The Rewards and Risks of Only Hiring “A” Players

Enterprise technology ‘A’ players (Sales, SE, PS, or CS) … are they helping or hurting you?

As an executive of a high growth enterprise technology or services company, you may constantly feel pressure to identify and hire the elusive ‘A’ player.

The biggest challenges with hiring the ‘A’ player:

  1. Lack of agreement of what your ‘A’ player may look like. An ‘A’ player for another employer may be improperly considered an ‘A’ player for your company because of differences in company maturity, targeted market segment, price point, etc.
  2. You confuse an ‘A’ player with your ideal candidate (does not exist or not worth waiting for)

The result can be:

Needless business costs; or severe disruption associated with holes in your Sales, Sales Engineering, Customer Success, or Consulting organizations. Unexpected turnover because the hired ‘A’ player candidate checked all of your boxes, but is missing the attributes of what is truly needed by YOUR organization at THIS TIME.

A four year, $25m, data analytic technology company’s primary market segment is helping financial service companies’ improve their marketing effectiveness. They need to hire an ‘A’ player sales professional in NY to develop new accounts. The EVP of Sales previously worked for Oracle, Tibco, and IBM. She values candidates with educational pedigree, recognized employers, quota achievement, competitive ranking, and career stability.

The hiring manager, Director of Sales, insists on candidates having start-up success within the enterprise financial services technology sector where 25% of their sales cycle is spent helping large financial service companies feel comfortable with an unknown brand and previously unfamiliar technology concepts. The remaining 75% of the sales cycle will not be successful without this first 25% being effectively executed. The CEO is passionate about the candidate having heavy data analytic technology domain knowledge.

This wish list requires the Talent Acquisition manager to discover an ideal candidate profile (written or implied) that includes:

  • Enterprise Sales start-up success, including the courage and vision to see to the equity potential in a smaller company despite it not having big brand awareness or established accounts
  • Infrequent career changes (see the irony on these first bullets alone?)
  • Formative years spent at a large recognizable technology employer
  • Domain knowledge of financial services, data analytics
  • Consistent quota achievement, #1 or #2 among their peers
  • $275k+ W2’s
Candidate 1:

Earned $400k a year at Oracle, consistent Presidents Club winner, has only had three jobs in the past ten years. Sold data analytics, Customer experience solutions; average deal size $700k. Sold $5m a year to established accounts for $20m in personal sales revenue since 2013. She had a 12 month stint with a start-up five years ago.

Candidate 2:

Earned $200k a year for the past 3 years with a $10m enterprise start-up, selling data analytic technologies to marketing executives of financial service companies, developed his employer’s first 15 net new accounts with an average deal size of $250k for $3.8m in sales during his three year tenure. At his previous job with a more established company (albeit not a widely recognized brand name) he earned $275k a year and generated $2m per year in sales.

Outcome 1:

Candidate 1 is hired because he seems more impressive and safer.
Result: Candidate 1 gets frustrated because there are no leads or existing accounts to sell, she is receiving pressure at home due to insufficient short term income, and is ineffective with an evangelical sale. She leaves the company after twelve months.

Was Candidate 1 close to the Ideal candidate profile, and an ‘A’ player? Yes, was she a fit or an ‘A’ player for this employer? Perhaps not.

Outcome 2:

Nobody was hired because they waited for the Ideal candidate to surface
Result: revenue loss, lack of growth and new logos within a geography that is highly visible to investors and Fortune 1000 prospects during a critical growth period

Suggested Solution:

Identify what specific behaviors and related accomplishments (metrics) are expected for the first and second years in the position, and what attributes MUST be present and what attributes can be learned. GAIN AGREEMENT & DOCUMENT these behaviors, accomplishments, and attributes; and share the result with everyone involved in the sourcing, evaluating, and hiring of your candidate.

BELOW are samples of behaviors, attributes, and metrics that may help you further refine your process in defining YOUR ‘A’ player. Also below is a quote related to this subject from the VP of Worldwide Sales from a success enterprise software company.

Perhaps the “B’ player from the technology company across the hall (or globe) from you is your ‘A’ player? Could this approach increase the quantity, quality, and timeliness of your candidate pool, enabling you to beat your competitors in selling deals and delivering value?


Sales Example:

How many net new accounts must this position develop in year one? *How many net new accounts does your candidate sell per year for the three years? Where are those accounts located? What are the size of those companies? Do these deals align with your target account size and locations?

Is the average deal size $100k, $500k, or $1.5m? *What is your candidate’s average deal size for the past three years?

Evangelical sales experience/Audience alignment: *What sample deals can the candidate share of where his prospects took on personal, political, and company financial risk by adopting new technology concepts? *Who were the candidate’s true executive sponsors and titles? Were they line of business executives (if so, marketing, finance, etc.?) or IT executives? *How close is your candidate’s new technology concepts to what your open sales requirement’s solution offering? How big of a learning curve was it for the candidate to become effective in selling these new concepts, and how does that learning curve compare to your solution, relative to complexity and time?

Sales Engineering and PS Examples: Does the role require a utility player to perform needs analysis and presentations for several sales people, or does the role require a high touch SE who takes partial ownership of the sales cycle and partners with an RSM on a 1:1 basis? *Is your candidate motivated by lots of activity, and exposure to multiple companies and technologies; or is he motivated by the ego gratification and large commissions associated with co-owning a strategic sales cycle? Does the role involve 3 concurrent sales cycles/implementations or 12, and what type of companies and audiences does your organize engage? *What are your candidate’s deal or post sale implementation frequency, complexity, size, and duration?

Are your company’s POC’s 3 months or 12? * What is the frequency, duration, and volume of the candidate’s POC’s?

Does the role truly only engage hands-on Java three times per year, but candidates with strong technical acumen, domain expertise, and SE skills are are being rejected because they don’t have sufficient Java when they could just write the specification for a more technical resources to get it done? *What examples can your candidate share of what specific technologies were engaged to stand-up a POC or implementation?

What specific post sale responsibilities are required? *How close is your candidate’s new technology concepts to what your open sales requirement’s solution offering? How big of a learning curve was it for the candidate to become effective in selling these new concepts, and how does that learning curve compare to your solution, relative to complexity and time?

To what extent does the role require standalone experience in shaping a customer’s executive level vision for a POC or implementation’s outcome; managing project scope? *What examples of POC’s or implementation’s can the candidate share where he independently shaped a client’s expectations and managed project scope while also mapping data, configuring a SaaS solution, and training users?

Customer Success Examples
Does the role include on-boarding new clients, or just inheriting previously on-boarded clients and insuring their renewal? *How much on-boarding has the candidate performed?

Does the role require getting the clients to pay for and adopt new service offerings, or is it limited to renewing existing functionality, with a focus on renewal terms and # of users? *How much experience does the candidate have introducing new concepts and driving new revenue streams with their adoption?

Does the role require just renewing existing users or is there a responsibility to drive adoption among new users, divisions, departments, etc.? *How much experience does the candidate have leveraging existing executive and user relationships for introductions to peer organizations versus simply renewing with existing users and executives?

Quote from the VP of Worldwide Sales from a successful high growth enterprise software company.

” Hire for the Environment the Rep or AE are going into. Be Honest with yourself as to what is required … We have 3 “A” players that could not be more different, except for 1 attribute they are:
1. Hard working
2. Honest and Creditable
3. Competitive

They are all passionate about customer success and hold us all accountable. They do well without a lot structure.”

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