The cowboys of the Wild West had grit. They were loyal trail-blazers, well-equipped to handle whatever the untamed prairie threw at them.
Modern-day startups should seek those cowboy qualities in their first sales hires: fearlessness, willingness to work, and readiness for saddling up, grinding, and growing with the company for the long haul.
But that first salesperson can be a tough one to tie down. Do you zero in on the high-falutin, well-experienced, pricey VP of sales, or do you take a shot at someone who can roll with all the unpredictability and minutiae that comes with a new startup?
Startup sales can be a treacherous terrain with unexpected barriers. That first piece should be unafraid to traverse the frontier and strong enough to maintain a stiff upper lip.
Wild West Skills to Ponder for a First Hire
Oracle Technology Founder Larry Ellison was considered an aggressive salesperson. His “pushy” sales tactics eventually helped him sell his first database to the CIA because he knew that those willing to grab the bull — or in this case, the market — by the horns won the long-term contracts.
Every role within a company is unique, but the investment in the initial sales hire produces one of two options: It either depletes all the funds because the deals take too long to close, or it boosts company’s performance and efficiency. Avoid the former by focusing on candidates who create significant impact without the bells and whistles. Select someone with an eye on growth and forethought for widening the client base.
That first salesperson needs to aggressively serve the company with a boldness and energy that will draw in customers and close deals. He should be:
An active presence:
It is essential to have someone on board who can break the lethargy and land those first key sales. Showing compassion and respect for customers is an integral part of aggressively pursuing their business. This focused zeal will cause potential buyers to feel you are interested in them, both professionally and personally.
An assured presence:
Staying positive is reflected not only in the rest of the team, but also in sales pitches. If the salesperson exudes confidence (or, conversely, wallows in failure), a prospect will pick up on that almost immediately.
An adaptable presence:
In the earliest days of your company, you are trying anything and everything you can to bring in those first few closes. A perceptive salesperson will know that different sales pitches must be used for different customers. Being flexible and able to adapt to each unique situation is an indispensable skill for a salesperson.
An astute presence:
When you are trying to pull in those first few clients, a mistake can be the difference between life and death for your company. You need someone who can dot the i’s and cross the t’s every time.
An amiable presence:
For a lot of early-stage companies, it’s a pretty tight space, literally and figuratively. Make sure you have someone who’s easy to work with (and easy on your potential clients). When your salesperson is likable, your company and customers will feel respected and receptive.
Jim Koch, a co-founder of Samuel Adams beer, is a perfect example of a salesperson who utilized his inherent sales skills. His aggressive marketing, detail orientation, and personability got his company up and running.
When he started his beer empire, he went bar to bar with six packs that owners could sample. That method exuded a swagger and conviction we’re used to seeing in the cinematic cowboys embodied by John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and others like them. That’s the kind of sales persona you want front and center when entering the startup shootout.
Find Someone Ready to Take the Reins
When looking for the right sales fit for your company, it can be quite challenging to identify the someone who is a cut above the rest just from perusing résumés. To find an individual who embodies what your company is all about, has the key traits for a successful salesperson, and can lean in to your market strategy, you must look for certain qualities such as:
#1. He knows the town — and its residents.
If you’re selling to large enterprise clients, having someone with a wide network of contacts in those companies is key. These folks tend to be more mature and demand a higher salary, but the tradeoff is worth it.
Identify someone active in the customer base. This helps a company pinpoint where the candidate has spent his or her time previously, which comes with the bonus of a strong, built-in client base once that seller comes aboard.
#2. He can chat with the locals.
If you’re selling directly to small or medium-sized businesses, look for someone who has a thick skin and is ambitious enough to cold call or knock on doors. Sometimes that’s an entrenched salesperson willing to do whatever it takes; other times it’s someone new enough to the industry that she’ll grab leads any way she can.
No matter what end of the spectrum that ends up being, the hire should be willing to talk — a lot. Ideal candidates can help you understand your client base better as they make their calls and talk to many prospects at a time.
#3. He knows the leader — or he is the leader.
Many times, the best salesperson is the CEO or founder of the company. Get an idea of what has made that person successful in closing sales, then find individuals to embrace and adopt those traits to keep the team — and business overall — on the up and up.
When hiring for your startup, think of trying out someone who would fit right in with the cowboys in the Wild West: someone with grit, gumption, and staying power. In doing so, you will set a firm foundation of leaders to take your business from startup to success. Strap on your chaps and spurs lickety-split, and get ready for a wild ride.
Do you disagree with these traits or know some other qualities an early-stage company should seek in a first sales hire? If so, mosey on down to the comments section, and speak your mind!