Marketing · Sales

What Are The Best Ways To Vet A Potential Co-Founder For Marketing and Sales Roles?

Devin Dixon Business Developer Extraordinaire

May 3rd, 2016

I have a well developed and growing early stage start-up. We have customers, revenue and most importantly, more work than one person can do alone. Ideally, I need someone who can lead marketing and another person to lead sales. A lot of people hold the title of "Marketing" and "Sales" but I've only been blown about way by one person that truly impressed me.

What are some questions or signs I should ask or look for when trying to find someone to fill these positions as a co-founder?

Chicke Fitzgerald

May 3rd, 2016

Devin - you are right, sales and marketing are not the same thing.

Those of us that are great at marketing, tend to focus on either strategic marketing (planning and approach) versus tactical marketing (getting the word out and building out all of the tools that sales will need). While we may be able to cross from the strategic to the tactical, we are generally not great at sales.

A true sales person (that can both open doors and CLOSE sales), generally needs for someone to hand them the target list, the features/benefits, the sales materials, the price list, the demo, contracts, NDAs, etc. Don't expect a rock star sales person to be able to develop any of that.

The point that I make about a sales person being able to open doors and close deals is a very important one. If your sales person is only good at opening doors, that is like having someone who can get people to come to a party, but that cannot entertain and ensure everyone has fun.  All of that falls to the host (you). That bottleneck is untenable, as the founder is generally most passionate about the product but is not always the most detailed oriented to do the follow up necessary to get a deal closed.

Also sales and business development are not the same thing. A sales person generally knocks on one door at a time, selling a product or a service. Business development in my vernacular, is finding someone that calls on hundreds of my targets and embedding my solution into their product or into their portfolio. Think of biz dev as finding channel partners who can help quickly scale your business.

You need all of these roles to succeed. You need someone on the strategic thinking side that can ensure you are going after the right targets with the right product at the right time and someone that develops the right tools for the sales people to approach those targets and get them closed. You need biz dev to help scale quickly and to add to your credibility.

If you found one person that embodied all of these things, grab them, but first do your due diligence and make sure that it is all true.

Bruce Carpenter Co-founder and Principal, Harbour Bridge Ventures

May 3rd, 2016

You have recognized one of the most important challenges facing every startup, earning a viable place in the market. When reviewing startup investment opportunities our group believes the viability of their Go to Market program along with an evaluation of the team are among the most important factors.

Selecting the right resources for Marketing and Sales are indeed key to the success of your opportunity. Let's try to separate the two for a moment. Depending upon the nature of the opportunity and available resources and capital, the marketing needs of the startup may be served by either a marketing firm or a full time, employed marketing professional. Whichever you choose the evaluation process can be similar. I suggest you ask potential firms or candidates essentially to prepare and present a marketing program for your review and discussion with them that includes the essential elements of a good marketing program along with a proposed budget for those activities. If they are well qualified this should be relatively easy for them to accomplish and will allow you to compare the proposed programs. Additionally, request references of others they have assisted previously to help evaluate their track record of success and ability to work effectively as a part of a team. Of course, there will be other evaluation criteria you will want to explore such as cultural fit, knowledge of and experience with your target market and industry. All of this should help in assessing various resources.

Lead sales professional resources, in our view, cannot be outsourced in most instances. With a few exceptions I favor employing strong sales professionals directly. Even if your start up is pursuing channel partnerships or distributors, you will need a sales professional to acquire and manage those. Your evaluation should include careful examination of their successful history in your industry and with your intended target market. Asking questions such as "Tell me who the first 10 prospects you feel would be good targets and who you would contact in those organizations," will help you evaluate their familiarity with your target market. Role playing several types of sales scenarios, including cold calls is a good technique also. I would ask them to describe what they believe is an ideal sales cycle for your business opportunity. Request they include the gates that exist between each sales cycle stage and what they believe is the normal elapsed time in each stage of the cycle. True sales professionals should find it easy to address these sort of questions. Again, you will also want to evaluate their prior business development skills, cultural fit, etc. This type of approach to evaluating candidates should help you choose the most likely candidates to succeed in this role for your opportunity.

Good luck with it.

Aaron Vargas

May 3rd, 2016

I guess I should elaborate. I was in a similar position for my consulting practice. I hired a sales gun and the wrong person for support. The decision set me back a few months and several thousand, not to mention missed sales revenue as well as opportunity costs. You work hard I'm assuming to create an incredible culture, so it's important that you protect it by choosing your company's leadership very carefully.

A few of the "brass tacks" things I learned:
-make sure to triple check full background
-talk to their previous employers (I wouldn't recommend this in other roles as much but sales is a "people business")
-think about whether or not the products they sold in the past were easy sells or difficult sells (some products sell themselves)
-ensure they have relevant experience (this is a given)
-test the work relationship with small non-binding contracts at first (make sure to include nda and noncompetes)
-make sure they work well with instructions (some of the best leaders areself-governed. This can be both astrength and weakness and has to be mitigated with clear roles, duties, and instruction...basically your process)

That's the general due diligence advice. Onto to the tech savv entrepreneurship part...

I learned that I could automate most of the process. So I did. After knowing my process almost by heart I just built it. Instead of hiring 100 helpers, I decided to build 100 helpers in the form of software. We have incredible tools at our disposal these days to build great business process innovations.

