The Most Common Question I’m Asked About Hiring Sales People in FinTech.

Ambition, drive, resilience, curiosity and intelligence. These are the traits of successful sales people.

But I’m often asked how to recruit talented sales teams, and it’s a surprisingly common pain point for fintechs. Résumés and competency-based interviews are ineffective hiring methods. What looks good on paper almost never translates into good culture fit.

Launching new and untested products — particularly in the B2B fintech space — means pitching your proposition to incumbent banks and established names in the industry. Without a well-known brand behind you the market does not work in your favour.

It’s for this reason you need to understand your product market fit before you hire sales staff. Know where your business is and what it needs right now. Early startup success isn’t reflective of a good go-to-market strategy if it’s based on a founder’s close network and technical product knowledge. This isn’t something you can replicate at scale.

Fintech is an exciting but aggressively competitive space to be in. The technology doesn’t just speak for itself. You’re building complex propositions and likely working an extremely niche and hyper-segmented route to market strategy. “Sell me this pen” is not how you spot true talent.

It’s time to look beyond the typical salesperson persona of strong work ethic and resilience. These are essential but should be a given. Here’s the key traits you should consider when hiring sales teams in fintech for long term success.

  1. Entrepreneurial Vision

Especially in an early stage startup, your sales team are an extension of the founders. They are speaking to the market and sharing that vision, so they need to understand and support the proposition.

B2B sales in untested markets also requires adaptability. At this stage of the journey, your sales team are also your best ear to the ground. They need to truly listen to customer problems, understand them, and feed back internally. It’s not their responsibility to build better products, but they are your top resource for customer insight helping product teams to improve and iterate quickly.

Looking for experience of churning leads and hitting KPIs is therefore not how to hire fintech sales teams. This is not a role suited to ex-bankers or management consultants as most people would believe. You need to hire so called “intrapreneurs” with relevant knowledge of the startup world, whether their past ventures have failed or not. It’s the curiosity and visionary traits of a founder that is most important in this role.

2. Comfortable with ambiguity

Building on the need for entrepreneurial spirit, entering the unknown without caution is another necessary characteristic. When hiring a salesperson in a startup environment, you’re never going to find someone with exact experience — after all, you’re launching something entirely new. What’s important is that you hire someone who’s done this before. Who’s had some success in taking a new product to market and understands the obstacles that come with uncertainty.

It takes more than just being confident, though. In fact I’d argue that being confident with little experience is arrogant and naive. You’ll need to look for someone with an already established and active network in the fintech space. This will allow them to tap into the knowledge of others and generate more leads. When your brand is still unknown, the relationships your salespeople can build are key to customer acquisition.

3. Coachable and Open Minded

Establishing the right company culture doesn’t come from the top, it starts with the traits of your employees. You can’t promote an environment of striving for the best if employees at all levels aren’t inherently willing to do so.

Staff retention is a strong metric to gauge future success. It means retaining knowledge and skills that can be taught and shared, and continues to cultivate company culture for the long term. But this means early-stage employees need to open minded and willing to be coached by founders and other senior executives. This is to the benefit of embedding company values as much as it is about sales success.

When hiring a sales team, think beyond the business need right now. If you’re still in startup or scale-up phase, your proposition and target market segment is likely to eventually pivot. Likewise, even an established multi-billion dollar fintech will need salespeople to adapt to rapid new product or market strategies. The job description you hire for now will not be the same as in 5 years time. To retain your sales staff, they’ll need to be open minded about the changing role responsibilities.

4. They’re a fighter above all else

Taking a new product to market is no easy task. There’s no blueprint for how to successfully launch a new fintech proposition with so many potential variants and obstacles. Your sales team need to fight for your business to ensure its success. And for that, they need to truly believe in the product.

Take a step back and consider the competitive environment of fintech for a second. It’s a unique market with a lot more collaboration than competition versus other innovative industries. This means two things for salespeople — one, they need to build partnerships like never before. And two, competition can become more aggressive more quickly. The concept of “fail fast” is more important than just being resilient to rejection.

Bringing the right people in at the right time is key, and it’s true that the characteristics you hire for will differ depending on what growth stage you’re in. But overall it’s really that entrepreneurial drive that makes a good salesperson. Sales isn’t just a revenue-generating function; with the right people it will positively influence your company culture, vision and proposition as well.

Before hiring, consider your proposition and whether you’re still testing the water. How many competitors do you have in this space? Understanding your target-market value will give you the best insight as to your sales team requirements.

james@humbletechnology.co.uk

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CEO of Humble Technology — Commercial Advisory for Fintech. CEO of Humble Grape — wine bar, wine merchant, and events company.

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James Dawson

CEO of Humble Technology — Commercial Advisory for Fintech. CEO of Humble Grape — wine bar, wine merchant, and events company.