I met up recently with our client Sea Yen Ong, the Regional Head of Sales for Spotify to discuss what Spotify looks for when hiring sales people. Here’s his top tips.

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What do you look for in candidates?

This is a specific industry that we are in within Spotify. In sales within Spotify, I take care of primarily the advertising portion which is where brands are going to put their money to advertise on Spotify to the free users. It’s specifically in the media industry. It’s to do with advertising. 

So, the traits that I look for generally are three things: The first one really is around their passion for sales, but for a product in a tech industry. For another company, it’s probably going to be different based on the product, but passion is very, very important. Second is actually their ability to understand the landscape. So, when I talk about this landscape here, it’s the marketing and digital landscape. Understanding the landscape also means you need to know what the advertiser wants and how to operate with their agencies. That’s number two. The last one is, I will say, is good to have but is critical if you are in a very fast-paced industry: people who have existing relationships. The minute they join us, they already have a list.

What’s the hiring process like here at Spotify?

They are several rounds of interviews. We generally will get through, depending on everyone’s time, within two to three weeks. Now, within that time, they will meet firstly a set of people which are – they are soon to be peers if they get hired as sales people. Their immediate manager. Someone from our talent acquisition team who generally is the first point of contact. 

And that leads someone from a cross-function. So, not in the same sales team, but could be a team that works closely with the sales team. 

We are in an organisational time where teamwork is not just important within your team. You need to be able to work cross-functionally because everyone relies on someone else to get things done. 

Now, we look at different things when they interview. We just talked about the cross function, so let’s start with there. Whether you understand whether this person knows how to work with them and even understands what the other roles are within the organization. So, a bit of teamwork type of questions. The peer will be asking questions, more technical, because the hired sales people will be doing the same thing. The manager looks at things like are you someone who’s going to be hardworking?

Also, chemistry is very important because they’re going to be reporting to each other day-to-day. From a department head, I will look at those three things that I just told you. I normally only have half an hour interview with the final two and, thereafter…

Culturally wise, the manager will then feedback to me whether they think it’s a suitable candidate. Obviously, I will ask some soft questions as well to see whether this person is not just good for the team but, overall, within my whole organization. 

What are some telltale signs that they have a positive character?

That’s a tricky one because they are people who come and they interview really well. If you put them on the stage, they win an award. For you to be able to really peel off the different layers, you need to have a series of questions. As a hiring manager, you also have to be on your toes to hear what they’re saying and then question. 

You talked about hiring and the questions that you ask. They ask some deal breaker questions sometimes, so for me the first thing is that you come prepared. If I ask this person, “What do you think you’ll be doing and what for that you’ll be selling?” and if he or she can’t even answer me the product – or understood the product they’re selling means they did not do their research. They did not go online. They did not check out our website. They did not search for anything. Anything that’s out there regarding this role. Or even ask people who they knew in the organization or people who have left the organization. That bit of research shows you’re genuine and that you want to learn. It’s also a very strong character, trait of character. 

But the other way for me – asking them why – what did you like about your previous company? What do you expect from this company? Make them talk about emotion and not just about the facts.

What does day 1 look like for a hired sales people here at Spotify?

I’ll expand a bit more. Day 1 generally is quite mundane. Because we don’t want you to start working. We want you to get into the company and get all the necessary things in place: your laptop. Get comfortable. That is day 1.

We usually take them around the office to meet everyone just to say hi. A nice email is sent out with an introduction and then if time permits, that’s the day that they’re going to have lunch with the sales team, at least for my organization. That’s day 1.

From day 1 – Actually, the first week, that’s very important. In fact, within Spotify, we have a policy of making them feel comfortable within the entire first week. It’s all about getting to know people. You’re not out in market. You’re not, bam! day 1 out there selling. 

Based on that, we have very strong values and we want to make sure everybody embraces the culture. The first week is about that. 

Tom: Gotcha. They have a week kind of grace period. Just to kind of get familiar and where do I sit? Who do I talk to? What departments do I deal with and how do I kind of get things done internally? And then kind of hit the ground running. 

But even within the first 30 days, it’s not about making the money’s worth. Within the 30 days, it’s important for them to understand processes, to understand the product even more. They might have done some research, obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t have been hired as sales people. They would go through some of the accounts that either their predecessor have or if it’s a new role, what’s the goal for that new role? A lot of expectation setting in the first month. Even if they were to go out in the field, it is to share that with someone and just watch.

The last thing you want them to do is to jump straight in, make mistakes and feel demotivated.

What are some things that you notice in top performers that kind of are different from your average sales rep?