I'm now able to do in a few moments what took me and a sales team about two weeks to complete in the past. At this stage, since you need consistent, reliable, and longterm cash flow so critically I recommend you look into innovating (and integrating these innovations into your business) as much as possible, having strong processes, and only then running due diligence of testing waters to find good sales leadership that fit well within that culture.

Thomas Kaled Business Development Consultant @

May 3rd, 2016

@Devin Dixon are you designating the position of "co-founder" for these positions to spare cash outlay? Given your description of the maturity of the venture "co-founding"  no longer seems possible. Key employee with Stock Options perhaps?

Lonnie Sciambi

May 3rd, 2016


You have a two-fold challenge.  It's tough enough to find the right kind of sales and marketing professional for this key function.  They not only need to have been successful in that function, but should, best case, also understand and have experience in the market in your selling into.  But having that person have "co-founder" status raises it to a whole different level. So, let's deal with that.

In finding the right co-founder the best advice I can offer is "think marriage," because that is what it will be.  You will probably be spending as much, if not more, time with this person than with your significant other.  So approach it that way. Top of the list, make sure your values and short- and long-term personal and professional objectives are compatible and that the chemistry between you works.  For more on this, I wrote a blog post a while back that should provide you both guidance and insight -

Hope this helps and good luck,

Will Steward CEO, Cobloom: Helping B2B SaaS Startups to Find Traction & Increase Revenue

May 3rd, 2016

I'm assuming for the sake of my answer that you're looking at something B2B, rather than B2C. If it's B2C then my answer to the marketing side would change a bit.

There's three main areas I'd focus on:
  1. Culture fit - does the person you're hiring fit the culture you're looking to build? Would you go for a beer with this person? As Lonnie said, "think marriage". If you have doubts about whether they're the right fit, absolutely do not hire them, no matter how good their credentials. 

  2. Previous experience - sales & marketing is increasingly complex. Automation and technology is enabling much more, but this means that many "veterans" have outdated skillsets which mean they're not ideal hires. Instead of looking for someone who has decades of experience, or very senior experience, look for someone who has produced results, and recently, with the latest tech. 

    So e.g. digital marketing, inbound/content marketing & marketing automation skills for a marketer; CRM, Sales Automation & prospecting skills for a sales role. 

    Then really dig into achievements. Look for people who are data orientated, and scientific in their approach. Sales/Marketing is not an art, it's a science, which should be led by data. This is contrary to the "old school" way of thinking of each function. 

    For a Sales co-founder, the ideal fit would be someone who has previously developed a Sales Process for a relevant early stage Startup. Failing that, someone who was part of the core Sales Team from the early days, looking to step-up their career. You don't want someone who only has experience working as part of a very established company -- they'll be great at executing a proven process, but you need someone who can develop one. This person will have either worked closely with someone that's done it before, or done it before themselves.

    For a marketing co-founder, you're looking for someone who has done much the same on the marketing side. Ignore quotes like "I increased followers by X", "I got Y visits to the website", "I got Z blog subscribers". They're all vanity metrics. You want to look for someone who has measurably increased revenue with marketing. If not revenue, then Sales Qualified Leads. Basically something down-funnel and linked to Business Results.
Hope that helps, feel free to shoot me a message if you'd like to discuss a bit further. It's hard work finding top sales & marketing talent, but the right people are out there.

Thomas Kaled Business Development Consultant @

May 3rd, 2016

@Chicke Fitzgerald  there are a number of operational definitions for "Founder" and "Founder Team" one reference of which I will cite below. Absent an academic analysis of @ Devin Dixon's actual operation however there are a number of key pieces to my positing the question actually put forward by Devin and upon a cursory examination of which appears to be the operation about which he is posing the question. At the point where revenue from sale of the product is being produced, the concept/construct fleshed out without the principal providing explanation and his characterization of   "well developed and growing early stage start-up" cause me to think he is asking about a key employee rather than co-founder. In any case here is the reference and I am more than happy to modify my question to him if he restates the case:

New Firm Creation in the United States: Initial Explorations with the PSED ...

edited by Paul D. Reynolds, Richard T. Curtin

Graham MBA CEO at XelAqua, Inc.

May 3rd, 2016

Sometimes you don't want a person but processes, tools and a mentor. Having the right market pays for the services of a competent marketing business. 

Mustafa Hegab Global Director of Business Development and Client Advocacy at Unisys

May 3rd, 2016

Let's meet. Sounds like an interesting idea. I've been a sales leader for the past 10 years and have an MBA in marketing. Where are you based? Mustafa Sent from my iPhone

Michael Mahan CBDO and President DevCo Younicos

May 3rd, 2016

My recommendation is to create a list of the top 10 characteristics for the footprint or "DNA" and most important after you have qualified the candidate is the vibe working together.  This is best understood during a 6 month probation / test drive working together.  The relationship and DNA of the company founders contribute towards the culture of the company and inspire other team members.  Leadership skills of the company founders will drive success. Hope this helps your search. All the best,Mike   Michael Mahanmahan3@sbcglobal.net4250 Driftwood Place Discovery Bay, CA 94505Mobile Phone: 925-917-0437Office: 925-240-9105Skype: mwmahan