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GTM, Sales

Building an Inside Sales Team?

Jacco van der Kooij

Written by Jacco van der Kooij

Founder, Winning by Design


This article is for people who are building SaaS sales teams, and in particular those who are recruiting for inside sales teams that consist of inbound & outbound Sales Development Reps (SDRs) and Sales Managers (AEs).


I’d like to ask you to watch the video below – it’s just 155 seconds. Listen to what a new generation of top performers has to say about sales, in their own words:


I have recruited, helped onboard, and train SDRs and AEs for countless of SaaS start ups and have started to notice characteristics of todays top performers. Some of these characteristics are in stark contrast to what VPs of Sales historically have looked for:

  • Do First – Question Later: In the past, we’ve always looked for the “Strategics”, these were the ones that could get into the C-suite. Today I see new successful behavior: Today a top performer simply “does what (s)he is asked to do” – but then, and this is important –  as they do it, they learn from it, improve upon it, and then they question it in a non confrontational way.  While the challenger is still arguing over why this is not going to work – the Do’er has already figured out a way how to apply the insights and made it work.
  • Team players vs. Sole Contributors:  Not too long ago we referred to sales people as sole contributors.  Today top sales performers are 100% team players NOT isolated superstars. In a high velocity world a team covers more ground.   They test out 4-5 different tools simultaneously, can cover multiple markets, and learn from a broader group of customers – quicker.
  • Social Butterflies:  I recently grabbed coffee with Jennifer, an AE under consideration. As we walked out of the building South of Market Jennifer turns around and makes the universal coffee signal  to the building concierge – who responds by showing he already has a cup of coffee. Wow – explaining why that matters so much would take me a page – in short hire people who are social – you can’t find that out in an interview room.
  • Hikers vs. Competitors: The recent survey we conducted revealed that the majority of these top performers LOVED outdoor activity on the weekend – and less so in a competitive environment – many consider competing as “dirty”, a single minded approach to a world that requires a broader view on the things all around you.  Today’s competitors compete against themselves, hiking, rock climbing, kite surfing, mountain biking, but also camaraderie sports such as frisbee are the ones to look for in a candidate’s profile.
  • Study to Excel: It is clear that nearly every top performer invests in themselves in some way, shape or form. And I mean ferociously.  They are avid blog readers and study things on their own time that appear totally unrelated to their work:  fixing cars, DJing, etc.  This means they are familiar with the process, and that they have tasted the fruits of hard labor – an experience much needed in a role where you often need to learn about a service, a market, a customer, a company — yes sales is all about learning, and to do it quickly about something that is completely foreign to you.
  • Extremely responsive: In the past, people who were super responsive were deemed to be too eager.  You may recall a scene where someone lets the phone ring a few times before they pick up.  Today’s top performers send you a thank you note in minutes following the meeting.  This is indicative of what you need them to do in their action oriented jobs.  To get it finished now vs. put it on a list of actions to do tomorrow.
  • Get to the point quickly: Top performers can summarize a 5 minute conversation into <125 characters(!).  This skill set is a must in todays world where you need to excel in communication in blog posts, text, tweets, and emoticons. Recruit people who can write!
  • Celebrate Uniqueness: Previously we looked for a “clean cut” professional that showed up dressed for success. They would blend in well.  In today’s online sales world your sales people actually can’t blend in – we need them to stand-out like a sore thumb, but in a unique and quirky way.  Obviously today this can be someone with colorful tattoos, a crazy hair style, or funky clothing – but also because they are geeky smart on an off-the-wall topic – everything from spiders to peanut butter is an opportunity to be passionate and memorable.


Every now and then I come across a “sales leader” who hires and fires until (s)he has a performing team.  In such a sink or swim model, countless kids start their first job in sales with big hopes and dreams, only to find themselves thrown to the wolves. I have seen these VPs ruin the start of a career for countless kids, who were eager to learn, but never received proper training.  When these kids show up at their next interview, they are held accountable for such short tenure.


In the Bay Area, and increasingly across start-up hotbeds like Boulder, Salt Lake, Atlanta, Austin and Boston we seem to have a lack of “sales talent”.  But is that really the case? Or are we simply too focused on hiring alphas – competitors who want only to close deals to make money for themselves, while overlooking the people who can help your customers become successful.


These are the lessons gained working with over 50 SaaS sales organizations in the past 24 months.  More lessons on how to build scalable SaaS organizations can be found in a book we recently launched “Blueprints for a SaaS Sales Organization”.  In this book we share best practices on how to design, implement and launch scalable SaaS Sales organizations.