The Startup Guide to Building a Killer Sales Team

sell me

A lot of startups are launched by engineers, designers, and product managers. That’s why they have such great products, right? But have you noticed that they typically lack on the sales front? Well, it’s because they usually don’t understand sales or the way a startup should use salespeople.

That’s a big problem since they’ll need to interview, hire, evaluate and assign regions to salespeople. And, sometimes, even fire them.

If that’s you, then it’s helpful to have a framework when it comes to building a killer sales team. The following advice should help you do just that.

Understand the concept of sales

The first thing you should do before you interview or hire any salesperson is to make sure you understand what a sale is. So, what is a sale?

Basically a sale is when you close the deal. Marketing finds those leads and nurtures them, and sales closes them. How you close them is very important. In fact, if you get this wrong, you won’t be closing very many deals.

Bad salespeople do nothing but talk. They are called “crocodile salespeople” because their mouths are always open, but they’re never listening. A good salesperson realizes that sales is really a discussion between the company and the customer, where a relationship is built first.

Once that relationship is established, then the salesperson can start asking the customer about his or her needs. If you shortcircuit this process, the customer will see that you are really not interested in him or her.

But sales isn’t just about the customers. In fact, it’s really something you do when you talk to partners or even investors because even then you’re selling yourself.

And finally you need to understand sales because you will need to create a long-term sales process that can actually scale. See, your early success isn’t any indicator that you will be able to scale it because once you remove yourself from the process, things change. It will be harder for a salesperson to close a deal if you are not involved. But the fact is eventually you will have to pull away.

Learn to sell before you hire

If you are thinking of not getting involved in the sales process and instead hiring somebody to do that for you, I recommend you don’t. You need to sell your product yourself first, and not just to investors. You need to sell it to customers as well.

This is important because it will help you understand what roadblocks your salespeople will run into. This way when you hire salespeople, you can help them succeed. It may not sound like fun, but trust me, the more you do it, the easer it gets. Do the selling yourself until you get comfortable doing it.

You can get some early practice by selling before your product or service is launched with a PowerPoint presentation. All you have to do is visually show what your company has to offer. In other words, learn to sell what you are going to have and not just what you currently have.

Each time you finish talking with potential customers, make sure you incorporate their concerns into your product as it will help make it better. Give them the product and watch what they do. Then run back to your office to put their ideas into product development. Do this fifty times, and not only will you become a pretty good salesperson, but you’ll also move your product to product market fit faster.

Hire people who want to grow

With salespeople, you need to hire slowly and fire fast. Good salespeople are expensive, and you don’t want to waste money. And remember, just because someone is good in sales in his or her past job, it won’t mean that person is a good fit for your company even if he or she has a history of selling products or services in your industry.

Furthermore, when interviewing salespeople, don’t let them sell you on how great they are. You need to see the passion in them. Look for people who want to compete on a higher level than they are used to. They should be eager to reach higher and higher levels of experience.

These salespeople also need to be comfortable on the front lines, watching the customer use the product, listening to the customer’s comments and asking for constructive criticism. They need to be eager to hear what the customer is saying, so that way your product manager can create something your customers will love. And they should be excited about doing this over and over again!

Work with those who you hire

Never think just because you hired a sales team that you can wash your hands of that responsibility. You really need to keep doing the selling yourself until you have a VP of Sales who is able to keep growing your company’s revenue.

Meet with your team often, ideally daily. You want to keep watching them present and sell so you can give feedback and ask for it as well. It’s really a learning experience for all of you, and if you’ve hired a killer sales team, then you all will start feeding off of this positive energy that you are creating from a culture of constant improvement.

Hire people who know how to qualify sales leads

You want salespeople who can qualify. Qualifying a sales lead really comes down to three questions:

  • Do they have the authority to buy?
  • Do they have the budget to buy?
  • When do they plan on buying?