They need to be constantly self-motivator and passionate. Their love for the role, generally, you can see it in the work, in the way they talk, the way they communicate, and they constantly are charged up.

To be honest, it’s very hard to do. There will always be ups and down. But they always learn from their mistakes. Very quickly. Failing fast. These are some of the great traits of a top salesperson.

On the other part of it is someone needs to be able to know how to build relationships, be able to communicate well. The character part is very important here because with a client or direct advertiser or an agency, people can tell whether you’re genuine. People can tell whether you’re after their money only or do they care about the objective that you want to achieve.

Have you noticed anything unique about reps selling in Asia as oppose to other markets?

The important thing is to hire sales people who appreciate and understand local nuances. This local nuances is not just about how mature a market is. In the area of advertising, there’s a lot of tech involved. Is this market more mature? That’s not just about that. It’s about culturally when you’re talking to someone. It is a people-based industry where you have to talk to someone in order to close sales. To do so, you need to understand the things that you should be saying. How do you approach someone? What do they care about locally? That, I believe, if you say whether that’s a huge difference, I don’t think that changes a lot.

The fundamentals doesn’t change. You have to invest in the people that you’re talking to. Understanding where they come from. In that way, you connect well and that builds trust. 

It’s interesting when you compared Indonesia and Singapore. We find that – depends on the area that we’re focusing on, it’s not necessary that a develop market is more matured than a non-developed market, right? It depends on what the industry it pushes. Take Indonesia, for example, it’s a very tech focus industry.

How do you deal with the inevitable sales slump?

It’s hard when it comes by, but in our organization, it’s not a surprise when a sales slump happens. What’s important is we have a system in place within managers and the team that is constantly a weekly one-on-one for half an hour every week. In that one-on-one, we don’t just talk about, “Hey, how’s your number?” 

We talk about people issues. We talk about personal issues. We talk about areas of development.

If it’s a bad day, they will talk. Obviously, you have to build a level of trust. Again, down to some of our values that we care about transparency. It’s very important. When you have that conversation and when you get into a deeper development talk, it doesn’t come as a surprise. 

Obviously, if there are some issues, we identify it and we put processes in place like you need to be retrained. Because sometimes they forget when they are doing something autopilot, then we send them back to you [at SOCO].

What kind of mindset or perspective or point of view do you feel like sales people need to have?

We have a lot of internal trainings around the soft skills. We come to you [SOCO] for sales skills. What we do is we go through a lot of different training such as stakeholder management, time management training such as growth mindset. It’s not just growth mindset, it’s team growth mindset. Yeah, even two separate training, one for US individuals, and one on how do you work as a team. That mindset and how they approach issues and challenges, there needs to be some key tips that’s given to them. This kind of trainings helps them. Whenever we do talk, one thing is because everyone’s been through the training, we speak the same lingo, so we can use some of the trainings that we’ve learned to be able to draw them back and bring them into that level, same page, and say “Let’s tackle it this way, this way, and this way.” 

Note: a lot of tech companies are turning to an Agile Sales Methodology to manage their teams.

Tell us more about this passion?

It’s hard to pinpoint but you see in the quality of the work. You see that when they put something in, or they approach an issue, they don’t just go, “Alright, I’ll do it this way,” and then walk away. They look at it, they involve others, they become a team player instantly. Whatever they try to achieve is for the greater good. Not sometimes they’re for themselves, but for the team. 

So, the passion is not just about that fire. It’s passionate about the visitors. It’s passionate that our own business outcome is going to be affected based on my decision. So, the way they talk, the way they communicate, the way they involve others, the way they play nice. All this part and parcel are someone who’s passionate about the business. 

What final thoughts do you want to share with sales leaders, managers out there that are looking to build their sales team?

Overall, I would say if you have a goal or a mission for your organization, start with that. Start with what you want to achieve and then why you want to achieve it. Then think about who is going to help you achieve it. Don’t go out looking for rock stars if you don’t know what you want to achieve with these rock stars. Once you have that mission, then you know what success look like and who do I need to help me reach that success. There’s a lot of points to it, but in general, that has to be the starting point for a sales leader

You can’t hire sales people as ten strikers. You need defenders. You need midfielders. You need wingers. 

Learn More About Spotify

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This video transcript has been edited for easy reading.

Author Profile

Tom Abbott
Tom Abbott is the author of 'The SOHO Solution' and 'Social Selling' and the creator of the online sales training platform SOCO Academy. Sales leaders engage Tom for his proven solutions to building high performance sales teams that exceed targets and for motivational keynotes that energise their audiences.

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