Advertising Technology

Hiring for the Rolodex? Big Mistake

The Makegood is pleased to welcome Ellie Windle as a monthly contributor to The Makegood. Look for her column every fourth Wednesday on The Makegood. Ellie is Sales Director at MediaMath, the leading provider of digital media trading technology and services.

If you have ever hired a sales professional in the Ad Tech industry, you may have experienced the following: You interview a sales rep. Their background seems like a great fit, and they are name-dropping like Kim K at a Beyoncé concert. There are few red flags, but they seem to know all the right people and you need to fill this position ASAP, so you make an offer. They negotiate an insanely high base, which you pay, because by now you think you have to have them. They join your company…and do not sell ANYTHING.

Having been both an Executive Recruiter and a Sales Director in the industry, I have chatted with a lot of Ad Tech sales reps. Glancing at my Linked-In connections, I would estimate I have interviewed over 500 sales candidates and placed around 40. The good news: There are some fantastic sales professionals out there. The bad news: Most aren’t fantastic at all…but they can spin a good game in an interview.

Over the next few months I’ll be outlining the most common mistakes that are made when filling a sales position. I would argue most mis-hires are a result of the industry’s obsession with the Rolodex. You can avoid this by following three basic mantras:

The Rolodex is Extremely Overrated: You have a fancy new company, and you want to hire someone who already knows all the right people. You dream that everyone on that list is going to go bananas over your product. This person is going to make you a fortune! Right? Wrong. The truth is that it is impossible to build a “strong relationship” with everyone in your Rolodex. And more importantly, there will be a large portion that does not translate.

  • If the sales rep worked at a larger company, there is a chance many of their contacts returned their call out of necessity. If they join a start-up that does not have an established product, many of these buyers will no longer take the meeting.
  • A sales rep may in fact have a great contact on the Microsoft team, but that doesn’t mean they have the right contact for your product. They have a way to get in the door, but they are still going to need to build a new relationship, and that takes time.
  • People move around- Having a best friend on the P&G team is amazing… but subject to change…probably within the next 6 months.
  • Keep in mind that a Rolodex may mean a few quick meetings, but it is also full of landmines. (Missed deadlines, miscommunications, failed campaigns, disagreements and awkward drunk discussions) When you hire a sales rep with a list, you are also hiring their baggage.

The Game Plan Matters: More important than a sales rep who can name drop, is a sales rep with a clear plan. Here are the questions that DO matter when it comes to a Rolodex:

  • Who would be the first 3 people you would call in this role and why? If they answer this in a vague way, or drop 15 names, that is not the right answer. The right answer should include three very specific names, where they work, their role, and most importantly why the sales person would call them. This gives you an opportunity too not only vet their relevant contacts but also helps you assess their knowledge of your value proposition and its position in the market.
  • Who are the contacts on your list that you cold called (or even knew from a previous job), got a meeting, and closed a net new deal for your company? How much was the deal for? How did the campaign go?

These questions cut to the chase. Sales reps often hide behind deals and relationships that were already established. They can hide behind large quotas that were largely driven by renewals from their account team. It’s critical that you separate the wheat from the chaff.

“Je Ne Sais Quoi” Matters the Most: A fantastic seller, with “it” qualities, and a clean slate will beat a mediocre sales rep with a Rolodex full of landmines any day. The best sales people do not need to know buyers in advance. They will know how to find the correct contact, get a meeting, communicate the value, and ultimately close the sale. Meanwhile, the C players keep bouncing around the industry, wasting time and money, because Sales Managers keep thinking that a list matters.

It’s time to stop obsessing over the Rolodex. It’s the most common reason Sales Managers compromise. They let their desire for a silver bullet blind them from the truth: Hiring a top sales rep in this competitive market is really really hard. But more on that soon…


Ellie Windle is a contributor at The Makegood and Sales Director at MediaMath. MediaMath is the leading provider of digital media trading technology and services, and invented the demand side platform (DSP).

  • MediaMath

    Great article written by our very own, Ellie Windle, Sales Director #MediaMath

  • Paul K

    Couldn’t agree more, Ellie. A good sales person FINDS the right people; a good sales rep closes deals with inbounds just as well.

  • iknowtherealdeal

    a good sales rep also doesnt sign ridiculous non-competes like the one MM has. 🙂

  • Don Scott

    In principle, I agree. However, Ellie is simply suggesting honing in on the quality of the Rolodex. Rolodex in any industry equals silver bullet which baloney. What matters is the quality of the individual – their intelligence (intellectual and emotional), their street smarts, their motivation and their ability to learn and adapt.
    Then there’s the whole issue of aligning marketing and sales so sellers are aimed at the right opportunities. The list of “must haves” for effective selling and this discussion can go much deeper and broader, but not in this comment. Bottom line – the Rolodex is a minor factor in building an elite, effective saleforce.

  • Chelsi D.

    Well said, Ellie. Thank you for breaking down this process.