The leads you want your salespeople to avoid are called NINAs. These are the leads that have No Influence Nor Authority. These leads will waste your time and money! Let marketing nurture them.

A good question to ask during an interview with a prospective salesperson is “Do you know the difference between an A, B and C lead?” His or her answer should tell you a lot about whether your potential hire knows or not how to qualify a lead.

An A lead is one that will close in three months. A B lead will close in 3 to 12 months. If closing that lead will take longer than 12 months, then it’s a C lead.

If they answered that question correctly, then ask them how much time a salesperson should spend on each lead. They should answer like this:

  • A lead gets about 70% of a salesperson’s time.
  • B lead gets about 30% of a salesperson’s time.
  • C lead gets zero percent of a salesperson’s time because C leads are for marketing to nurture.

What it really comes down to is this: a good salesperson will know how to “align a company’s sales cycle with a prospect’s buying cycle.”

By the way, always find out if the salesperson you are hiring is a hunter or not. If he/she isn’t, you will have to provide your sales rep with leads to follow up with and close. Keep that in mind when hiring.

Give marketing the C leads

A good marketing team will generate leads for the salespeople, but like I said above, some of those leads will not be of interest to a salesperson upfront.

How does marketing nurture these leads to have them go from C leads to B leads and eventually A leads? There are a few things a marketing department does:

  • Newsletters – a weekly or monthly newsletter is sent out to C leads to keep them close to the company and the product so they don’t forget about them after the initial contact. Newsletters to C leads must be different from the newsletters actual customers get.
  • Public Relations – the second thing that marketing people do is constantly talk to journalists and the media about their company, offering news about product updates and special launches.
  • Customer Events – events allow you an opportunity to interact with your customers. It’s even a good idea to get some of your satisfied customers to talk during these events as there’s nothing better than a third-party endorsement!

Hire Mavericks early, Journeymen and Superstars next

When it comes to the hiring time, you need to look for Mavericks. What’s a Maverick? This type of salesperson is great at evangelical sales, meaning they love to educate customers on something new and different.

Mavericks are also very comfortable in places where there aren’t well-defined processes, products or structures, which is pretty typical for the early stage of a startup. You need to understand that this does mean that Mavericks like independence and despise control, even if that control is some kind of a process.

They’ll tend to neglect rules and processes, but that’s okay because they are really great at persuading customers to take a leap of faith. You also should remember that promoting Mavericks to a VP or sales manager position is not a good idea.

As your startup begins to see some success and growth because you’ve gotten really close to your product market fit, you can start setting up well-defined processes. At this point, you can start hiring Journeymen who lack that sales spark you see in Mavericks but are relentless within an established sales structure with a well-defined product.

Finally, start looking for those Superstars, salespeople who are a combination of the Maverick and the Journeyman. These people have that spark and can follow rules as well.

Keep in mind that these salespeople usually come from academy-type corporations, where the sales organization is a well-oiled machine and pays its salespeople a lot of money. That means you probably won’t be able to afford these people in your early days, but you may want to bring them in once you’ve grown.

Superstars commonly can lead a team and do sales themselves. They bring to the table a great mind for sales and a good head for processes and leadership. Hire them after you’ve got the product market fit though.

Don’t hire seasoned or senior salespeople

Sure, eventually, you’ll reach a point of needing a VP of sales. That will not happen in the early stages of your growth, and it shouldn’t. Let me explain why.

Seasoned or senior salespeople typically come from companies that documented procedures, defined processes precisely and didn’t tolerate the by-the-seat-of-your-pants way of a young startup. So, when you hire these salespeople for your startup, you are inviting criticism and frustration that you can easily avoid by hiring a Maverick instead.

Besides, seasoned or senior people may not have the passion of someone who is younger and less experienced. Plus, they can be very expensive.

If your startup has raised millions of dollars, you can start with a VP of Sales and have that person figure things out, but in most cases you won’t have millions of dollars at your fingertips. And if you do hire a VP of Sales, make sure you are helping your VP out when he or she gets started.

