized and efficient during the long hiring process.

      4. Construct a Job Description

      The job description has two main roles. First, it needs to highlight your company and sell the team. Second, it needs to accurately describe the job role and expectations. When constructing the job description, pull from your candidate profile when listing background, qualities, and other main candidate characteristics, however, make sure to break everything up into required, preferred, and bonus categories. The perfect candidate doesn’t exist, so be sure not to set unrealistic expectations in the job description.

      5. Interview Qualified Applicants

      Standardizing your interviews is a great way to ensure you select the right person for the job. It’s easy to be swayed by how well you connected with a candidate versus the necessary qualifications if you don’t have a solid interview standardization in place. A few tools that will standardize interviews and help them run more smoothly are listed below:

      • Candidate scorecards
      • Interviews with multiple company leaders applicable to the role
      • A standardized list of interview questions

      6. Make an Offer

      Selecting a final candidate for the sales role is a major decision and one that everyone on the hiring team should take very seriously. It’s expensive to hire someone new, but it can be even more expensive to fire someone. Have a meeting with everyone involved in the interview process to gauge candidate impressions and get a sense of top hire preferences.

      As you go through the process of selecting your new salesperson, you may have several top contenders but only one position available. Make an offer to the salesperson you choose, but let the other top candidates know you were impressed with their interview.

      Use the rejection email or phone call as an opportunity to form a connection and stay in touch with the other candidates. A few months down the road when you decide to expand your sales team even more, you’ll already have a small pool of candidates who are perfect for the job.

      Cowen Partners has a strong record of identifying and recruiting sales leadership for fast-growing public and private companiesContact our 5-star sales executive recruiters and search consultants to discuss recruiting top talent for your organization.

      Sales Team Compensation

      You need to build a solid sales team to lead your business, and one way to attract top sales performers is offering the right sales team compensation plan. If it’s your first time setting up a sales team, however, it can be difficult to determine which incentives to offer your team.

      By breaking down the different incentive categories you can easily come up with an attractive compensation package that will keep your sales team motivated to perform.

      Individual account executive 

      The first incentive category to focus on when creating your compensation package is what you will provide the individual account executives. Each individual account executive sales plan should include five key components: a base salary, commission rate, quota, on-target earnings, and variable pay.

      Base salary

      A compensation package should always start with a solid base salary. Top sales executives will not be impressed with their commission or other incentives if the base salary isn’t up to par. Carefully research what other SaaS companies are offering account executives for a salary so you can make sure you’re offering a competitive rate.

      Commission rate

      Once the base salary is established you can move onto the commission rate. Most industries have a standard commission rate you can reference. For example, SaaS products typically have a 10 percent commission rate for sales reps. If an account executive closes a deal worth $10,000 in annual recurring revenue, then the commission for that sale would be $1,000.


      When determining the quota, you set for your sales representatives it’s important to set a goal that is realistic. To start, look at the performance of your best sales rep then analyze sales and conversion rates. Using this data:

      • You should be able to put together a quota that is attainable for at least 60 percent of your sales team.
      • You probably won’t get the quota right the first time, but that’s OK.
      • You can always make adjustments later.

      A standard rule many companies follow is the rule of 10. They’ll set an account executive’s quota by making it equal to 10x the rep’s base salary. This means if you’re paying a sales representative a $50,000 salary, the annual quota for that employee would then be $500,000.

      On-target earnings

      On-target earnings give account executives a goal to work toward. It lets them know just how much they can earn if they hit all of their quarterly sales goals. It’s relatively simple to calculate an OTE for an account executive, too. Essentially, the OTE is the sum of an employee’s base salary and on-target commissions. If you’re paying a sales rep a base salary of $50,000 and the on-target commission rate is $30,000, then the OTE would be $80,000.

      Variable pay

      Variable pay can be a great incentive to sales representatives and an alternative sales team compensation if used appropriately. The variable pay is typically compensation determined based on sales performance. There are three different types of variable pay companies provide, and it’s up to you to decide which option is best for your company and employees.

      The three types of variable pay are:

      1. Commission structure
      2. Bonus
      3. Management by objectives.

      The commission structure is essentially a tiered plan. As a sales rep closes more deals and comes closer to quota, they can hit new commission tiers. For example, you could have account executives start at a 7 percent commission rate but bump that number to 10 percent once they’ve hit $100,000 in sales.

      Bonus are typically paid out a bit differently than commission tiers. A sales rep will receive a bonus after hitting a goal, but the bonus usually gets paid out quarterly or annually. Bonuses are also a fixed payment amount while the tiered commissions can vary between each sales rep. Finally, a management by objective variable pay option is very individualized. Employees can set goals that help them work toward their incentive pay.

      Territory areas

      Assigning territory areas to each sales representative is essential for avoiding sales conflicts and for optimizing coverage. A sales territory defines where an account executive can sell. There are typically three types of territory structures companies choose from when structuring territories.

