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Startup Sales Hiring Part 2: Who Should You Hire For Your First Salesperson?
Categories: entrepreneurship, Sales

Thanks for coming back to read part 2 of our series on startup sales hiring! In today’s installment, we’ll talk about who you should hire for your first salesperson. Here is what else we will or have already covered in this series (links will appear as these posts become active):

Your First Salesperson Should Be An Evangelist For Your Company!

Your First Salesperson Should Be An Evangelist For Your Company!

OK. So yesterday, we covered when you should hire your first salesperson. The quick recap is that you should only hire your first person once you’ve figured out yourself your company’s scalable, repeatable sales process. That is not an easy task by any means, but once you’ve got it out of your way, you’re ready to start considering a first sales hire to take your new sales process and add a little leverage to it. Who should that first salesperson be? What should they be like, and what characteristics should you look for?

First and foremost, let’s talk about what attributes salespeople can typically offer and which of these are most important to a startup:

  • Passion and energy – the belief that a salesperson puts behind what they sell
  • Sales knowledge and skill – how well a salesperson understands how to sell strategically
  • Vertical experience – a salesperson’s prior experience selling the type of product/service you create into the industries that you target
  • Customer contacts – the proverbial rolodex of past customers and contacts that a salesperson has sold to

There are other minor factors we could include in this list, but the above covers most of what you should care about when looking for your first salesperson. And now lets look at how you should evaluate each of the above when looking at sales candidates, as well as which you should prioritize the most.

Priority #1: Passion And Energy

As an entrepreneur, you have to have this in droves. Your first salesperson should have it too. In fact, I’d say that this is the most important thing to look for in your first salesperson. There are a lot of salespeople on the market who are looking to get handed a list of hot leads with an easily sold product and a large base with a huge commission. I bet none of those apply to your company at the moment. And there are only two things that can take the place of all of that: passion and energy. Your first salesperson has to believe in your company and what you do enough to want to work under the more difficult circumstances of a startup. They have to be excited about the startup environment, and contribute even more energy back to the company. If you don’t find someone who shares your passion and energy, you’ll end up with a disgruntled salesperson…and little or no sales.

Priority #2: Sales Knowledge And Skill

This is actually also an essential requirement. In fact, even simple products can have sales processes that are rather complex, time consuming and require proper strategy in each account to maximize success. There may be more than one person required to approve the sale. There may be a proper sequence of contacting those multiple people to make a sale. There may be a need to have preexisting knowledge about a prospect’s technology suite to understand whether or not it even makes sense to spend time on that prospect. A skilled salesperson takes all of this into account when they qualify a prospect as a potential customer, as well as when they begin to engage with that prospect. Think about the last time you received a cold call from a sales rep for something that made no sense at all to you. That is unskilled sales. You need to avoid that at all cost. Hiring a skilled salesperson achieves that goal.

Priority #3: Vertical Experience

Is your product or service focused on a specific market (retailers or the government, for instance)? Does it fall into a particular category of products (CRM systems or wikis, for instance)? It’s useful, but not necessary, to find a salesperson who has vertical experience in the market you sell to, or the category within which your company would be classified. With that type of experience, they’ll have better knowledge of what is important to customers, what the competitive landscape looks like, and how sales are typically run. However, a smart and energetic salesperson will take it upon themselves to figure these things out for themselves (hopefully with your help and expertise as well), thereby making this less of a requirement than passion and skill. Of course, one other advantage that occasionally comes with prior vertical experience is a salesperson’s rolodex. How much does that matter? Read on…

Priority #4: Customer Contacts

The rolodex. Most long-time salespeople will tout just how huge their rolodex is. What they often don’t mention, however, is whether or not the people in that rolodex: know them, like them, will buy from them, etc. Some salespeople are loved and respected by their customers. Others, however, are loathed and looked down upon. Many fall somewhere in between on that spectrum, and have a mix of champions and detractors. Do as many past customer reference calls as possible to understand what those customers think of your prospective salesperson. Don’t just call the prospective salesperson’s self-provided references. Try to ferret a few out on your own. And there is one more thing to consider in terms of a saleperson’s rolodex. Are most of their contacts relevant prospects for your business? If the answer is no, then this just doesn’t matter.

The Summary: Your First Salesperson Should Be An Evangelist

So there you have it: the four key factors to consider when hiring your first startup salesperson. One unique thing you might notice as you read down this list: the priorities are skewed towards salespeople who are younger and have less experience. That’s because a startup is primarily evangelizing and selling a customer on the team and the vision. That means that the salesperson needs to reflect that excitement. If they’ve been around an industry for decades, they are going to rely on other, less exciting advantages like their rolodex. Is that how you want your business represented to new customers? We didn’t think so.