Conclusion

If you make the wrong hire at the wrong time, you can set your startup back months, if not years. However, if you build a killer sales team by hiring the right people at the right time, you will raise your chances of growing your startup into a successful company.

Can you think of other ways to build a killer sales team for your startup?

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Comments

  1. I think maverick salespeople map to startup values well, partly because everyone on the team should be involved in the customer development process (ie: getting out of the building and collecting data to determine product market fit). If someone is talking to your customers day in and day out, if they are equipped to ask the right questions, and report meaningful data, they’ll provide your team with a much needed dose of reality.

  2. I think it’s worth saying that startup developers need to understand that a startup needs a business plan, needs to make money and in essence MUST make sales. Sit them through a couple sales strategy discussions so that they get the chance to express themselves and feel the importance of sales.

    This also helps them understand who is responsible when the company is broke and they are getting laid off.

  3. “..when interviewing salespeople, don’t let them sell you on how great they are..”
    Funny.

    Neil: Do you usually hire younger people with less sales experience – so you can mold them accordingly ? Sale’s can be a tricky business.

  4. I like the maverick, journeyman and superstars bit, are those actual terms you use when talking about hiring marketing people at different levels of the process?

  5. Dude I tried to share this blog post on Twitter and noticed you have UTM tracking codes on it (<<<— the share bar plugin) how did you do this? Awesome stuffves! (<<<— not a typo)

  6. Great point about sales and how it is truly about creating genuine and value-added relationships with you potential clients.

    Ever go to a networking event and see that goon just dishing his card out to every single person, quickly telling them what he does and then moving on to the next victim? That’s the guy who’s 45 and still spends his days cold calling. Make your clients appreciate your relationship and you will succeed.

  7. Hey Neil,

    I have been reading your blog for quite sometime now and this is the first time am commenting. Couldn’t resist myself on this post as I loved every word of it :) Being a salesperson for over 10 years and currently playing a role of a Superstars (graduated from being a Maverick as well as Journeyman) in an Indian StratUp, I personally have experienced all that you have mentioned in your post. Great work, keep writing and inspiring us!

  8. I wish I had found your blog 10 years ago (I know your blog isn’t that old, but you know what I mean :-) It’s taken me this long to realize how important finding good salespeople can be, and that by being surrounded by experts in selling and “making the sale,” their skills would rub off on me, too. I guess it depends on the type of business, but I wonder how one might go about deciding how much to pay a top salesman? Is there a fine line of paying too much, and not paying enough?

    • Having skilled sales people is certainly a great way to grow not only in business but in personal abilities as well. It really depends on how you run your business. Some people pay based off commission while others pay based off an estimated value. There is certainly a fine line between to little and too much. You just have to decide what number you can afford and what they ask for.

  9. I like the point “hire people who really want to learn” because people who really passionate for learning they will truly grow your business in any cost.

  10. I have read in a blog “You know you’ve got a great product. But getting the rest of the world to realize it is the tough part. That’s why you need a sales team to get the message out about your business.” So its very important to build a killer team. Thank Neil for this great post…

  11. Awesome Post,

    If some body will ask from me what is very difficult and challenging for you in life then my answer will be only in single word which will be “SALES” no doubt in that sale is one of the big challenge in life to do but if you will do it then i think any other thing will be not difficult to do for you in life.

    Beside that if any body wants to become and achieve a good post then i think he/she should start their goals with the help of sales field because he/she can learn each and every thing about life.

  12. Will definitely have to learn how to sell before hiring someone else to sell for you.

  13. Definitely look for hunger in a team, whether it´s for learning, advancement, money or just the desire to prove they can do something.
    Complacency kills a business faster than the taxman can.

  14. Thanks Neil… Good stuff…. How do you hire Mavericks who are obsessed with “title” (VP, etc) After all, people (A Players) don’t leave and join another company unless the job is a HUGE jump in scope/responsibility, compensation, etc. Best to ALL, Brian-

    • You have to offer them something they think they can’t refuse. If you can’t then you have to look for that raw talent in younger newer ones that will give you the same results. They may even give you better results because they feel they have something to prove.

