Challenges of Hiring Your First Sales Person at An Early Stage Company

Hiring For early stage startups in general is difficult. Invoking the spirit of Jim Collins’ Good to Great book, it's incredibly important “to get the right people on the bus.”

Kyle Ferguson
October 25, 2022
3 min

Hiring For early stage startups in general is difficult. Invoking the spirit of Jim Collins’ Good to Great book, it's incredibly important “to get the right people on the bus.” The most important parts of a business are often the most challenging ones and hiring the right people is one of them.. Great people build great companies and it takes a certain type of person at the early stages of a company to make it successful.

If your business relies on a sales effort to sell your products or to build partnerships, then your success can heavily hinge on your sales team's ability to sell. You need someone who has solid experience and can develop strategies but who is also scrappy and willing to do things the hard way or to test new things that they haven't before.

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They need to be creative, think outside the box and have a growth mindset.You don’t want someone who thinks they have it all figured out already, the job of early stage employees is to figure it out. Each startup has its own unique target market and requires unique sales strategies suited to your audience.

You have the dilemma that if you hire too senior of a person, they might not be as willing to roll up their sleeves and do the dirty work but if you hire someone too junior, they might not be reliable and might take a long time to figure out a sales process that works.

At the same time, most early stage businesses don’t have the funding yet to be able to attract and hire a talented sales person who has worked for startups. Oftentimes the sales role is overlooked by the founders, being given to a friend or someone in their network or who is already on the team but might have the right experience and skill sets to build a sales organization from the ground up.

The key to finding a great first sales hire for your startup is finding someone who is passionate about your mission so that they are willing to grind it out without receiving big commission checks that they are used to. When someone truly believes in your mission and product/service, they will do a 5x better job selling and are willing to tough it out in the early stages.

Ideally your first sales hire has experience building a sales team for early stage startups but those people are few and far in between. If you can’t get the right experienced person to fill the role, the next best option is to find a young motivated person who might only have a little bit of experience but is willing to learn, fail, and try new ideas without being married to any old ones.

You should always be hiring and networking. Start the hiring process long before you need that teammate. Most early hires come from within the current employees networks. Finding the person with the right DNA and skill set can be tough but it is worth the investment.

At the most successful startups, the CEO or founder acts as the sales person at the very beginning. One of the most important skill sets for a CEO is sales. You are constantly selling your vision to employees, investors, partners, etc. If one of your founders has sales experience, then you can usually get away with hiring a less experienced sales person as your first hire.

If none of your founders have sales experience, I highly recommend reaching out to a former colleague or someone in your network who has sales experience to get their advice.

We are here to provide that experience and strategy that a senior sales person would bring to a startup without the cost of hiring them full time.

Understanding Your Market

The success of any startup relies heavily on understanding the market it operates in and identifying the ideal customers within that market. Understanding your customer and becoming a subject matter expert is key, especially at the formidable stages.

By having insight into potential customers, you know what problems you should be solving with your product and how to communicate in a way that appeals to them.

The market is the broader industry that you serve. The ideal customer dives deeper into who your product is the best fit to serve. It's a way to segment your customers.

You might not know who your product best serves yet, and that is okay, but it's important to hypothesize and test who is.

Make some assumptions about what would make a customer a good fit for your product and test those assumptions otherwise, use your current customer base and data to guide you.

Here are some of the key steps to understanding your market and identifying your ideal customers:

Understanding Your Market

1. Research industry trends and news: Stay updated on current and emerging trends in your industry. Search Google news, read articles and follow the right people on social media to gain insights into customer preferences and potential opportunities.

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