When you’re hiring a salesperson for your startup software company, don’t hire a salesperson. When you’re hiring an entry-level manager for your developers, don’t hire an entry-level manager. When you’re hiring a receptionist, don’t hire a receptionist. Kinda contradictory, eh?

Instead, hire someone who will start as a salesperson and could grow into a sales manager, sales mentor, or more. Hire someone who will be a fine entry-level manager, then grow into a division leader, vice president, or more. And hire a receptionist with the potential to maybe someday fill the role of company president. It’s happened before.

Too often, we hire people whose full potential and ambition are invested in performing the jobs they’re hired for. Then, when we need more from them, they’re not able or willing to go the extra mile.

Your goal should be to have at all times (or be working toward) at least one employee with the skills, personality, character, ambition, and technical competence to take over your position right away. Without this:

  • Your company will be unable to attain its growth goals quickly, reducing future sales and profits
  • If you are incapacitated for an extended period of time, the business will suffer damage

I learned that second lesson the hard way when I was diagnosed with cancer. Our company was in a growth mode, but I had to sit on the sidelines for several months to focus on my health. I was fortunate we had hired several high-potential people who filled in for me when I was sidelined by my surgery and chemo treatments.

To illustrate the importance of hiring for bench strength, let me offer an example of a successful hire I saw blossom. We hired Tim as an Account Executive right out of college. He sparked our revenue growth then grew into sales leadership roles. He not only mentored sales reps, he steered us into new and profitable markets.

Tim’s Résumé: Tim had just graduated with a marketing degree from Penn State and worked evenings cleaning offices.

Why We Hired Tim: Would you have hired Tim for a B2B sales job based on that résumé? Most people wouldn’t. But we offered Tim a job because his life beyond work proved that he possessed responsibility and humility. Nobody I know really wants to clean offices — especially while going to school full time — but Tim did both because he was supporting his newborn child and fiancée. We also felt we owed Tim an interview because of how we met him. When our company representative arrived at the campus where Tim’s college was hosting a job fair, she couldn’t find a local newspaper to purchase. Students and faculty members walked past her. But Tim saw she was lost, offered directions, and walked with her to find a paper.

Tim Developed Into: One of our best-ever sales reps. His unassuming, inquisitive, low-pressure approach to prospects was endearing and allowed him to gather facts that helped him make the sale. Lots of sales. Tim’s interest in his customers was evident in his candid conversations with them. He didn’t just try to sell them; he genuinely helped them. Tim also believed in helping his teammates, so he volunteered to take on responsibilities beyond his sales job. We eventually promoted him, and he excelled again. He not only offered practical advice to his direct reports, he brought to our management meetings the salesperson’s perspective that other sales leaders lacked. And, being as candid with us as he was with his customers, Tim spoke his mind when he disagreed with an action we were planning to take. Tim not only helped us make better decisions, he helped us effectively communicate changes to the entire sales team. Tim was a key player in eliminating an us vs. them attitude from our company.

Boy, am I glad our recruiter got lost looking for a paper at the job fair! And I’m glad we looked beyond Tim’s thin résumé to learn what’s inside him. He proved to be responsible to his family, his customers, his co-workers, and his employer.

The first step in building a strong bench for your startup is to raise your hiring standards. Hire high-capacity, high-initiative people who can grow beyond their initial role in your organization.

Three tremendous interview questions ISVs can ask related to bench strength:

  • What do you consider the single most important idea you contributed or your single most noteworthy accomplishment in your present job? In a previous job?
  • Tell me about a time you failed at something and what you learned as a result of that experience.
  • Tell me about a time you dealt with an angry or frustrated customer.


Jim Roddy is a Reseller & Software Developer Business Advisor for Vantiv’s PaymentsEdge Advisory Services and he’s author of the book Hire Like You Just Beat Cancer. Jim has been active in the IT channel since 1998, including 11 years as the President of Business Solutions Magazine, six years as a Retail Solutions Providers Association (RSPA) board member, and one term as RSPA Chairman of the Board. Jim is regularly requested to speak to software developer executives at conferences in the IT industry.