  15. A small preamble, I am fan of your blogs, read them regularly and get inspiration. I have worked with a killer sales team in last company I was working for as COO. What I’ve experienced is Relationship Building techniques dont always work but successful sales people are Challengers who focus on solving problem instead closing sales, take risks by providing controversial solutions that can cut their profit margins, try to push thinking of client.
    For sales what I’ve learned is you dont need to be timid or shy but bold enough to propose what is in client interest instead what he wants.

  16. what i have seen is killer sales team have high level of motivation toward work and themselves, proud of their company they are working with and full command /knowledge of the services/product they are selling… they also are very interactive with a smile most of the time on their face…

  17. Thanks for the great insights Neil. I’m just at the stage of really building my sales and wasn’t sure the next step for hiring sales people, this really puts it into perspective. Very much appreciated.

    Kristian

  18. Make Relations cool and simple and remove all complexity if you want to make good team, and also give some extra benefits on good work and results

  19. and people thought sales are easy.

  20. One thing that I found to work in order to get the “more expensive” salespeople on board a start up is to offer them a share in the company. You can sell the idea that he’d rather be working for a company that he owns that for somebody else.

    I tell you, he’d be willing to work for FREE for a while. :D

  21. Dear Neal: It seems that I have come from a totally different universe from you and your other readers when it comes to start ups. I am a senior technology writer and have been trained by the marketing departments of very large companies, PLUS large ad agencies/web studios.

    As a freelancer I worked a lot with start-ups. In fact my design and web buddies specialized in helping start ups “walk and talk and look” like 2 year + companies (so customers would have the confidence to invest in them.) We did everything from write white papers to corporate brochures to sales copy to press releases of a quality and standard they would never be able to afford for a few years to get them out of the ‘sandbox’.

    What I found was that the smart start ups were all core staff focused during the in-bound marketing stage, and then gradually staffed when they had established some m,arket credibility.

    The problem was, they never UNDERSTOOD marketing and lead generation, so I typically saw all kinds of people including CEOs trying to articulate their value proposition and market position and so on, and even sales people. It was always “amusing” to me when CEOs started taking notes when I began asking questions about position, and articulating sales points. Hate to say it, but a lot of them simply didn’t know!

    I have so many ridiculous stories it’s not funny–its’ heart-breaking. Fact is you need writers, designers, and web marketing people and strategists to help you articulate all the important stuff and present it to sales team, along with qualified leads. Closing deals on people who have gone through your “sales /marketing” funnel is a hundred times easier and faster. A smart marketing team does the work of many, many sales people.

    Honestly, I’ve been hired to set up such funnels yet when big clients just walk in off the Internet and say: hey, where do I sign up? everyone is always surprised!

    Long winded answer, I know. But. Years of pent up stories.

    The verdict: at some point start ups gotta take a close look at the big dogs who are established and understand why and how sales and marketing should work together. If management, sales and marketing live in their own silos: well, it doesn’t bode well for the company. I can take a look at a company web site and tell you what’s happening inside in about 5 minutes.
    Hope this helps and is relevant–based on 15 years of real life experience.

  22. In maximum cases Designers, engineers face many difficulties while selling the product because they have less knowledge on marketing. A proper marketing guy gives a acceptable results.

  23. We have to build an nice sales team so that we can have an good sales

  24. I had been in the Advertising sales department for some days, it teaches me how to grabs the client attention towards the products.

  25. Thanks Neil, u are always right on target.

  26. Alex @ Easy ways to make money :

    I agree with you Neil, that when you hire a sales team, you should also be the one who will lead them. As a business owner, you must always meet your sales team. Know the current situation first hand and if possible, you should also sell. This will motivate your sales team to follow your lead.

