5 Moneyball tactics to build a winning sales team

Top talent is often unaffordable or unavailable. How to build a super sales squad of unconventional candidates

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BY JAMIE SCARBOROUGH

Michael Lewis’s 2003 book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game details how the Oakland Athletics baseball team used analytics, creativity and strategic thinking to build a baseball team on a limited budget that could compete with Major League Baseball’s big spenders.

Sales leaders often feel like that under-funded baseball team. We are constantly searching for the best and brightest hires we can find, but can’t afford their huge salary demands. While the Googles, Microsofts and Facebooks of the world have the sexy brands and bottomless bank accounts to attract the best of the best, our tight profit margins and B2B brands mean we are constantly competing for rainmakers.

So what can we learn from the winning philosophy of A’s GM Billy Beane? Here are a few ways to get good value for limited dollars:

1. Always choose high-talent/low-experience over low-talent/high-experience

At Sales Talent Agency, we believe the best sales people share three innate traits: a great work ethic, a high level of emotional intelligence, and a bright and curious mind. The good news is that all three traits are available in candidates aged 21–70.

While your ideal hires would have high talent and great work experience, those are also the most expensive candidates and the hardest to attract. You can’t always afford those candidates, who are too close to the peak of their sales careers. So you need to focus on candidates with a little less experience who—with some training and development—could be up and running in less than six months.

You just saved more than $20,000 in salary. You’re welcome!

2. Pick candidates who excel at the thing you need most

Hard-core hunters are paid big money to cold call prospects and make deals from scratch. If your company has a steady flow of inbound leads, why pay top dollar for a hunter? What you need instead is a smart and likeable person who can convert a warm lead to a close.

You could save as much as $30,000 per year in total employee expenses by hiring someone with 70% of what your competitors need, but 100% of what you need.

3. Just because they haven't hunted, doesn't mean they can't hunt

Our clients often look for people who have proven expertise as a new-business developer, which makes sense: if someone has done it, they likely can do it again. But some of the best hunters we met last year—those that brought in over 40 new clients per year for their current company—did not have any prior experience creating new leads. The company met them, saw their hunger and potential, and took a calculated risk that they could train them effectively.

4. Old people can sell too

In our eight years in business, Sales Talent Agency has placed no more than a dozen candidates over the age of 50 in direct seller’s jobs. We’ve put lots in management and executive roles, but very few on the front line.

It’s not our fault: hiring managers are obsessed with 25–40 year olds. Sales people in their 50s have at least another two decades of work potential left, and a great history of experiences that enable them to connect well with buyers. They’ve also got just as much of an incentive as your young guns to make money— is anyone more cash motivated than someone looking down the barrel of retirement?

For a company looking to hire, this unfortunate ageism represents great value potential. If everyone wants the 30 year-olds, their price tag goes up, but the reverse is true of candidates over the half-century mark.

5. Convert B2C sellers to B2B sellers

Sure, B2B sales are more complicated than B2C sales. But a great B2C sales person—the ones who answer your questions at the Telus store, serve you at The Keg, or help you get a car loan—are capable of making the leap with a little training.

Such salespeople are often making significantly less money than a lower-end B2B package offers, and are desperate to build their careers. They just need someone to take a chance. Why shouldn't that someone be you?

• • • • •

Just identifying these unconventional candidates is not enough. You need to put in the necessary work pre-hire to ensure that you have a high potential of success. Analyze each candidate thoroughly, possibly using a good online predictive performance test; OMG, DiSC and Pro.File are the ones our clients tend to favour. Or have them do a job-related assignment for you so that you can get a sense of how much training would be required to get them job-ready. And be certain that these atypical candidates know what they are getting into.

Do it right, and you can unlock at lot of value from unconventional candidates that other (sales) teams don’t want. Don’t spend all your savings in one place!


Sonya Meloff and Jamie Scarborough are the co-founders of Sales Talent Agency, Canada’s largest sales recruitment company and #181 on the PROFIT 500 Ranking of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies in 2014. Meloff was on the PROFIT/Chatelaine W100 ranking of Canada’s Top Female Entrepreneurs in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2014. Scarborough is an accomplished sales leader and speaker specializing in how companies find, attract, choose and equip sales talent.