A lot of entrepreneurs want to jump straight to hiring a VP of Sales to scale their sales team, but I advise against this. Your company’s first interactions with customers in the wild is often a critical learning point. Founders need to be out there on the front lines watching first hand how customers react to the product. You need to be the one deciding whether the client is just making a false objection, or whether they’re giving relevant product feedback. These steps are too important for an outsider or a less experienced sales hire.
If you’re looking to build a sales team, the following are steps I recommend:
How to Build A Sales Team
You need to get out there and sell your product enough times to confirm that it’s useful, and to figure out which types of clients find it useful. This interaction with clients is an incredible learning opportunity and should not be outsourced. A non-founder – or less experienced sales person – won’t know what to do with the learnings.
2. Set the baseline
Set the pace for your sales team to come. You’ve got the passion, the product knowledge, and most likely the industry knowledge to sell your product better than anyone else. This will set the bar against which any future sales hires will be measured, and it’ll will help you figure out what’s not working if your first sales hires come in and fail.
3. Develop a Process
Once you’ve sold your product enough and narrowed in on the Ideal Client Profile (ICP), start increasing your efficiency by identifying the steps in the process and tracking your conversion rates. This process will become the foundation for your future sales process and the template for all sales people to come. This is the playbook that will allow you to scale your sales organization.
This playbook is critical. If you try to scale without a playbook, you’ll burn through a ton of money and most likely won’t drive the revenue you were expecting. Crack the sales formula for your product BEFORE you hire.
4. Build a hiring profile
You’ve now done the work for a few months, and you’re probably itching to get sales responsibility off your plate. What work did you need to do in order to sell successfully? You’re going to want to hire someone that can do those exact same things…. It’s that simple.
You should also think about the culture of your company and the culture of your future sales team. I’d make sure that my first sales hire can not only do the sales work, but you want them to be a culture carrier, not a culture black hole.
This is the easiest part. As the founder you can sell the dream better than anyone else. You’ve got the profile, and once you find your first hire, get them onboard. Make sure you hire someone that’s in it for the sales work, not just someone who is “startup star struck” and wants to join a startup for the glory.
This is the most important part, the period in which you pass your sales knowledge to your new hire. What I’d recommend is a phased approach where the new hire learns to prospect, then they learn to set meetings for you, then they shadow you running the meetings, and eventually they start running the sales meeting while you’re attending.
This process leverages the sales work you’re already doing to train your first salesperson, and it gives you the opportunity to shadow and learn to trust the person that will be representing you to your clients in the future. Until they are able to close business in a way you are comfortable with, you probably should not let them go out on their own.
Once you’ve created one sales person, then you can go out and get more. At Building the Sales Machine, we’re fans of hiring in twos. It gives you a larger sample size by which to measure success or failure. If one person fails and the other succeeds, then you learn twice as much about the hiring profile you’ll want to use going forward.
If things are scaling the way you want, then congratulations, you’re the new sales leader. You may not believe you’re a VP of Sales, but if you’re driving consistent, scalable revenue, then you probably want to keep doing that.
But if you need a hand, I’d hire sales people that have the future ability to lead. I wouldn’t tell them that you have that goal in mind up front, but if you use that as criteria for your team you’ll raise the bar for hiring. Eventually, one of the team members will step up and surprise you — this is the person to hire as your sales leader. But keep in mind, the skills required for managing are different from the ones required to successfully sell.