Start-up sales repsSales people always face objections. Selling for a start up means facing objections and a tremendous amount of resistance. The customer is unfamiliar with the business and has no reason to trust you. You have few (if any) references, no proven merchandise, reputation, or extended track record. The product is usually more expensive and buyers perceive working with you as a risk. In the beginning customers don’t want to speak to a sales person who may not be intimately familiar with the product or service or have the authority to make commitments, so the founder tackles this sales challenge. As the company grows and develops so does the sales department.

Very few early stage companies are started by salespeople, which means very few early stage founders understand sales. Start up sales is evangelical sales. Your reps need to educate the customer about something new and different, and convince them there is a need for the product. Your seller needs to be able to have your clients take a leap of faith.

Tips for hiring start-up sales reps:

This specialized selling requires a specialized rep. Your sales recruiting process must be top notch, should include the use of sales candidate assessments and interview scripts. Startups can’t afford to waste money or make hiring mistakes. Top sales producers from brand name employers are often romanced for the job. The thought is that experienced sales reps will bring in sales quickly and easily. That decision is often costly. Superstars from marquee employees don’t encounter the type of resistance that start ups face. In this environment they will fail. They are accustomed to selling mature products with strong reputations (not to mention they are used to healthy marketing budgets and support staff that a start up is unlikely to have). I learned this the hard way, early in my career when I hired a seasoned rep into one of my startups. One evening, shortly after hiring him, we met in the hallway and he asked me if the office manager had gone home because he needed her to fax a proposal to a prospect. He didn’t know how to use the fax. I knew right then, that I had made a mistake and that he wouldn’t survive in our company.

When you have market share and a proven product, look for your superstar. To get it all started you need a maverick.

The maverick is a breed of salesperson that views challenges as opportunities. They function with little internal help and support. They aren’t sensitive to risk and they can inspire customers. They are fearless! They will expand your pipeline of leads, handle customer relations and create sales proposals while the founder focuses on building the product and running the company.

When hiring a maverick, sell the journey, but don’t pretend it will be easy. It won’t. Finding someone who has already succeeded with an early stage company increases your chance for success. Get the whole team involved with the hiring, because you will all be working closely together. And be very clear about your expectations up front. You are not hiring a business developer that will be an ambassador for your business. You are hiring someone who will generate sales and you will be tracking their activity, funnel and opportunities closely and you will be holding them accountable to a quota even though there is no precedent for sales in your company.

Startup sales people are evangelists, hustlers and relationship builders all in one. Find them and don’t let them get away.

To your success!

Photo Credit: thefoodgroup via Compfight cc


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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