Do you know what Facebook’s #1 hiring position is right now?
Don’t believe me? Check this out:
I wanted to write a guide for clients building apps which require them to sell something.
Often that may be as simple as convincing businesses to sign up for advertising or as complex as licensing their technology or platform.
This is beyond just throwing an app on the Appstore, this is actually running a startup.
Everything I write about is my experience in growing multimillion dollar tech sales teams. Now let’s begin:
#1 Your Vision is important. Pay low bases, High commissions
When you’re a startup you’ll attract people that want all of the upside of being successful in corporate with all the perks of a startup.
They’ll tell you they’re sacrificing by wanting to fly business class, why they NEED $250,000 a year to survive however they’ll still want as much equity and stock options as somebody who never pays themselves until the company is profitable.
You need to avoid these characters at all cost. They are deadly. Why? They’ll convince you that they’re so valuable they can change your business, and as a naive entrepreneur you’ll believe it and keep paying up all your critical cash.
What I’ve learned is this. Make sure that the people joining your company particularly in sales are excited about what you’re trying to create. You should be able to articulate your vision and they should be driven to work 100 hour weeks for you to make it happen. Money comes secondary.
The early staff at Apple were more excited about the tool they were making ‘the bicycle for the mind’ than the fact they were going to make heaps of money.
Secondly, make sure that you don’t fall for the “Telco Sales” trap. I always tell recruiters that I refuse to hire ex-big telecommunication sales people for two main reasons
They usually have never generated deals independant of the brand (ie: yep, I’ll go to Telstra and get 30 mobiles)
They are usually on high bases with limited targets so are used to a cushy low-performance sales environment which would kill a startup hungry for cash.
What you’re looking for is somebody who is proven but hungry and desperate for their next shot. They are willing to take a low base salary (say $40,000) with high pay-per-performance bonuses. Given that most tech-companies have digital products it’s not unusual to pay up to 50% commissions on sales.
You need to also be ruthless about hiring top talent. Don’t bring in the bottom of the barrel. With the right vision and an exciting growth plan you can get the top 10% of the pool of sales reps.
(Side note: Of course, the irony is great that one of our best salespeople we ever hired was ex-Telco – but generally speaking my rule applies!)
#2 Learn to sell it first (Or Find Somebody that can)
Here’s the thing: Unless the first member of your sales team is your co-founder then forget the idea of finding somebody to come in and ‘create’ all your sales processes.
Think about it. Why would ANYONE leave a job as a top producer making hundreds of thousands a year to come work at your startup if there’s no guarantees or even results of past performance?
It’s crazy and they won’t.
Top producers want to know:
- What they have to say to close a deal
- What they need to know to close a client
- Which Prospects they need to be speaking to.
- How to close a deal, step-by-step
Some of us aren’t natural sales people. But as founders we need to ALWAYS be pitching. If you don’t know where to start, commit to learning.
How good do you need to be?
Well according to Abraham Maslow there’s a few different stages of learning any skill including sales.
You start off being unconsciously competent where you don’t know what you don’t know.
Consciously competent people need to think to do it, but can. Like when you first took your training wheels off your bike.
My advice is that if you find yourself on the right where you’re pretty good but need to think about it, then you can probably kick off the sales campaign for your company, start trying things and building processes.
If you’re a hardcore introvert, never sold anything in your life and stricken by fear at the very idea of selling then here’s the thing.
You still need to learn. Communication skills are non-negotiable in building a great tech company, but the lead time for you to learn them (possibly years) is too long for your startup to survive. You need to face reality and find a co-founder with business development skills.
If you’re just starting make that person a 50% partner and make sure you find somebody who you truly believe can drive the sales and marketing of your product. Don’t worry about giving up equity, the time it’ll take you to learn to be a great sales person will far exceed the loss of equity.
#3 Avoid Long Sales Cycles, Sell Something Fast.
I’ve always been impatient. As a startup you’re only ever a few weeks or months away from dying.
Unfortunately for those in corporate sales the buying cycle can extend for years and years and are dependant on budgets, politics and general lethargy to action anything.
I know of a startup where I was meeting with their sales manager that literally doesn’t set revenue target, they just wanted a business development manager to introduce their product to colleagues. Yuck.
No matter he was looking for a job, they didn’t get enough ROI to keep him. My advice in situations where you are looking to make a long sales cycle: Kill it.
Sell something early. Whether that’s consulting, a small version or a prototype. Something they can do without the whole committee signing off on. Usually this is best prices $1,000-$5,000.
That way you’ll start generating cash and open the conversation with the right stakeholders to sell them the full scale product. This bigger product is best at $5,000+
Whatever your business model, there is SOMETHING you can sell at the start.
#4: Set the Rules & Keep the Hustle.
There’s been countless books on managing sales people, so I won’t write too much about it here. However two important things I’ve learnt:
A. Make sure you set the rules upfront and stick to them.
Sales people will always push the boundaries, and they’ll smile while they do it. They’re damn persuasive. If you have certain work hours stick to them, if you have certain KPIs stick to them – don’t bend around like crazy. You’ll lose respect and focus. Remember doing something poorly consistently is better than flip flopping constantly.
B. Keep the hustle
Your sales team make you the money. Protect them. I know a CEO of a $20m company who sits with the sales team everyday and protects them from everyone else in the company.
They need to be protected from negativity, bitching and office politics. You want them in consistently strong state so they can close, close and close. Sales is an energy and enthusiasm game, if your team doesn’t always have that, then put them in separate rooms!
Let me finish by stating the obvious:
Selling is not evil. It’s the core of all business, without sales nothing else happens. My final advice is to make sure you never build an anti-sales culture that some tech companies have – a great sales team is a valuable asset in the competitive business world.