When startup founders decide to hire their first salesperson, they try to assess the risks involved in changing their engineering-focused culture by bringing in someone for sales.
They know what the upside could be, but wonder what the downside of making their first sales hire might look like.
Before you do any sales recruiting, you need to make sure you understand the top risks involved in order to be able to proactively manage them and maximise your chances of successfully building your startup sales team.
Risk #1: Losing touch with your customers
If you put sales into a silo you’re not involved in anymore, you miss out on a lot of market intel. Engaging with prospects and listening to their objections is indispensable for you.
That means talking to them one-on-one, observing their body language, and having real conversations. You, as a founder, need the first-hand experience.
It will help you to gain a much deeper understanding of your customers and with that achieve product/market fit faster.
Risk #2: Not being able to judge sales performance
If you don’t have a robust sales model yet, the performance of your sales reps is most likely going to be hit- or-miss. You can’t expect predictable sales when you haven’t achieved product/market fit. It’s going to be erratic and all over the place.
Trying to manage that kind of volatile sales machinery can be a huge (and expensive) waste of time. You need to make sure you have the right expectations and allow your salesperson to explore and experiment until you hit sales/market fit.
Risk #3: Hiring a salesperson can screw up your culture
Salespeople and engineers have different DNA. They communicate and think differently. Bringing salespeople on board can cause a lot of misunderstanding and office politics.
You want ambitious, unstoppable salespeople. But make sure they are compatible with your company culture. Be proactive about integrating them into the larger team and teach them how to communicate effectively with engineers and vice versa.
Risk #4: Hiring the wrong kind of sales personality
Some people are great at closing deals but still bad for your business because they’re too aggressive.
They’ll try to close deals that shouldn’t be closed, and they’ll stretch the truth or lie to customers just to earn a commission. They don’t care about long-term viability, they just care about bringing in cash today.
They can hurt your brand and reputation and destroy any trust you have in the marketplace.
They’re the opposite of mercenaries: too soft. They lack the ambition to succeed in sales.
They won’t pursue prospects properly. They’ll be too timid in everything they do and ultimately fail to bring in enough deals.
A great salesperson has to be both competitive and compassionate!
Risk #5: Hiring sales leadership too soon
When founders bring in seasoned sales veterans, it’s usually because they think the five, 10, 15 or even more years of sales experience will help grow their startup faster.
But these people are often not good at sales exploration. They are good at selling something the market already knows and understands, not creating completely new sales models for a startup. But that’s probably exactly what you need right now. Your sales activities will look something like this:
- figuring out how to sell your product/crafting your first pitch
- building a sales funnel from scratch
- developing sales materials
- creating a sales objection document
- making referrals part of your lead generation process
- writing and testing cold email templates to generate more leads
So when is the right time to bring in sales leadership?
When you’ve surpassed the phase of sales exploration and need to focus on sales execution, when you already have a proven sales model, sales scripts, product/market fit and sales materials—aka predictability in your sales model.
by Steli Efti