      Geographical locations

      Territories assigned by geographical location is a common structure used by SaaS companies. However, when structuring geographic territories, you should be less concerned with physical land size and instead ensure an equal number of leads is split between each territory. If territories are equally split in terms of leads, then sales representatives won’t be concerned about which territory they’re assigned.


      A round-robin territory schedule helps equally assign leads to sales teams. This is done by distributing one lead to a sales representative then moving onto the next account executive until everyone is assigned a lead. Once everyone has been assigned a lead, the process begins again at the start of the assignee list until all of the leads have been divvied out. As new leads come into the sales funnel, the next representative in line will receive the new lead. This structure is popular with smaller teams who don’t have the resources to maintain a geographical territory map or a sales vertical.

      Sales Verticals

      Another territory structure implemented by SaaS companies is industry verticals. Verticals focus on a specific market sector instead of the whole industry. This is particularly useful when a SaaS product applies to very specific customers.

      Quota Capacity

      The total team quota for your sales team is known as the quota capacity. Your sales team should be able to attain 70 percent of their quota capacity. Calculating the quota capacity is quite simple. You just have to sum the quotas of each of your sales reps. For example, if you have four account executives with $100,000 quotas, then the team quota capacity would be $400,000.

      How to Grow Your Sales Team

      If your sales team is already achieving 70 percent or more of their quota capacity, it’s time to start expanding the sales team. Of course, only expand if you have enough leads to keep new sales hires busy.

      Building a functioning sales team takes time and hashing out all of the incentive packages can take a little reworking before you find the right compensation package mix. Working with some of the numbers above, however, will start you out on the right foot and keep your account executives satisfied as you build the team.

      How to Scale Your SaaS Company to $100 Million ARR

      The $100 million annual recurring revenue mark is a significant milestone for SaaS companies that signifies sustainable company growth. While every startup wants to hit this number as soon as possible, it’s a process that takes time. According to Kimchi Hill, on average it takes 4.5 years to hit the $10 million ARR mark and at least 50 percent of companies take between 5 and 10 years to finally hit $100 million ARR.

      Successfully scaling your SaaS business takes time, dedication, and the right business strategy. Below are some tips you can use to scale your business and achieve startup growth.

      Recognize when you’re ready to scale

      The path to the first $1 million ARR is when most SaaS startups go through a strong learning phase. As you work toward $1 million ARR, you should be learning what works for your company and what doesn’t. For example, by the time you hit $1 million ARR, you should have determined the right product for your market, identified new customer leads, secured long-term business contracts, and have repeat customers, just to name a few. If you’ve seen consistent growth for a least two years in addition to ironing out your business strategy, you should be ready to scale your business.

      Avoid common mistakes

      Scaling a SaaS company takes skill and not all startups follow best practices. There are a number of common mistakes seen in the SaaS startup realm, but below are the top four you should avoid as you work to scale your business.

      1. Offering too many discounts

      Startups are eager to attract customers, and a common strategy they’ll use to gain customers is discounts. People love discount deals, so it can be tempting to offer big discounts to bring more people to your service. The problem, however, is that SaaS companies start offering excessive discounts which can lead to attracting the wrong audience for the product and undervaluing the service. Instead of focusing on discounts, create a plan that includes customer incentives instead. This way customers are still encouraged to purchase the product, but you’re not giving away too much.

      • Ignoring current customers

      A common fallacy among startups is that new customers are more valuable than current customers. This is simply not true. Customer retention is a huge aspect of business success. Your current customers can bring you repeat business, and they’re also a valuable source of referral business. Too often startups become overly focused on acquiring new clients or leads and forget to give their current customers the best experience possible.

      • Hiring the wrong people

      Hiring decisions are always difficult, but startups seem to have an especially hard time finding the right people. The main problem is that startups tend to focus too much on technical skills and not enough on candidate qualities and culture fit. SaaS startups have unique cultures and expectations that employees need to understand and accept before being hired. If you’re adding new positions to your team, make sure you review candidate characteristics in addition to their overall experience and background.

      • Avoid growth hacking

      Growth hacking has become such a buzzword in the startup scene. Startup leaders are trying to figure out the fastest way to achieve rapid growth, but don’t be fooled by growth hacking strategies. There are several problems that startups run into when attempting to growth-hack their business. First, growth hacking often involves a number of shortcuts which leads to missed learning opportunities. Second, by scaling too rapidly, startups can’t keep up internally with growth and the management of the company falls apart. Finally, growth hacking often leaves customers feeling unheard and undervalued. All this to say, shortcuts will have a negative impact on your SaaS company long-term if you try to growth hack your startup.

      Build your employee base

      A major aspect of scaling is effectively growing various teams. In particular, the $10 million ARR mark is typically when startups begin to hire middle managers to oversee more of the business process and separate C-suite leaders from the general business process.

      Adding another layer of sales management is also done at this time and can be especially difficult. Startup CEOs are accustomed to being involved in the sales process, but now the crucial role of managing sales falls on the VP of sales and department managers. The sales department needs particular attention as the startup scales and becomes larger, too. By the time you hit $10 million in ARR your company should have a dedicated sales team with a reliable sales pipeline in place for acquiring and driving business. As your startup grows, make sure you’re not neglecting this vital growth department.

