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The Secret to Hiring Like HubSpot

August 09, 2012
by Walter Frick

Months ago, at HubSpot Analyst Day, I learned that the company had at one point hired an MIT intern to do a regression analysis on its sales hiring process. Only at HubSpot, right?

Ever since, I’ve been fascinated to learn more about how the company hires its salespeople, and last month SVP of Sales Mark Roberge wrote a post at Harvard Business Review providing some insights into the process:

Most companies screen sales candidates on “gut feel,” which does not scale. I aimed to inject quantitative analysis into this normally unscientific process.

Earlier this week I caught up with Roberge to hear more about his process, what worked, what didn’t, and what advice he’d give to companies looking to be more scientific about their sales process. The beauty of sales, after all, is that it’s uniquely quantifiable, the perfect place to get more scientific about hiring.

How HubSpot Hires Salespeople

So how did Roberge set about to be more scientific?

Before I held our first set of interviews, I drew up a list of twelve criteria that I thought would correlate with success in the sales role. The criteria were weighted according to relative importance, and the possible scores — on a scale of 1 to 10 — were defined precisely as to what each meant for that potential hire. The hiring began.

A year later, he brought in the MIT intern I’d heard about to do some analysis. Some of the criteria he’d guessed would be important turned out to be, including prior success. One thing to note: prior success didn’t have to be in sales.

Mark Roberge, HubSpot

Roberge believes in “the whole theory that people who are successful in the past are going to be successful with you as well,” and says it’s confirmed by HubSpot’s experience.

But not everything he guessed would be critical turned out to be. Take “objection handling,” the art of brushing aside your reason to not want to buy the product being pitched.

“I always put a lot of weight on that particular skill and there was no correlation,” he told me. “I still get excited when someone does that to me. It’s not like it hurts them.” The same was true for closing ability. Nice to have, but not very predictive of success.

He also missed “coach-ability” early on, which ended up having a high correlation to success. “Today it is the characteristic that I focus on the most on,” he wrote in HBR.

How You Can Hire Like HubSpot

The point of all this isn’t that you should hire based on coach-ability and prior success, and not on objection-handling or closing. What works for HubSpot might not work for you. What matters, according to Roberge, is the process.

Roberge revisits his criteria once a year, but how often you can glean relevant insights will depend on how frequently you’re hiring. And even if you’re not ready to crunch the numbers, he says much of the value of the process simply comes from thinking through criteria.

“Even if you’re not going to do something that’s as complicated as a regression analysis the process is even more important than the regression itself,” he said.

Defining the criteria you’re looking for and weighting them according to their importance is critically important. And then when someone doesn’t work out you can go back to the metrics and see where you erred.

As Roberge pointed out to me, “You don’t have to run a stats regression anlaysis to do all those things.”


The Secret to Hiring Like HubSpot

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