Worried about making your first sales hire? Read this

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Products don’t sell themselves, it’s people who do. Here’s how to find the one for you.

Remember the movie Moneyball, where a discerning coach shows how choosing the right players and player lineup can dramatically alter how the team plays and wins?

The same scenario applies to hiring your sales team, more particularly, hiring your first salesperson.

Early-stage products have ever-changing goals that only take shape when validated in reality. As a representative and advocate of your product, it’s your first sales hire who finds that validation your product needs.

But, how to find the right one?

Here are the essentials and differentiators to look for in your potential sales hires and, in the process, we also dispel some myths about what makes a good salesperson.

Some traits are essentials

Ability to wear multiple hats

Who do you think is the best salesperson? One who closes the most deals? One who brings the most revenue?

Or is it one with the most experience? The VP of Sales from your biggest competitor, perhaps?

Hiring when your startup is at the early stage and when it is at the growth stage is as different as night and day. A former vice president may be able to set up and kick off the initial sales enablement end-to-end, but they may not have had a chance to get their hands dirty with some real selling in a while. Which, of course, is an essential quality your first salesperson should possess. You need doers at this stage, who are comfortable doing the tactical work, from making pre-sales calls to giving product demos.

And it’s not because you don’t want to hire extra hands, but because it helps your salesperson to understand the nitty-gritty of taking your product from shelf to checkout.

Necessary experience

Experience is a polarizing topic in the world of hiring. We know, skills ≠ experience, but sometimes it comes down to the business requirements you have at a particular stage. Pre-launch or beta products, for example, don’t usually warrant a head of sales. Most startups only hire a sales head when:

  • The founders move on to the big picture stuff
  • They figure out the ideal customer profile (ICP)
  • Their internal team has grown
  • The product is mature enough to have a streamlined sales pipeline
  • They already have a repeatable sales process in place that just isn’t optimized

Who to hire then?

At the zero to $1 million stage, you need a builder who can build the revenue from the ground up rather than an architect who can accelerate your existing revenue from good to great.

Since the topic in discussion is hiring your first ever salesperson, let’s assume your product is freshly launched or in the pre-launch stage. Your sales objectives would be:

  • Lead generation around a targeted group of customers
  • Gathering feedback to inform product roadmaps with user experiences
  • Handling customer journey from start to finish, from selling to onboarding to support

Anyone who has a minimum of one to two years of experience in pre-sales, sales development, or business development can suit your needs. While the founding members orchestrate the long-term sales goals, the newly hired can work on day-to-day executions involving generating and closing leads.

Again, experience can be deceptive. You may find an all-rounder who is experienced enough to establish repeatable processes and adaptive enough to do the tactical work.

But that’s a question you need to ask up-front so you both are on the same page. 

Domain knowledge

Domain knowledge is a powerful weapon in sales, although most disregard it as non-essential. Those with generalized expertise sell through tactics while those with domain expertise sell through empathy. They know customer pain points better than anyone as they have seen and tackled the challenges up close.

The pros of hiring a salesperson with domain knowledge are a quick learning curve and low training expenses. But most of all, they have a deeper understanding of how your product works, what customers want, and what specific challenges they can expect. 

The cons, however, are some experienced people rely only on what’s worked for them before. They have to be ready to unlearn, in order to approach problems in a new light instead of trying to replicate their past success.

Related reading: Why it is never too early to hire a marketer for your startup

Some traits are differentiators

Way with words

Have you wondered why customers listen to an hour-long pitch by a salesperson when they can simply Google away the product or scroll through the website?

Good salespeople don’t reel in customers using canned pitches, they coach their buying decision with empathy and relatability. It boils down to how good a salesperson is with words, and whether they are able to communicate their thoughts effectively. 

Also, the ability to articulate doesn’t stop with the ability to pitch the product. Any salesperson who can develop compelling content wins by a mile. Big companies have content and product specialists who can come up with effective sales content and rebuttals for the salespeople to use in their pitches. In early-stage startups, it’s typically the salespeople who come up with the initial sales pitches and decks. Possessing good communication skills will help your salespeople ease into the responsibility.

Most of the time, knowing what to say will be the difference between winning and losing a customer. So don’t let communication skills be an afterthought while hiring a salesperson. 

Ability to take and interpret feedback

At the end of the day, sales is a tough job. They make cold calls, listen to disappointed customers, and face rejections then and there. Since your salespeople talk directly to the customers, they get to listen to and collect feedback first-hand.

Feedback is the most crucial aspect of any new business as it reveals whether you are building something your customers really want. The ability to take and interpret feedback like a pro is the mark of any level-headed salesperson. Look for the quality in your potential candidates. 

Cultural fit

Ensuring a cultural fit is the most important part of hiring, as it can’t be taught or nurtured. Everything else can be. Team members who believe in your vision and mission will be as committed to the company goal as you are, and that’s the best competitive advantage you can ever ask for. 

Related reading: Building your dream team for your MSP business

Have an open mind

Fewer business mistakes are as costly as hiring the wrong people. Mistakes do happen sometimes because there is no formula to hiring success. You may want to hire someone who you instinctively know would be perfect for the role over someone who might look like the obvious choice. 

The key is to have an open mind and not let your personal biases come in the way of hiring people who can make or break your business. 

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