      How to Build a Successful Demand Generation Team | B2B Marketing

      Demand generation marketing strategies are tactics used to generate interest and demand for a company’s products or services.

      What Is Demand Generation?

      Demand generation can include a variety of communication channels from blog posts and social media messaging to targeted promotions and list creation. When all is said and done, demand gen is typically involved in every aspect of a business’s sales funnel. Every marketing strategy should include some sort of demand generation process for attracting people to the brand and pushing them through the sales funnel.

      Demand generation is the focus of targeted marketing programs to drive awareness and interest in a company’s products and/or services. 

      Demand Generation vs Lead Generation

      A lot of companies actually mistake demand gen for lead generation. These two terms, while related, are not the same thing. Lead generation refers to a specific subset of demand gen. Demand gen attracts people to business and piques interest in the overall brand, product, or service. Lead gen then comes in and turns the interested parties into more concrete sales leads by collecting contact information.

      Every company needs some form of lead generation if they want to continue growing and to see success. Without lead generation, targeted marketing efforts are much more difficult. Once the lead generation is complete, demand gen takes back over to continue pushing people down the sales cycle with more targeted content and value.

      The problem with demand gen is that it takes a lot more work and manpower to accomplish successfully than businesses realize. This is not a process that can be managed by a single employee. To properly run a demand gen strategy, you need a full team or department working on the process.

      In marketing, lead generation is the initiation of consumer interest or enquiry into products or services of a business. Leads can be created for purposes such as list building, e-newsletter list acquisition or for sales leads

      What a Demand Generation Department Does

      One main role of the demand gen team or department is to bridge the gap between marketing and sales. The overall demand gen campaign process includes multiple components that require a lot of work. A few of aspects of demand gen covered by the demand team are listed below:


      The demand gen team is constantly reviewing customer insights to ensure the sales funnel is working appropriately. By monitoring what works and what doesn’t, the team can tweak the marketing strategy as necessary to continue generating growth and sales.


      The sales funnel encompasses many key metrics, all of which should be tracked by your company. Detailing customer experiences, engagements, and decisions can lead to more efficient and accurate campaigns in the future.


      The demand generation team knows not only what to say to potential customers but also how to say it. Value and customer-relevant information are conveyed through a variety of content delivery systems. Each message must be carefully constructed and targeted to convey the most important information to customers.


      In today’s tech-heavy world, companies have a number of delivery systems they can use for reaching customers. Email, social media, blog content, and advertisements are all content delivery options available to your company. A demand gen team knows which delivery system is best for your content and goals.

      Revenue generation is one of the most important activities any business can engage in. It is defined as a process by which a company plans how to market and sell its products or services, in order to generate income.

      How to Build a Demand Gen Team

      There are two positions in the C-suite that facilitate the overall success of the demand generation team. These two positions are chief growth officer (CGO) and chief revenue officer (CRO). A CGO monitors all aspects of the business that help drive growth and the CRO is responsible for ensuring the company is leveraging all marketing opportunities to generate the most sales. Together, these two leadership roles help shape and drive the overall marketing strategy involved in demand generation.

      Under these two important positions you’ll often find the VP sales and the VP marketing. The vice presidents of these two departments are responsible for overseeing the demand generation process, from strategy to revenue goals. These two positions help create the overall demand gen campaign funnel and monitor the progress to ensure metrics are being hit. https://cowenpartners.com/sales-marketing/embed/#?secret=qWs9cSA7VF

      Finally, you have marketing managers and sales development representatives. These team members are responsible for executing the overall demand gen strategy and nurturing potential customers throughout the sales cycle.

      These positions are just a few of the main roles needed for a successful demand generation team. Since demand generation touches on sales and marketing, you need people who can confidently handle every part of customer development. In addition to managing customer development and business growth, you also need leaders in these positions who can work well together throughout the sales cycle. Demand gen teams can struggle when sales representatives and marketing managers fail to communicate important data insights and value propositions.

      A demand generation team is a must for the future success of your business. Determine which essential demand gen positions are missing from your company and fill those roles as soon as possible so you can see an improvement in company growth.

      Demand Generation Team Roles

      • VP Sales & Marketing – $200,000 average salary
      • VP of Demand Generation – $175,000 average salary
      • Director of Demand Generation – $125,000 average salary
      • Demand Generation Marketing Manager – $85,000 average salary
      • Demand Generation Specialist – $55,000 average salary

      Hire Better Sales Leaders with the Help of Top Sales Executive Recruiters

      The nation’s best sales executive recruiters at Cowen Partners have a strong record of identifying and recruiting sales leadership for fast-growing public and private companies. Contact us if you would like to discuss recruiting an exceptional sales and marketing executive team or leader for your organization.

      Check out our industry-leading resources to see why Cowen Partners is a 5-star retained executive search firm in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Dallas, Los Angeles, and beyond:

      We also invite you to check out our other Ultimate Hiring Guides below.

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