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Key Questions to Ask When Hiring a Unicorn Seller in Tech

The Betts Team
June 28, 2024

Use these key questions when interviewing candidates for a sales executive position in SaaS to help you determine if the interviewee is the perfect fit for your team. As tech startups are increasingly pivoting to hiring their unicorn seller, it is becoming more important than ever to reorganize your talent acquisition process to be able to better qualify top talent that meets the specific benchmarks you need for your sales motion. Leveraging the Betts library of resources for sourcing, interviewing and hiring top go-to-market (GTM) professionals in the technology sector, we have put together this list to help guide your search and quickly identify whether a candidate for VP of Sales or Director of Sales is that right fit you’re looking for:

How to Interview and Hire Unicorn SaaS Sales Executives

The tech industry is still evolving right before our eyes. It’s gone through very major and transformative shifts within the past few years alone. Startups have had to reevaluate their sales and hiring motions in response to these developments. Many are discovering the hard way that the traditional ‘one-size-fits-all’ type of job description does not fit the needs of the current market.

SaaS companies must rethink how they approach search recruiting for GTM roles, including executive-level positions. You should be looking for candidates that fit with your sales motion, your team culture, and already understand your market and its quirks. Refer to the Betts resources listed below for more specific tips on interviewing and hiring tech sales candidates, including for executive positions such as Vice President or Director of Sales:

Questions About Past Roles & Responsibilities

When interviewing for a sales executive in SaaS, questions about their past jobs and responsibilities can help you see if their experience aligns with the expectations of the role. These queries should give you insight into the background of the candidate, the skill sets they bring on paper, and their familiarity with your sales motion and market. They should also give you a glimpse into the candidate’s approach to performing their duties as VP or Director of Sales, from their leadership style to how they track and set goals for their teams.

  1. Tech Sales Experience: These questions will be fairly straightforward to start with, as you will be asking the candidate directly about their experience in the industry. However, follow-up questioning is key to diving into the intricate details of their background in tech sales and determining if their past work aligns with your current motion.
  2. Experience Leading Teams: Your ideal SaaS sales executive candidate must bring prior leadership experience to the table. Ask them to go in-depth about past teams they have led, including providing examples of performance benchmarks to quantify their impact, and explain how they will leverage this experience to guide your Account Executives (AEs).
  3. Collaboration Style: Sales execs in a tech startup need to know how to work with other departments to execute a go-to-market strategy. Ask your candidate to describe their style of internal collaboration, and to provide examples in previous companies to demonstrate how they lived up to this approach and what it has helped them achieve.
  4. Engagement Style: Every market has its idiosyncrasies, and the key question that will answer whether a candidate is the right fit should be about how they plan to engage with your stakeholder audiences. Ask them to explain how they have engaged prospects and customers in this industry in the past and to provide examples of techniques that worked with specific titles, business categories, etc.
  5. Sales KPIs: Key performance indicators (KPIs) are foundational for quantifying success in the world of tech startups. Ask your candidate which metrics they plan to prioritize, with examples of how these have helped their prior teams measure and improve on wins, and to explain how they will keep track of these numbers.
  6. Sales Tools: Technology is often critical to scaling your GTM coverage and operations in the back end, and your ideal VP or Director of Sales will know how to use what you’re already using AND optimize usage across the team. Ask them about the past sales software stacks they have worked with from individual applications to the workflows between. For a bonus question, you should also ask them for recommendations to add to or replace your current stack, including from firsthand experience with newer solutions (i.e., AI).

Situational Questions

Situational questions for a SaaS sales executive candidate must grant you a deeper look at what makes them tick and show you if they really are a good fit for your team and company vision. This is where you will see if they truly align with your sales motion and culture, by presenting them with queries that force them to think on their feet while seriously considering their answers.

  1. Challenges & Successes: These will be the most straightforward of your situational questions; however, the key here is to prompt your candidate to explore the takeaways they gleaned from their biggest wins and losses throughout their career. Asking them to frame why these situations stuck out to them in either category will go a long way towards gauging their personality when comparing to the answers for the other queries in this list, making it easier to determine if their mindset is the right fit.
  2. Problem-Solving Abilities: Create a few scenarios based on the top sales challenges in your market that will require your candidate to think through how to solve these problems like piecing a puzzle together. Tailoring them to the candidate’s experience on paper while throwing in a few curveballs will let you see how they respond to surprises and help to validate their expertise, while also giving you insight into how they approach and overcome obstacles.
  3. Team Building & Scaling: A sales executive applicant in the tech startup world will need to be someone who knows how to build a team on top of managing it, and can scale it over time according to your org’s growth objectives. There are several questions you should ask your candidate to this effect, including what would their ideal sales team look like, who their first hire would be, how much they would spend to hire for each role and stage, and how they would balance recruiting budget against actual revenue. 
  4. Team Management & Culture: One of the biggest priorities for a VP or Director of Sales in a SaaS company will be creating and nurturing a sales culture that fosters the kind of drive and resilience that your team will need to continue scaling. Walk your candidate through a few scenarios that will test their experience with managing teams, including promoting development, mentoring their AEs, resolving internal conflicts and responding to performance drops. 
  5. Market Pivots: The 2020’s have proven why tech sales teams require resiliency against market shifts, and any executive leader you hire must be able to guide their team through sudden market changes. This question will be twofold – ask your candidate to give their thoughts on current market trends and how they would position their team to respond, as well as present them with a scenario tailored around potential market shifts for them to walk you through.

Additional Resources for Sales Executive Hiring

A lot goes into sourcing and hiring an executive-level candidate in tech, and your hiring managers need to be armed with the right information to be able to find and attract the right fit for your sales team. Take advantage of these additional learning resources from Betts to help refine your search and secure your unicorn candidate:

Let Betts Help You Find and Hire Your Unicorn Sales Exec

Hiring for a best fit VP or Director of Sales in SaaS can be a serious challenge in the current market, especially for those recruiting without a dedicated talent acquisition team in place. Let Betts help you scale your search and reduce the time – and cost – it takes to find your unicorn sales executive with our transformative solutions and services.

Contact Betts today to see how we can transform your search for a unicorn sales exec with tech experience and reduce your hiring costs to better fit your needs.