  27. These things are true. Particularly the “Hire people who want to grow” part. Those who admit that they still have a lot of things to learn despite of their previous work experience (no matter how great it is) are the right people worth hiring for the success of your company. I think, that is the essential part in building a killer sales team.

    • You don’t want someone who thinks they know everything because they are less likely to be open to change. In order to grow and improve you must be open to changing what you think you know.

  28. I agree with this: “with salespeople you need to hire slowly and fire fast.” So true. Time is very precious and you don’t want to waste them by giving a team member the “chance” to improve. Remember that you’re building business here and not a “personality development program”

    • Sales can be tricky and difficult. Either you have a natural knack for it or you don’t. You don’t want to waste your time hoping someone will improve. They might improve as they learn but until they have learned you want someone who already knows what to do.

  29. Surely, I was repeatedly drawn to this article of yours. I was not much into sales before and until now I could say I’m still on the learning process. Being on sales is really selling yourself which is what I not love to do. But if I need to hire someone I really have to know how to sell. Until now I’m asking, isn’t this a talent? someone should have? or everyone could do sales.

    • It is a talent for sure, some tend to be more naturally gifted at. However like all talented people it requires study and practice to create such talent. It is possible for anyone to become good at sales they just have to find a technique that works for them and learn from others as well as from personal experience.

      • Thanks for the encouragement. After reading this I remembered we weren’t born professionals, everything is indeed a process. No one is born, a programmer, a teacher, a doctor or anything else. Those professions are being studied, being learned. So sooner if I put my heart into it, I could be on sales, if I really want. As they say if there’s a will, there’s a way.

        • Absolutely, that is a great attitude to have about it. If you want something you have to learn it and earn it. No one was born with skills it is something practiced, learned and observed.

  30. Don’t be like me and sign a contract that limits you from doing your own selling. Bad mistake that has costs me thousands. – Have nice day

  31. Greg Cangialosi :

    Agree with all of the points. The most valuable lesson I think I ever taught any team member in sales over the years was pipeline management. You have to have those soft skills to do sales successfully, and you have to know how to manage every stage of your deal flow effectively. I’ve seen success and failure in sales, and the ones that succeed always have a ripe pipeline working at every stage :-)

    Good stuff, keep on rocking.

    Greg

  32. Another masterpiece from Neil!! Where do you get these pictures anyway?

  33. Do you ever worry that the “maverick” in your team could do a lot of damage if they are not kept under control. I mean but cutting corners, making impossible promises etc. just to close the deal. When I had a physical business I had a salesman who promised delivery dates that were not possible to keep and the business ended up getting a really bad reputation, even before he “left” the company.

    • You want to make sure you hire your sales people carefully and that is certainly something to watch for. As well as watching closely the sales people you have already hire. You never want to promise a client something you can’t deliver on.

  34. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for this, I have clarified better the roles of Marketing and Sales. One thing is very true in any start-up the entrepreneur must know how to sell first before hiring sales people. This will reduce a lot of unnecessary frustration going forward.
    Thanks

  35. marketing and sales is the backbone of any business. No matter how good your services or product are without good salesmanship you don’t stand a chance.

  36. I love reading your articles. I was just a bit busy these days but every time I got to login in and read your write ups around 11 in the evening because that’s vacant time. I can’t read much during work. Good tips on sales, I have to let my brother read this. It is definitely a must? to know how to sell before you could hire people. Sometime the concept of sales is not that easy to grasp. But getting to read this from you, such an big step for me to enter sales. Where money calls. :)

    ellen

  37. “Don’t hire seasoned or senior salespeople”- This is something which is really important among all the tips. Most seniors fail to understand that they were a maverick when they started their career. Too many ideas and too many suggestions will collapse the system.
    I remember the movie ‘The Social Network’ where Jesse out of frustration says “I am the CEO Bi***”.

