Ask the Expert: Five steps before hiring your first salesperson
One of the beautiful things about running a tech startup, as compared to a more traditional small business, is the ability to scale.
Today there are fewer barriers than ever to take your product or service global. As a result, entrepreneurs are eager to know when and how they can turn their passion project into an international success story.
Unless you catch lightning in a bottle (think Dollar Shave Club or Instagram), the best way to grow your business is by hiring a strong, dedicated sales team. But before you make that first hire there are five crucial steps you must take to ensure success.
1. A lot of tech companies are started by hardcore engineers who understand the product better than anyone but may not value an old school sales force. If your first salesperson doesn't have complete executive buy in, then he/she is not going to be successful. Salespeople need to be empowered to get the job done. Sometimes this means travel, an expense account and out of the box thinking or leads will turn cold. This is part of the maturation process. Done correctly, you can have huge growth.
2. To get the most out of your sales team you need to have compensation plans and quota models in place. These act as incentives, and they also allow you to set the bar on what you think they should be able to accomplish, from one sales rep to 100. Since you've never had a sales team before, you have no data to base your quota targets on. As a result, you may need to ultimately raise or lower the monthly projections. However, having nothing is a whole lot of wasted talent (Bronx Tale reference). Salespeople love competition. In order to compete you need to keep score.
3. While the very best salesperson can close deals with only a handshake, smile and a kind word, it is helpful for them to have a 'bag of tricks' to dive into. This means you need case studies - testimonials from clients on how they use your product/service, why it makes their lives easier and why other companies should do the same - stable references, solid contracts and confident pricing plans.
Before your sales team runs wild with your go-to-market pricing you should spend a lot of time on it. Having the perfect pricing plan is quite the balancing act. You need to know your market, your competitors, your clients and your industry in order to maximize customer acquisition and profit. Getting this right (and it can be a work in progress) is one of the most important things you'll do.
4. Once you have these steps in place, you'll be ready to hire that first salesperson. But whom should you hire? First, you need to realize that you're not just hiring a salesperson. Someone who is laser-focused on closing deals at the expense of everything else can be a killer for a startup. Your first sales person needs to be well rounded and not just a sales guy or gal. Your first salesperson needs to be an account manager, a project manager and, most importantly, a brand advocate.
As your company's visibility begins to grow - at trade shows, at meetings, on phone calls, etc. - much of the outside world's interaction will be with your sales team. You want people who are building relationships and fanfare more than just hitting monthly numbers. Of course, you need to close deals to succeed in the short term. But you need a great reputation to succeed and sustain in the long term.
5. This is why finding a salesperson who fits your company culture should be your number one priority. Every company is different. What works for Dyn might not fit at your office and vice versa. The important thing is finding people who live your message. This will ensure that they're out there hustling and working nonstop to build your startup into the next big thing.
Now that is a dream worth selling.
I look forward to answering your questions and/or responding to your comments about this or related topics at abihub.org/ask-the-expert/.
Kyle York serves as chief revenue officer at Dyn, an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) company. He is also the co-founder of startup 1band 1brand, sits on the board of directors for Growth Engine Company and is chairman and president of tech incubator, abi Innovation Hub.