Most startup founders have very little if any experience with selling products.
They view themselves as the originators of the idea that sparks an amazing product and business.
So it would be very logical to think that once the product is mature enough with a few paying customers there is enough justification to hire a sales person.
As a startup mentor I have seen this dozens of times in early stage startups. Each an every time I have seen this approach FAIL .
- As a startup you have not yet identified how to scale the distribution of your product. Distribution is just as important as software development. It is the same as hiring a team of developers in a different country, and expecting them to know how build what you want! This approach is doomed to failure!
- Your sales hire is not likely to understand the problem you are trying to solve as well as you do. They will be at a disadvantage because there is no established process and they don’t understand the problem well enough to know how to effectively position the product.
- And finally you probably can’t afford to hire a highly skilled sales person. Successful sales people by nature will be working somewhere else and making a lot of money. Can you afford to pay them enough to take a big risk with your startup? No. You will only be able to attract sales people with fewer skills and who are less likely to make your startup a success. Even if you offer them a good base salary, commission and founders equity, this will not be enough to dissuade someone that is already earning $200k - $300k to take a chance with your passionate project!
So how do early stage startups get started in sales?
I have observed the best way is for founders is to learn the sales skills themselves. You cannot outsource this skill until you have found a template and process that works before you scale.
Sales people hired after you have reached approximately $1M in revenue will have greater confidence they are in the right place to be successful.
You might be thinking, “but I hate sales!”. If you cannot get around the idea of selling then I suggest you go back to working for a tech company or consultancy firm.
Depending on your personal situation you could try one of the following to build your sales experience:
- Take 6-12 months off and work in a structured sales environment. It could be for a growing technology company or you could join a recruitment firm.
- Get a sales coach that can tailor an approach designed to help you succeed.
- Search for various communities and services that will enable you to learn alongside other startup founders. For example some coworking hubs have great mentors that can give you the guidance you need.
Sales is not easy. Don’t expect your learning and growth to be a walk in the path.
If you do focus on building your own skills you are more likely to give your startup the very best chance of success!