Career Strategies Apr 06 2011

Getting in on the Ground Floor at Groupon and Living Social

By kelly eggers

The daily deal business has grown rapidly in its relatively short lifespan, with valuations of startups such as Groupon and Living Social reaching billions. Along with venture backing has come hiring as companies rush to build revenue through sales.

Getting a job with a daily deal site, however, is no easy feat. The industry has attracted many applicants anxious to get in on the ground floor of something new that could one day make them rich. Successful job seekers need to have a thorough understanding of an industry with virtually no history as well as the tenacity to develop long-term relationships with customers.

We talked with hiring managers and executives with a few of the biggest sites in the daily-deal, preferred-pricing, and private flash-sale spaces to find out what stands out among the hundreds of job applications they receive every day. Here are a few of their suggestions:

Related: Salespeople Fuel Growth at Groupon, Living Social



Know the Space

Using a daily coupon site isn't enough to want and get a job at one -- that's a little like saying you want to be a chef because you like eating out at restaurants.

Instead, you need to understand the business, which is as much about offering coupons to consumers as it is about enticing vendors to offer discounts.

"The reps that really seem to get it are the ones who have seen a merchant light up with excitement when [they go] in with that business's coupon," says Patrick Albus, CEO of KGB Deals USA, "and then come to us with that same passion and excitement, and say 'How do I go about joining your team?'"

It's also important to understand the business of a particular site. Competition has led sites to try to distinguish themselves, so assuming all sites are alike is a quick way to end an interview. Do the legwork that it takes to find out where the industry itself has been, where it's going, and what has proven to be successful in terms of establishing -- and strengthening -- a business in the space.



Have Some Experience

A college education is a must-have for most sites as is sales experience. "We're not hiring a ton of entry-levels," says Dan Jessup, vice president of human resources at Chicago-based Groupon. "Those that are coming in with relevant experience are typically doing better."

Valued traits include previous business-to-business sales experience, an ability to articulate a value proposition, a history of opening new client accounts, and above all, an understanding of how and why small, local merchants want to advertise.

The same goes for jobs with fashion flash-sale site Ideeli, which also has a daily deal component. "We're looking for some experience," says Joel Greengrass, vice president of talent with the New York-based company. "We're probably not going to hire people right out of school because the risk is too high."

Likewise, risk is a factor when considering candidates with no business experience, he says. "We value when people are a student of retail or e-commerce," says Greengrass.

Entry-level applicants can make it at some sites in if they have passion for what they're selling. "Think of your friends who know all of the places to go on the weekend," says Claire Noonan, senior manager of recruiting for Gilt City, a subsidiary of flash-sale site Gilt Groupe. "Those are our curators."



Focus Your Resume and Cover Letter

People with years of sales experience in more mature industries are competing for these jobs, so make sure your resume is action-and-results-oriented, say hiring managers. "We like to see proven success in numbers," says Noonan of Gilt City. The industry also wants people willing to help companies grow over the long term. "We look for retention, and how someone has grown with the same company over time," says Noonan.

An absolute must? "The ability to work independently," says Julien Vernet, VP of sales at VillageVines, which partners with restaurants in cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, among others, to offer long-term preferred pricing and discounts, rather than one-day-only offers. "They need to be self-starters because they're going to be out in the field," he says.

Also, highlight any startup experience, and be sure your cover letter is short and sweet. "In the field, you have a limited amount of time, so you have to grab their attention and get them to listen to you pretty quickly," says Albus of KGB Deals.

Focus on your people skills. "If someone tells us they have cultural or humanitarian pursuits, a food blog, involvement in a philanthropy," says Noonan, it shows that they would be a good fit.



The Interview: Go in for the Right Reasons

You will struggle in the interview if you're not passionate about the social-couponing industry; the hiring manager will sense it if you're there just to have a buzz-worthy company name on your resume to help you land your next job.

You'll start with a phone-screen, and move on to meetings with sales reps, managers, and company execs. You may have to act out some mock scenarios where you try to pitch the site to a business. While specific questions will vary, every company will probably ask you to justify why you want to work there.

"The most basic question can make or break the interview," says Greengrass: "Why ideeli?" He suggests you answer with reasons that show your knowledge of and interest in the company and its mission -- not with the fact that you "like to shop there."

At Groupon, Jessup notes that it's a common practice to call up applicants before bringing them in for an interview to gauge the candidate's interest in working for the company. "The interest has to go both ways," he says.

"We're looking for the person getting into the job for the right reasons," says Jeremy Thiesen, a regional sales manager with KGB deals, who oversees two city managers and 16 sales reps in Chicago and New York City, "which means they're not getting into it because this is a fad job and it's in the news."



Choose Wisely

Not all sites are cut from the same cloth, so before sending in your resume, research the viability of the site's business model.

"A candidate should do their homework, and understand the company," says Noonan of Gilt City. "Think critically about our brand and the competitive landscape."

Understand what niche the company is trying to fill and how it's differentiating itself from the competition. Sites that appeal to both merchant and consumer are better bets than others, says Ben McKean, co-founder of VillageVines.

"I think we're in the first inning of a massive market, we'll see a lot of players move into the space," McKean says. "The key to really having success is finding a specific area you'll own." Some sites are luxury-focused, others cater to restaurants or spas, for instance.

To really evaluate a site and its long-term potential, weigh its age, funding, traffic and sales figures, says Boyan Josic, founder and editor of Daily Deal Media, a resource for news and trends within the industry.

"Search the name of the company to find out if they've taken any funding, and how much," says Josic, and make sure the funding round is recent -- hiring surges at startups often come on the heels of funding rounds. Compete.com can tell you how much web traffic a site is getting.

Another other way to evaluate a company's economics is to ask during the interview process how many deals they expect to close and how much revenue the average deal generates, says Jay Weintraub, founder of the Daily Deal Summit, an April 6 event in New York City focusing on the future of alternative commerce sites.

Josic also recommends visiting the sites you're debating between and checking out how many deals they're selling. Most will publish how many deals have sold each day, or if a flash-sale item has sold out -- a good indicator of how much traffic and business it's getting.

It's a mistake to assume every site requires the same skill set. Determine your strengths, the job criteria that's most important to you, then move forward from there. It's not a one-size-fits-all industry, and you'll need to be ready to scale the unique challenges that come with a sales career, especially one in a burgeoning, bustling sector.

Related: Salespeople Fuel Growth at Groupon, Living Social

Write to Kelly Eggers



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