  38. Perfect timing as I’m at the point of beginning to work on building a sales team too…

  39. Neil,

    great article. I have one question, which has been our biggest obstacle to date. When you have a start-up, that is internet-based, not a lot of up-front capital – and you need to spend the majority of your resources on web design, product creation, marketing, etc., how do you bring on sales people when you don’t have the money to pay a salary a decent sales person would warrant?

    We have great products, that do well on their on, but would crush if we had a sales team in place. I’m having the hardest time getting over that hurdle. Are there sales teams that can be outsourced (that you’re aware of) that can be outsourced at least at first and as revenue comes in then bring on the internal sales team?

    If any of your readers know of any, or are in sales and looking for a great opportunity, I’m all ears! Thanks and keep up the great work!!

    -Chris

    • Chris, just thinking: hard to make an informed decision without knowing the details of your startup. But I would pose this question: if sales is your greatest obstacle (and not product dev / marketing / etc.) why not transfer current resources to sales? I see startups that are in similar positions: the product is great but the customer dev team is almost non-existant. Seems to me it is the job of the founder(s) to step up and do sales, especially if the rest of the company is fairly stable elsewhere. If you can step up and do sales, maybe you can begin to use revenue to pay for part-time sales help. Embrace constraints :)

    • At that point you hire a hungry college kid and train them. That’s what I would do if I didn’t have much of a budget.

      One thing to keep in mind is when hiring that hungry college kid, make sure they listen. Because if they can’t follow instructions, they WON’T succeed.

      As for outsourcing, that isn’t that cheap. I’ve done it and for good reps it typically costs 5k a month plus commission.

  40. Neil, you just re-targeted me. I read a very nice article of yours @SeoMoz called ’7 lessons.. SEO Agency’. I even remembered you writing it; although i’ve never heard of you before. So I clicked your ad – and i’m glad I did. Just read this article too, and found it very helpful. I’ll be coming back!

  41. Thanks for such a wonderful article, Neil.

    I have learnt many of the above mentioned things in hard way of hiring initial sales team, product not fit according to market, sales team not able to perform. fired that sales force, rework on selling your service again, make it smooth sales process and rebuild the team again.
    In general, Young entrepreneurs (including me, few other entrepreneurs who I know) want to run very fast without understanding very small things that Sales don’t work only accordingly science and don’t have logic behind each step / process.
    It is very important to make selling very easy to run faster and scale the business. It will happen with great product or service package ready and which will be developed by keep taking the feedback from your initial clients to improve, more attract product / service. Entrepreneur has to invest a lot of time on this and understand better about required quality of sales person. It is always better for start-up to hire above our required qualities expectation line which will help us understand the market better in the terms of customer’s point of view and how to make it simple. We will able to scale the business only if Selling the product / service of our company is easiest things in this world.

    Neil – Please share your contact details with me.

    • No problem, good to hear you liked it. If you need to reach me for any questions or suggestions, the best way to reach me is through email. If you send me one to neil@neilpatel.com I will get back to you shortly and do my best to help with whatever I can.

  42. We have tried small sales teams before and they just don’t work for us. Certainly not salaries sales teams anyway but when we take salespeople on now, they are on commission only with a small retainer each month, however we pay twice the industry average in bonus and some of our guys have been with us for 3 years now.

  43. I was never considered myself a sales person, I worked in the corporate world most of my life though. Most of my friends are in sales, and they love their jobs. I never understood that until I asked them about it.

    they basically said, they don’t so much try and sell their companies or products, they make friends, they find out what they have in common, and they just build a connection. they said some times its harder than others, but overall they just enjoy themselves, keep their end goals in mind and show interest in their clients.

    Anyway, thanks for the great articles as usual!

    Also, when are you going back on Mixergy? your original interview was great, and I’d love to hear another hour+ of your views on the business world now.

  44. Do you have any tips about building a killer affiliate sales team?

    • Do your best to evaluate their character and abilities before hiring. Possible set scenarios and questions that will help you determine who will work best for you. Getting recommendations is also a great way and making sure they are passionate and social.