  • Xavier Jenkins

    Great article Ellie. Lots of people know lots of people today. It’s easy to oversell even the thinnest connection as real. I’ve wrestled with how to distinguish myself from the pack. So, I got excited when you pointed out some of the finer points of evaluating a salesperson’s rolodex. In my view the rolodex is really just proof of that person’s ability to sell (plan, execute, assess and adapt and execute again). Here’s how I’ve presented mine as a point of distinction.
    1. I’ve built my career in mostly start-ups, selling new and transformative technologies. That’s required me to cold call and build relationships. My rolodex is built on work.
    2. My rolodex is broken down into three categories to keep it relevant and fresh.
    A. Those I’ve closed.
    B. The good relationships built in unsuccessful sales efforts
    C. Those people I sold to who have moved on to new companies.
    3. I stratgegize, early in the interview process, on who I’d call early on. I’m always ready to share that in the interview process.
    I’m glad you shed some light on this.

  • SuperJew23

    Also, a good sales should know how to make things simple for their clients instead of trying to over-complicate an already complex space. It also helps when they can walk into a solid book of business set forth by a previous rep. Last point, @c87815cd99c8f8b987be418c110fbb2b:disqus you are most definitely right. Ridiculous non-competes don’t help the industry. California realized this years ago and has hence found them erroneous. Give your employees incentives to stay rather than use Draconian measures to keep them from leaving.

  • Doug Weaver

    The Rolodex is the most over-valued red herring in the hiring process. Stop reading the resume and start asking sales process questions. Get a prospect to describe a very specific deal and how they kept it from going South. Or how about this: “Tell me how that deal would not have happened if you had not been there.” Then wait patiently. It’s time for our industry to stop renting the same 300 people from recruiters and start getting thoughtful and creative about hiring. Good article Ellie. I don’t know about the haters making ridiculous comments here about non-competes: stupid use of a great comment space if you ask me.

    • Ellie Windle

      Thank you so much for your comment Doug! I really appreciate it.

    • Mr Bean

      Doug –
      You clearly don’t understand how important a Rolodex is when bringing in talent that can make an immediate impact to your business. When vetting a sales rep there is a lot to be said in regards to the company they are coming from and accounts/relationships they have. Yes if they are throwing out names and previously worked at company that is a no one then you should call the contacts and ask them the realtionship they have with the clients mentioned. At the end of the day if that rep gets the job and and cant produce after 2 months they should be kicked to the curb. If you talk the talk walk the walk, if you don’t get out. Also people move around that’s the industry if you have relationships you will get business. Also this is online advertising, why would there ever be non competes in place that is just plain stupid.

    • Matt Straz

      I could not agree more, Doug. The last sales team I built was with account managers with agency/publisher backgrounds. They knew how to listen to clients and we built sales organically with strong partnerships. My only bad hire? Someone with an extensive sales background. The person did a ton of sales activity (calls, keeping Salesforce up to date, etc.) but no actual sales. I’ve learned since then that sales involve the whole organization and there are no silver bullet hires.

  • JZ

    Nice article – Desire, wit and “sticking to it” wins the clients. Old contacts that may be a poor fit might never help get the sale.

  • Katniss

    Great article Ms. Windle. You made extremely valid points, and gave great examples. Looking forward to your next post.

  • nicholas johnson

    Well said Ellie. We should all have brooms in our office to sweep up after all the name dropping that happens in these interviews. Track record, strong fundamentals and the ability to build solutions for marketers are key to me. “Loves to entertain” is not a phrase that endears.

  • Mark Mannino

    Nice job, Ellie. Apparently I hired well. On the flip side to the rolodex I’d say to follow your gut. Don’t feel you need to make a hire. Better to not hire than to make a bad hire. And if you’re trying to talk yourself into the hire, don’t do it. That’s your gut telling you not to do it. It takes months to get out of a bad hire and it sucks for both sides.

  • Canaan

    What the fuck is a Rolodex?

  • Alyssa Lauren Stone

    Great article, Ellie Windle. It’s hard to believe that we haven’t, to this day, ran into each other yet… I’m looking forward to that day. You were a FANTASTIC recruiter and I absolutely loved working with you!

    • Ellie Windle

      Thanks for the note Alyssa! It was great working with you as well. Let’s plan to run into each other soon!

  • bevo

    I hired a quote sales manager big talker and as it panned out, couldn’t sell anything. Wanted an expense account, gas card, wanted to smoooooze clients with pricing lunches and gifts, so after two months of no sales, we let him carefully bury himself in his lies. After He left, we approached the client base he tried to smoooze and sold it with just a simple conversation. We will need more sales folks at minute marketing .net but the ones that dont have a job or have been let go from a job are not the ones that you want in your organization, the big hot air attitudes need not apply

    • Matt Straz

      So true. The world has changed. What customers really seem to want are solutions and people who actually listen.

  • Charles Cantu

    Great Article Ellie and 100% on point.

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