Sales People and Small BusinessSelling in a startup or a small company is a lot different than selling in an established company. On the pro side, selling in a startup means less red tape so reps can be more opportunistic and aggressive on pricing. On the con side, reps have to sell without an established brand, references or much marketing support. As a result, reps who can consistently sell in a startup are rare, even if they can sell in a startup in a new industry.

Every dollar counts in an early stage company, so when you are hiring reps be on the lookout for several different types of reps we commonly see in startups:

 1. Mr. or Ms. Pedigree – these types come from large well known companies and can name drop like it’s a science, but they can’t work the phones to find business, nor create a proposal to save their lives. I hired one of these in my first start-up and he spent half his time asking people basic questions like how does the fax machine works. Drives you batty after only a few days.

 2. Mr. or Ms Product Sheet – these types are used to transactional sales where the client knows what they want, but they’ll be in trouble when customers want to discuss solutions tailored to their business. These types often get hired in startups because of their track record, but flounder because customers need much more than sales literature to become comfortable with doing business with a startup. Customers want to know the company knows what its doing and that starts with the rep haveing domain knowledge.

 3. Mr. or Ms. Relationship – these types are great ambassadors. They meet people on the phone, at business events and even at family gatherings, but don’t expect them to close anything – they can’t. I have worked with these types – they bring in tons of leads, many of them unqualified. This can work if they are paired with a closer, but for a lot of companies carrying the extra weight is a luxury they can’t afford.

 4. Mr. or Ms. Process – these types understand that companies need process and tools to create repeatable sales and to scale, but they’ll spend all their time setting up for activity that never happens. These ones are momentum killers at the start, but can be useful in the growth stage when you need to make sure sales are organized.

5. Mr. or Ms. Get it Done – these types don’t need much handholding. They figure out what the company has to offer, who wants it, what resources they have available to them and they don’t ask permission, they just get going. They are very useful at the start before structure is required.

Know which ones you are hiring.

To see more sales types found in startups, see this great article by Mark Suster – Journeymen, Mavericks & Superstars: Understanding Salespeople at Startups


To your success!


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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