Every startup sales article will tell you that you need to hire extraordinary talent to deliver big numbers. I’m here to tell you the opposite.
In the early days of your startup, you need to hire B- sales people to really understand product market fit.
Over the years, I’ve worked with extraordinary sales leaders like Vince and Zarir. Had I met them earlier in our journey, we wouldn’t have been able to grow our sales to millions in ARR – we simply didn’t have the right product to sell.
Here’s what I know about amazing sales talent:
1. They are hard to find.
2. They are expensive to hire.
3. Their early sales results are a temporary solution to your permanent product problems.
The reality is amazing sales executives will make up for the shortcomings of your product. The saying is that a great salesperson can sell ice to an eskimo. It’s true! However, that doesn’t tell you that your product is truly delivering value to customers that they are willing to pay a fair price for. You want your product to be so good, the value proposition to be so clear, that even an average sales executive should be able to sell it.
The analogy here is that as an engineer, you wouldn’t build infrastructure that can support hundreds of millions of users when you are in a private beta. You wouldn’t pay for expensive tooling that can make thousands of units when you haven’t secured your first order. The principle is the same when it comes to sales – an extraordinary sales team is like an assembly line. They copy/paste sales activities with discipline to produce predictable sales results.
Founders need to be selling early on, and taking every NO back to their product teams as feedback for the next iteration. Once you have the market pulling your solution, that’s when you invest in a major sales effort.
In other words, if you can sell your product without A+ talent, imagine what you’ll be able to do when you build an A+ team. This way you also avoid waiting around to see if you have the right team. You have clear, measurable activities from day 1 that you can benchmark against and determine if you have the right person(s) in place without waiting for months for results.
Here are a few signals that determine when you are ready to hire an A+ team:
- Highly profitable sales are coming in faster than we can fulfill them.
- A clear sales cycle with defined steps and measured time.
- As a result of 1 and 2, you are delivering on your forecasts. (Period depends on your sales cycle: if you have a year long sales cycle you can live with a quarterly forecast. The more granular the better!)
- You have defined your activities that define your sales outcomes.
Ultimately, these are all signals of product-market fit. Demand stops being the bottleneck and executing on your existing profitable demand becomes the limiting factor. When this happens, then go hire an army of sales executives and build a unicorn.
For a deeper dive on this, I highly recommend Amos Schwartfarb’s awesome book Sell More Faster.
What do you think? Do you think you can succeed with B- sales executives?