I saw this lovely CEO grid, courtesy of Time Magazine and it reminded me that most Tech CEO who have been successful have had to hand over the reigns and commercial leadership of their company to another and secondly most have expanded their offering to include B2B sales.

Moving from leading the sales yourself to get those first 5 or 10 customers is what you must do but then the hard part is scaling your efforts and ultimately your time. It’s not easy.

For example in the UK, 96% of businesses are between 1-9 employees and produce 32% of all employment UK (Source: BIS 2017). In tech, this means that often the really successful operations will have jumped over this hurdle when you include the first Co-Founders and initial development team and would have hired their first salespeople and be scaling rapidly.

When selecting your first salesperson, you need to be careful as it could delay your growth of up to 6-9 months. In a young tech company this could really set you back and drastically affect your cashflow. Here is my advice when wanting to get a new salesperson:

  1. Rank-and-file vs. Partner-led profile: a rank-and-file salesperson will have worked for a globally known brand and has been one of the many salespeople operating under that company. They are used to picking up the one and the prospect knowing from just the company name what they do. As a young startup, you are completely different. You need someone that is able to understand a new prospect’s needs and able to convince them first of all to meet with you. Even when the first meeting has been sat, there is often not a clear process, a fulfillment chain or sales operations arm in your fledgling startup to help your salespeople. Beware rank-and-file will EXPECT process and it already to be in place.
  2. New Business vs. Account Management: this sounds like very ordinary advice but I see so many tech startups get this wrong. I sat in an interview the other day where the CEO was interviewing a Customer Success Manager instead of a true Business Development Manager. You need someone that is a new business hunter and will go out there and prospect for you day-in day-out. It’s interesting in the interview to understand their rationale between moving jobs and in larger companies, why did they move division?
  3. Face-To-Face Sales Experience: often in tech companies you are trying to hire a junior salesperson due to budgetary constraints. Just think about the business outcomes, the necessary activities and the skills they need and in this order first. If you are hiring a junior salesperson who has little face-to-face sales experience are you comfortable with them meeting a CMO, COO, CFO of a FTSE100. How effective do you think they’ll be? They are the face of your company.
  4. Structured v Unstructured: this is connected to to the type of profile you choose, explained in point 1 above. Often a good exercise is thinking about how you sell at the moment…and thinking if a new salesperson joined tomorrow do you think we’d be ready to onboard them properly? How easy would it be to understand our value proposition? Often they have come an environment where they have had a very structured sales process, you are still learning, so need to be aware of your flaws and whether the individual will thrive or die in this environment.
  5. Sales Onboarding: are you ready to onboard a new salesperson today? What support will they have? What tools will they use? What will the first 6 weeks look like? Who will teach them? You need to think carefully on this topic as you can waste great talent due to your own lack of clarity and structure. You can also hire the wrong person at the wrong time.

In summary, I’m a big believer in that you need to select someone that can work side by side you. Often this will mean that they will put up with ADHD, your flitting between tasks and your constant new strategies. This is not uncommon as a new tech CEO. What I wanted to highlight here in this article is that you need to get things right from the start and master the structure and fundamentals so that you can scale systematically and consistently as a tech business.

I’d be interested to learn more about how you have hired your first salespeople and what your experience has shown you.

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