Sales · Saas

Who is the right first sales hire?


July 13th, 2015

I’ve been doing the sales for our startup but now with a few sales made I’d like to make our first sales hire. But the question remains, who do I entrust to sell our product after it’s never been brought to market before? Is it someone with a sales rep background, more of an entrepreneurial background or someone with management experience, or all three? Curious to hear how startup founders have hired their first salesperson - what has worked and what hasn’t?

Patrick Bultema Co-Founder, Chairman & Co-CEO - FoodMaven

July 13th, 2015

After a bunch of years doing startups, I can tell you this is one of the hardest, most important hires a startup will make.  It's a very different thing for the founder / zealot to sell.  You sell out of your passion, vision and charisma for what you are creating.  And people buy "from you."  All too often, founders assume that since they have now sold a few, they are ready to hire a "real salesperson" with the assumption that they will sell more.  But the "real sales" people in the world are more often than not oriented to running the sales process with established resources, selling propositions, materials, etc.  And you probably haven't figured any of this out yet.  So what you need to do is hire less of the "sell and scale" person, and more of the sales scientist that will figure out what works ... and by the way, it's going to be something fairly substantially different than how founders get fools to be early customers.  Again, this is a very tricky hire.  Good luck.

Peter Kestenbaum Advisor, Investor, Mentor to Emerging firms

July 13th, 2015

Who is the right sales hire?

About as tough to ask as who would be a good wife (or husband)..

You probably need to answer 20 or 30 questions before you even contemplate--

Where is your product ( pre rev, rev, ) and what product/market expertise does your rep need?

What are your organizational thoughts... are you hiring a sales person,  someone who has Bus Dev skills,  someone who follows up leads or has their own network,  someone who is your sales guy or member of the management team...  are you hiring your "VP" of sales for now or someone who can be the VP when your firms is 5-10M in sales...    is he a channel person? partner person? direct face to face guy?   Is he expected to close or just get the lead qualified and through the first level calls...

What is your financial model and compensation ability  ,  What can you afford now?  

What skill sets do you want added to the team to complement you...  For example many times good sales guys are way more experienced than the founders in a startup... Hence they can add value in funding efforts,  product development,   production/product roll out guidance and so on.  What additional skills is your firm short on..     One of the classic mistakes that founders make is trying to hire sales guys in their own image...  "get me a young smart guy 3 years out of college like me" when they would be better off with a 40 year old who has sold in the market and has contacts or connections who can at least commit to take prototypes of be early adoptors...      and again this is dependent on the rest of the team...  ( Perhaps because I am senior,  I preach that every entrepreneurial team should have at least one grey hair around )

hope that helps

Peter Kestenbaum Advisor, Investor, Mentor to Emerging firms

July 13th, 2015

So if your product is not up to snuff or loses out competitively or for some reason your early clients do not believe in your vision your sales rep gets what for his efforts?

the only commission only reps that work (at least to my experience )

- more senior individuals who no longer need cash flow and want to help (usually for equity) or join the management team

- short term deal or account focused individuals...  I worked at IBM for 35 years and can bring you in.. (great...  will give you 15 percent for all deals closed in 30 days or revenue collected from your intro's within 6 months )

Creighton Wong Are you a Professional Coach struggling with running your business? Ask me how I can help!

July 13th, 2015

Thank Natalie for posting this question as I am in a very similar boat.

Does anyone have experience using 100% commission sales reps?  

As a "lean startup", I was looking into this route to generate sales / revenue before hiring in-house.



Richard Harris Top 25 Inside Sales Leader, Public Speaker, 40 Most Inspiring Leader, Sales Trainer, Start-Up Advisor, SalesHacker

July 13th, 2015

agree with Michael, Patrick, Peter, and Rob. One thing you should also remember. As the CEO of an early stage start up you still need to be a part of the deal cycle. Hopefully your rep can lead the sales conversations but you bring the clout of the founder/CEO which helps reassure prospects you are legit. 

Also because you are tied so heavily to product development (in theory) you still need to hear what people are saying about the product.

An early stage early adopter is awesome not just for their revenue but also their willingness to give product feedback.

Heidi Fortes Growth Hacker, Sales Expert, Communication Maven, Culture Architect

July 13th, 2015

I've had this discussion twice in the last 3 days and what I'v consistently said, especially if you are a startup, hire someone who is first and foremost committed to learning.  Because you're a startup you probably won't have enough money to wrangle a top tier salesperson, so you'll need to settle for someone a little more green. 

In that case you want that person to be so committed to refining their craft that they are constantly learning and applying.  The best sales people are the ones that are always getting better by working smarter. 

Rob Edenzon Acting Vice President, Sales at Armorway Inc.

July 13th, 2015

If you've built out and documented your Sales Strategy, Sales Plan, Sales Process, and Marketing Go To Market Strategy and Plan, then you're ready to hire.

Otherwise, start building.  It doesn't have to be a 3 month project.  But it is unfair to bring in a sales person if you don't have your ducks in a row.  You also won't be able to determine if they're making any progress before they start closing business.

Also, hire a rep.  Not a Sales Manager or VP Sales.  You need someone to be in the weeds.  Most managers have forgotten how to be an individual contributor.

James ( Director of Relationship Management at FFW

July 13th, 2015

Hi Natalie: If it were me, I'd look for a successful (strong record of quota achievement) INSIDE sales rep from a no-name company. Moreover, I'd ask a lot of questions about how what percentage of their leads were inbound vs. outbound. Hope that helps! Jamie Thomas

Onikepe Adegbola, MD PhD

July 13th, 2015

This is a very useful answer on Quora:

Rob Edenzon Acting Vice President, Sales at Armorway Inc.

July 13th, 2015

Creighton, I get this request multiple times per month.  You are better off doing a sale or two and fund a rep using the revenue than getting a commission only rep.  The effort you will exert to find and train a rep is better spent finding a few customers.

Also, as I said in my previous post, if you don't know your sales process, the prospect's buying process, etc., it's hard to believe that an unpaid rep is going to do better than you can do yourself.