  45. Great. We love to host you in Nigeria. Come share your wisdom with us.

    Cheers.

  46. Neil, I’m wondering if A, B, and C leads need to be so rigidly defined? Surely each startup will have its own sales process, and certain products may be easier sells than others (due to cost or demand). A 3-month time frame may be more like a 6-month time frame for some really expensive product. But maybe this time frame is less dependent on the product and just the inherent speed at which businesses make decisions?

    • Interesting thoughts on the matter. There is always soon for variation to any guide or plan. Each business just needs to decide what will work best for them and they can figure that by trying different tactics. Seeing what will work and what won’t.

  47. Neil -

    I couldn’t agree more. Nothing can kill abusiness faster than making the wrong hire, and sad to say, holding off on important fires.

    A very successful entrepreneur friend of mine introduced me to Topgrading about 2 months ago and it has completely changed my business and the quality of life for my employees.

    There’s an old notion that ‘Eagles only fly with Eagles’ well Brad and Geoff Smart (Authors of Topgrading) have translated this into ‘how to find and retain A players’ these are people that are the top 5% of the market for their specific role at a specific wage rate. And quite literally, it is an amazing psychological and production processing tool that forces organizations that embrace it to ‘separate the wheat from the chaff’ and really step up in terms of high value production.

    I just wanted to pass this along as I appreciated the post.

    Thanks again,
    Nick

    • Thanks for sharing. It is important to make sure you surround yourself with others of valuable skill, dedication or ability. Working with others of equal or greater success will allow you to soar higher and higher.

  48. A brilliant article – thanks! Many ‘non-sales’ people employ a sales team and then ‘wash their hands of that responsibility’ as you put it. Your comments about working with those you hire is excellent. It forces any start up owner to understand and become good at sales. After all, without sales a business is just a hobby.

    • Appreciate it, you certainly want to know what you are doing before you hire someone else to do it.Very true without experience or knowledge you won’t get very far.

  49. A really nice information. This is the first time reading information regarding building your sales team. It opened my mind to a lot of ideas. Thanks Neil for this wonderful information. Keep educating us!

  50. To create a killer sales team here in India you surely need some bad guys and good looking women.
    Nice and useful post Neil. Thanks for sharing

  51. Awesome article Neil. I’m fwding it to my team now :-)

  52. Neil,
    Having a team which works on commissions (with minimum wages and a handsome commission) really works wonders. this is the concept behind affiliate marketing where there is no base salary. HR companies are now popping up everywhere in the world and really bring in great results. Hiring a sales team and giving them a lame commission is no longer acceptable to real sales people.

  53. There are many legendary sales people, or you might call them urban legends because even Eskimos know what they need. You have to first create the need to sell your product. That’s marketing department’s job. A sales team has to make sure that they offer what the buyer wants.
    Recently I was making a sales pitch and the new client politely declined. I just asked him to forget about my product and tell what really interests him at the end of our 15 mins of conversation in which the client was the main talker he convinced himself to buy my product from his own explanation of what he wanted. just because I let him. those in sales who believe that controlling conversation and trying to convince the buyer will help! think again! in most cases thats a big turn off who just wants to get rid of you. If you let him do the talking and just adding “My point” and at the end say “You just described our product and service” they might end up buying from you.

  54. Great post Neil,
    Can you give a bit of advice, if affiliate marketing does the job of a sales team or it performs something else? because I had this concept that sales is what they are actually responsible for,

  55. Now, I clearly see the gab between sales and marketing. Thanks Neil for the great post. I always need this.

  56. Just wanted to say the folks Neil hired at Kissmetrics provide a great example. Just go through their sales process by trying out a demo…

    Called to make sure I got a personal tour for using the product with http://www.kickofflabs.com and added just the right amount of pressure to pay up. The tour was great, they were knowledgable about the product, had read up on my needs, and make me feel like I was getting value out of them without even having paid yet.

