Five Must-Haves for Startup Salespeople

salesIn a recent blog post, I talked about how marketing and sales are pretty much the same thing for a startup given the resources and responsibilities. It got me thinking about the best characteristics for a startup salesperson. Here is what I think they need to bring to the table:

1. The willingness to work for a small, non-established company. It sounds straightforward but salespeople like selling, but working for a startup can mean trying to push a small rock up a big hill – without the compensation and perks. A salesperson needs to be excited about a startup’s ability to resonate with customers may have not know the product exists.

2. The ability to multi-task. In a startup, salespeople need to do a lot more than just sell. They have to do business development, marketing, customer service and administrative duties.  In a sense, all of the above involves selling but in a different and indirect way. While salespeople like to be out there selling, working for a startup has to be a lot more.

3. Good listening skills. The products sold by startups are created to solve a problem but it doesn’t mean customers know they need or want them. It means salespeople have to listen as much as they speak, which can be a challenge. It means taking a soft sell approach in which a salesperson learns what a customer needs rather than what a salespeople wants to sell them.

4. Embrace the idea of being product developers. The one thing salespeople do is talk with potential and existing customers on a regular basis. As a result, they can get a good understanding of the problems or needs faced by potential customers, the products or features they would like to see, their budgets and the competition.

5. Be team players rather than lone wolves. While salespeople need to be out talking to potential customers, they also have to understand the different parts of the company, and be willing to get involved in other parts of the business. They need to have a willingness to accept recommendations and ideas from other people and, at the same time, be willing to bring their ideas and feedback to the table.

Links: Ben Horowitz on how to hire great salespeople, and Amrita Chandra on the six must-have traits for a startup marketer.

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  • Kent Shimek

    As a salesperson at a tech startup in the Bay Area, I would add that startups looking to make early sales hires can play up these as strengths to the right audience, and they should realize that that their ideal hires may not be tenured, corporate sales reps.

    Many who have sold for years in corporate environments will have expectations for resources, compensation and role-definition that do not mesh with startup culture. There are many talented sales people who would relish the opportunity to step into cross-functional sales, marketing and product-related roles, although most that I know are in their 20′s.

    I would recommend at least a few years of quota-obtaining sales experience, but what are your thoughts on startups sales hires being individuals in the 3-5 year experience range who have proven talented in sales and expressed interested in marketing and/or product?

    Also, would be interested in seeing a complete job description for your ideal startup sales candidate.

    • Mark Evans

      I think it makes sense for startup salespeople to have some experience as opposed to learning on the job. You make a great point about startup salespeople not having the support and structure, which can be disconcerting for experienced people. To me, one of the biggest assets someone can bring to a startup sales position is the ability to be creative, be fast on their feet and willing to figure out what the customer needs opposed to what they’re trying to sell them. I’ll work on the job description!

  • Ali Ghafour

    Hi mark, from my experience at Viafoura this is very true. Our top guy exhibits all 5 very well and the one we let go did not have 4/5.