As a founder you’re selling every day, to VCs, to candidates, to vendors, to analysts, to the press and to customers. The first sales people at a startup tends to be the founder(s). No one can sell the company’s vision better than the founder(s) which is why they are best equipped for early sales results. However, you can’t scale with just the founders selling, you’ll need dedicated sales professionals. 

Ultimately your Vice President of Sales (VPS) will be able to drive more revenue per lead by putting in a strategy, process, training, and provide coaching but for now hiring the right sales rep or two may best suit your needs. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to hire the VPS too soon or worse hire the wrong profile. If the timing is wrong or you hire the wrong person it can damage your culture, stunt growth and cost$ you dearly. 

1. FIRST – Hire your first sales rep (the Closer)
There are a few signs that will tell you when the time is right to hire your first sales professional; 1) when companies are willing to pay you for your product, 2) when you’re receiving more leads than you can manage, 3) when you come to the realization you’re in over your head, 4) when you have the funds to afford a salesperson, 5) when your investors tell you to hire a sales rep 🙂

The Closer. This is your quota carrying rep who can go from lead to close.  It’s not ideal or efficient to have your only sales rep prospect and close but in the early stages it’s the best way to get the job done. However, his/her focus should be on working qualified sales opportunities (QSOs). A proven track record of closing and experience working at startups will be key for this profile…but this individual will likely not be senior level. In general, this individual has 3-5 years of relevant industry experience, has sold to a similar market (SaaS, ecommerce), similar title (CMO, CTO) and similar sales cycle. It is important that this person be well rounded so they can train your other key contributor, the SDR.  If you are founders with very little experience managing sales people it will be important to also hire someone that has worked at an organization that had a very good sales process in place. They can then lay the foundation for the sales process based on previous experience. 
Key attributes for this hire – proven closer $$$, self motivated, evangelist, buttoned up sale process, relevant selling experience and seeking a startup environment.

2. SECOND – Hire your sales development rep (SDR) to support/feed the Closer
The SDR. Your Closer can help recruit and then coach the SDR to maximize focus and results. The SDR’s main goal is to help build the pipeline for the Closer. This will entail qualifying inbound leads and generating outbound leads. Most early stage companies don’t get a tremendous number of quality inbound leads so it will be important to choose key outbound targets to focus on. Go after the “low hanging fruit” and focus on ideal profile targets that are in your sweet spot. Think of this sales hire as your key to qualifying and moving deals into the pipeline for the Closer to knock down. This individual tends to be less experienced with maybe 1-2 years of relevant experience. 
Key attributes for this hire – quick learner, good debater, curious, ambitious, embraces change, self motivated and seeking at startup environment.

You’re on your way!

Now that you have your two key sales contributors and a repeatable sales process you can start knocking down deals. It will be important to stay involved in the deals to gain valuable feedback on the, market, product, pitch and competition. 

Now bring in some help.

Next step, formulate a plan to scale the org and start adding more contributors. If you or your founders don’t have sales management experience you may want to bring in temporary help by working with an experienced sales advisor. A proven sales advisor should be able to help you formulate a sales strategy and process to continue to grow at scale. They can also help you choose or customize the necessary sales enablement tools you will need to implement along the way like, CRM, marketing automation and lead generation. Putting the right procedures in place from the beginning will keep your organization humming as you continue to scale. 

Happy hunting.

This model is best utilized for btob software deal sizes of mid-market$$ to enterprise$$$. If your business is more transactional and your deal sizes are SMB$ this model would need to be altered. 

Stay tuned for my next post – The Startup Founder’s Dilemma – When to hire your VPS?. 


You can also find me @vincebeese and