Startup sales is different.

By February 28, 2018 No Comments

We’ve all heard the story of the startup founder who hired a rockstar sales person from (insert big tech company name here).  And we all know how it turned out: the rockstar sales guru then tanked, often within 6 months of joining the new company.

Why is this problem so prevalent? Are we that bad at recruiting and selecting talent? (Well, maybe, but that’s a topic for another day.)

We think it’s because startup sales are fundamentally different than sales in larger companies.

In established companies, sales management and their teams work in a very different environment. They are selling known products, that solve a known problem to a well-defined target customer. Their value proposition is typically understood, and there’s a big team of folks helping them to articulate their differentiation. The “winning sales formula” has already been proven out, and there are processes, tools, content, management and sales compensation structures in place to support it. And last, sales people have a known brand on their business card, that helps open the door (both literally and figuratively).

In that environment, sales success is mostly about recruiting, motivating and managing great sales talent. Sales managers already have a working factory – they just need the workers to produce the output.

Now, in a startup, early-stage sales often has two different purposes. First, to get some cash in the door so that the company can survive. Second, but equally important, to leverage sales efforts get market feedback on both our product and our business model from real potential users and buyers.   So, it’s bit of a mashup of product, marketing, sales and biz dev.

So, in startups, sales success is about taking a lean approach. About getting out of the office and taking a customer and market development approach to winning your first few deals. About listening to early feedback so you can refine your sales approach and tactics, as well as re-evaluate your business model.  About embracing the ambiguity, harnessing your passion for solving your buyer’s problems and constantly improving.

Don’t hire the big company sales rockstar. Become a lean startup sales and customer development rockstar yourself. It’s the best investment you’ll make.

This post originally appeared on Alberta Enterprise Corporation’s Start Alberta portal.