Five tips to building (or rebuilding) your first sales team

Ready to move beyond entrepreneur-as-solo-salesperson?

Tried already and disappointed with the results?

This article’s for you.

One of the biggest challenges for most entrepreneurs is building their first sales team. Sales provide the essential fuel that makes tomorrow possible. Company founders carry a lot of that responsibility in the earliest days. And if all goes well, the need to build a sales team comes fast. Without the team, opportunities will dwindle.

As founders we tend to have one of two views of sales. We’re either born to sell and love to be in every deal. Or we can’t wait for someone else to take over. Both offer challenges when it comes to building the team.

To get a fresh perspective on how to best tackle this phase of growth, I reached out to Andy Aicklen. Andy has been driving hyper-growth in software and tech companies for over thirty years. He now works with venture capital firms to maximize returns from their software investments. Andy and I shared stories and compiled the following list of tips for founders as they build their teams.

Deciding what you need

Do you hire a heavy hitter or an energetic new grad? Manager first or pure hunter? There are many needs to balance.

Although there is no single right answer, there are a few important elements to consider. Some of the questions that Andy asks founders include, “What are you selling? How long is the sales cycle? What’s the expected average monthly and annual run rates? How technical is the product? Who is the buyer?”

There’s a big difference in hiring someone to manage a short, simple sales cycle versus  a long, complex one. “Big deal” sales people can inspire a customer to stay engaged for the long haul. They help customers get to a place they didn’t think they could get to. They understand customers at a deeper level. They know how to leverage people on the team. They have an advanced level of social skills. They are also expensive.

Often product knowledge gets too much focus. From Andy’s perspective, “Understanding the technology and product isn’t that big an issue. Do you want your people to be experts in the product or an expert in selling? If they are too product-focused they won’t be successful long-term in managing a large number of clients. I’d rather hire a salesperson who was a sale executive first and a subject matter expert second. That’s why we use sales engineers or product specialists”.

Spend time upfront. Figure out exactly what you need before building a sales team with the wrong mix of skills for what you’re trying to sell.More