How to Hire Great Sales People for Your Startup: Chat With Ryan Paugh, APAC Head of Sales Effectiveness at LinkedIn

All startups, especially startups in Japan, are in need of really good sales people – or usually legions of sales people. But often times startups lack the know-how to discover and hire the TOP GUN.

The competition for sales people is fierce, tough and not really the most exciting of challenges. Some may say that corporate giants have it easier with attractive salary packages, brand recognition, and HR teams but the reality is that it is a big hurdle for anyone.

So how do you hire a great sales person for your startup? Justa recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Ryan Paugh, Head of Sales Effectives in APAC at LinkedIn, to discuss the best practices and the biggest mistakes for hiring great sales people.


The myth about sales is that it is simply: a successful way of persuading someone to buy something you sell.

This cannot be furthest away from the truth.

Sales is all about solving someone’s problem, and that is exactly what sales people do. If you go to a Farmer’s Market and you need a solution to effectively get rid of your hunger, the farmer will provide you with a very effective way to get rid of it– they will sell you food.

However, to be able to solve someone’s problems there are three key qualities that Ryan sees in top sales people:

 1.  they have to love people:

“ the top sales people are those that love people and are good at building relationships. The top guns are natural trust builders, and this is something that probably can’t be taught – either you have it or you don’t.”

2.  be strong at critical reasoning:

“listening to problems and coming up with solutions requiring a lot of mental toughness, and the best sales people develop their complex problem solving abilities in order to develop strategies and solutions for their clients.”

3.  have drive and perseverance!

“You can do the first two very well, but it is really the drive and perseverance that makes the difference between a good and an extremely good sales person. The “top guys” come in on weekends and nights, and have drive, and would not stop trying to achieve certain goals. These are the best sales people I have seen”.

It doesn’t matter if they have years of experience or none, these key qualities will be able to help you understand if he is a top sales person or has potential to raise to the top.

The second step is creating a good pipeline and have an effective hiring process. As a startup, you probably do not have a designated HR person, and the entire team will want to be part of the decision making process. This is great, unless you have not thought about how often, how and when will you be fitting the hiring process into your busy schedule.

First step, designate times of the week associated to hiring, and second step make sure to get in the habit of giving feedback on a timely manner. The biggest mistake we have seen startups do is not treating each candidate appropriately. Not giving any feedback, taking too long to get back, make the entire interview process last longer than 4 months, or refusing without proper explanations. All of these have been very harmful to the startups businesses. The interview process is a window into your company and if you are not careful, it can reflect negatively on your brand in the market and even hit your bottom line. So, plan ahead, think when, how and who will be helping with the interview, and take each interview as a business meeting.

Thirdly, make sure you are effectively interviewing sales people. We advise you to pick up these three great interview habits from Linkedin:

1.  No Biases

“One of the pieces of advice I would give is to be careful not to bring biases to your interview – do not choose someone because he plays the same sport as you, or the way they dress or because they are funny. One lesson you can take away from LinkedIn is that we try to go in to the interview process with zero bias. This is very important to focus on finding the best talent and not let emotions weigh in.

2.  Ask vertical questions:

“Don’t take answers at face value. The deeper you go, the more you realize who they really are.

Instead of asking for their strengths and weaknesses, ask them to walk you through a deal they have closed from end to end and are proud of. I pay attention about how the candidate found the deal, communicated with the client, and how they closed it.”

You find out very quickly if there is any substance to their questions – the more you ask vertical questions, the deeper you dig into their responses. “How did you do last year?”, “how did you achieve 125%?”, “Did everyone or did only you?”

3.  Are they team players?

“For us at LinkedIn, we need good team players, and so do startups. As such make sure to ask questions like: “Tell us about a time when you had to collaborate to get a deal done”

Lastly, keep in mind that for a startup, especially when hiring sales people, it is important in a sales context to be really clear about your strategy.

Ask yourself this question: “Do you know who is your target buyer and what will be the most effective way to engage that audience as a startup?”

Are you focused, and targeted? When Ryan helped to launch LinkedIn Sales Solutions in Asia it was pretty much a startup experience. Now it is helping to connect businesses and promote exchange in every corner of the region. Even backed by the LinkedIn brand, this could not have happened without dedicated sales talent.

Once you finally decide to hire that people-person, problem solver, optimistic and filled with perseverance, here is a salary survey that can help you start thinking about the package you would like to offer.

If you need any further tips or advice do not hesitate to contact us, we are always up for a chat, especially on a nice sunny day on a patio in Tokyo.


Written by Elena Churilova

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