After building and leading sales teams for several successful startup companies, I’ve learned a few things about when a company should hire its first sales person, what type of person to look for, and how to ramp them up with effective sales training and mentoring. If you’ve built a product or service, gained some market traction, and no longer have time to do all the selling yourself, then this advice is for you.
Many businesses start with an idea for solving a business or technical problem with a team of two or three people who set the vision, pitch the business, and build the solution. However your business was launched, you eventually get to one or more of the following pivotal points:
- Your product or service is complete and you’ve started selling it to customers
- Your customers are fully engaged and using your product or service
- Your business is at a critical mass and other demands prevent you from selling enough on your own
If more than one of the above applies to your business, chances are you’re ready to make your first sales hire. But what type of hire will that be, and how will you fund it?
What Type of Sales Help Do You Need?
At the point of making this first sales hire, your business is still young and you may still rely on personal or angel funding. So how do you make it work? Consider your needs and resources against these options:
- Hire an appointment setter. As the business owner, you could potentially still spend 20-30% of your time on sales if you didn’t have to qualify your own leads or schedule all of the meetings. Consider hiring a fairly junior resource whose sole responsibility is to set appointments for you with interested prospects. This would open up some valuable sales time and you could compensate that person according to the number of appointments set, with a bonus for appointments that convert into deals.
- Hire a bag carrier. If you have the need and the funds, hire a field rep that can take on full sales responsibility and close deals. Be aware that you are very unlikely to find a good sales rep that is willing to work for commission only, so you’ll need to commit to funding a decent base salary for a certain period of time. Additional compensation may include a percentage of the gross profit from their sales, or in the case of a business with a monthly subscription model, you could pay the first one to two months’ service fees to the sales rep as their commission.
Ramping Up Your New Rep
Once you’ve made the commitment to hire a sales person, you’ll want to make sure you get them productive as quickly as possible. Most industries have a number of high-quality business coaches who can make sure your new hire speaks the language of your potential customers, and can teach them how to look for the best leads. Such coaches typically provide weekly mentoring sessions, playbooks, and even collateral. For example, Gary Pica of TruMethods and Stuart Selbst of Selbst Consulting are mentors who are widely recognized as effective coaches for the Managed Service Provider (MSP) community. I’ve found their services well worth the investment.
Keeping Your Sales Rep On Track
After your salesperson is hired and trained, proper management and oversight will make sure he or she is on track. You’ll want to set up weekly meetings to review what’s in the pipeline and make sure there are enough identified opportunities to keep the momentum going. Additionally, you’ll want to provide your rep with a resource for tracking leads and general Customer Relationship Management (CRM), which will also provide you with good reporting. Personally, I am a big fan of the SaaS offering from Salesforce.com and have deployed it at my last few companies. For a reasonable price, they offer a basic service that is highly customizable and can scale with your business.
The point of the first sales hire is an exciting time for a small company. I talk to a great many MSPs and other entrepreneurs at this stage in their business, and enjoy their energy and excitement. I also enjoy sharing with them what I’ve learned from my own experiences. In my next blog, I’ll provide sales compensation tips for startups.
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