Salespeople at startups by mark suster

Most technology startups seem to be founded by three types of people: product managers, engineers or biz dev types (MBAs and the like). Very few of them are started, in my experience, by sales people and very few early stage companies really understand sales. That’s why I started the Sales & Marketing Series and at one point I will do a bunch of posts on the sales methodology we developed at my first company called PUCCKA.

Today I want to talk about sales executives and a model for thinking about them. If you ever have to interview, hire, judge the performance of, decide whether to promote, assign clients/regions to them or have to decide whether to fire sales people, I think having a framework for thinking about them is helpful.

Here’s mine:

Let me start with a few biases. First, I think that most great sales people have an innate skill that can’t be taught. That view from me isn’t surprising since on the topic of Nature vs. Nurture in entrepreneurs I’ve clearly come down on the side of nature more than nurture (again, that doesn’t mean nurture has NO influence, just less than nature). Second, I think that running great sales programs is mostly about running great sales processes. So as you grow your business and if you’re looking to hire sales people, one of the most important things to look for is somebody who understands the sales process and somebody that you perceive as “process oriented.” More on that later.

1. Journeymen – Journeymen (Journeywomen!) are, as the name implies, the people who have “learned a trade and work for another person usually by the day.” They are hugely process driven. These people take directions well from a sales manager on how to approach sales campaigns. When you hear them speak in an interview about how they’ve run sales campaigns in the past they describe the methods with precision. They are masters at using Salesforce.

com because they love the structure that it provides. They’re organized and methodical. They’ll have taken 10 sales courses and they’ll list them all on their resume (why??). They set up “tickler” lists to remind them of calls and they always make the calls they say they are going to make. They’re always on time. They work through ROI calculations with customers. They’re great at orchestrating your company to deliver product demos. They know how to walk a deal from business owner, through IT, through procurement and through legal to get a closed order. They are the LIFEBLOOD of sales organizations because they’re plentiful and deliver great value relative to their costs. They’re also usually very loyal to your organization. Almost by definition. They’re journeymen.

But doesn’t Journeyman almost imply something pejorative? Yeah, kind of. Even though they’re great at process you can tell when you spend time with them that they miss some sort of “spark” that you’re expecting in a sales person. Some sort of magic where you just finished the meeting and can’t remember what they were selling but you know you needed three of them. It’s the “je ne sais quoi,” the “X factor.” And in my experience Journeyman are not good in two scenarios. a) they don’t tend to make great heads of sales departments and b) they aren’t the people you want early in your company. The reason for “b” is that most early stage companies survive on “evangelical sales” as in when you’re having to educate the customer on something new and different and get them to take a leap of faith. Journeymen don’t do “leap of faith.

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Salespeople at startups by mark suster