  57. Chris Hollister :

    I would have to disagree with one of the previous posts stating that Engineers and Developers are at a comparative disadvantage when building a sales team. In addition, I would expand on Neil’s point about hiring Maverick’s early. I agree that Mavericks are key at the beginning, but DON’T make them your head of sales or VP Sales. Bad bad things can happen.

    In fact, like Neil said the Maverick can be the exactly wrong person for certain roles, especially setting up your sales process. The engineer is definitely at an advantage because what is required is someone who can create hypotheses, build a funnel/pipeline, create a simple teaching method, build a reporting feedback loop than test like crazy. Mavericks don’t give a sh*t about this and simply won’t do it. Engineers get this.

    In order to find where you will gain the most traction, you need to create a hypotheses and test everyday. Test the amount of calls made, test different value proposition statements, test which companies from which regions are delivering the most qualified leads, test if that demo page is really necessary or a free 7 day trial is better, test the cost of acquiring a lead through a paid LinkedIn ad versus outbound cold-calling, test test test…test :)

    At a previous start up, there was a Maverick who was the head of sales until I joined. Although, he was great at sales as an individual, the team and department as a whole was an absolute mess. There was 10 other team members and no best practices for team members to learn or follow which resulted in the 9 other team members each saying, “The way I sell is the best.” Although, the symptoms of poor sales was easy to diagnose for most; it was a bloody nightmare to get on the right track. Sales began taking off only once we tested a couple different methods, processes etc… but it was likely set back months from where it should have been due to no coordination.

    In my opinion, an engineer who understands psychology makes the best person to create the sales team and I would rather have them set-up my team 100 percent of the time.

  58. I am a techie. And all this while, I never cared to under nuances of Sales/Marketing. Now I am at a stage where I think I have a great product to sell. But I am trying to figure how to create a team and get started SELLING! After going through your article, I am feeling very confident of learning the ropes of sales/marketing and eventually build a good team to carry forward the job. Thanks Neil!

  59. i wish i was a better salesman. its especially tough over the phone

  60. hey neil,
    I agree with you that “Don’t hire seasoned or senior salespeople”
    excellent post containing all the important point regarding sales.

    Thanks.

    Matt

  61. Hello,,,,,!

    Great Advice! You’re right, there really needs to be a synergy between sales and marketing teams.Keep sharing,Thanks,,,,,,,,,,,!

  62. Thanks for sharing this great post. You’ve outlined key issues that any startup should consider if it aims for success.

  63. I just stumbled on your post and great information. I especially agree with your comment about firing fast. You never want to fire someone but hanging on to a poor performing sales rep will drain the bank very quickly. If you aren’t in an “at willl” state be careful to document everything to keep yourself out of legal trouble.

  64. “Learn to sell before you hire”

    I agree with you, but gosh is really hard to sell.

    • Jorge, great point. I think the main thing to takeaway is that you need to understand what works and really have a solid process down before you build out your sales team.

  65. … This might seem obvious but you should do everything possible to keep your sales-staff motivated. One thing that a lot of new startups are trying is “team incentives.” Companies are setting up base salaries for their salesmen/women and giving them commission based on how their team performs. Things like team-incentives will help your sales staff invest in the success of the people around them which will result in them investing in your success.

    -B

    • Bryant, great point! I think having a cohesive sales team can do wonders for your bottom line. Additionally, by creating a competitive team spirit you can really push the needle for new sales and inquiries. Thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing more from you.

  66. Liilia MacCannell :

    Great points on creating sales team! But as a founder of startup I think that some part of work in sales and marketing should be outsourced. You can make a smaller investment to building your marketing plan until your growth provides the cash flow needed to hire more permanent staffing. Also, you often need the expertise of more knowledgeable professionals providing strategic growth plans and your budget doesn’t not allow for that level of investment for the long term. I was working Ignite http://ignitecloudware.com It seems to be reliable and competent company.

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