5 ways to recognize a good Startup Salesperson

Over the last couple of years as I’ve been deeply involved in startups as an early stage investor and now operator, I’ve noticed that one of the most critical pieces to the puzzle is the 1st salesperson.  Startups in particular require a certain type of salesperson that has a set of key traits, and those traits can be very different than those desirable for salespeople selling into existing markets.

Here are 5 traits that I think are key to identifying good startup salespeople:

  1. Most or all of selling experience is within startups – A salesperson who has had great success for 20 years selling for big, established tech companies is probably not the right person to build your team around.  You need someone who knows how to sell the company vision AND who can close your first couple of deals to early adopters, even though your product is pre-release or newly GA.
  2. Wants a leveraged compensation plan – This person will be comfortable with a lower base as long as they have a package that is heavy on commission and equity.  They are motivated by cash but take the equity portion of the comp package very seriously, because they believe in the product and the company vision.
  3. Doesn’t need a big expense budget – Your startup barely has enough money to pay the employees, let alone pay for a couple of Morton’s steakhouse dinners every week.  Make sure your salesperson isn’t going to need to use expensive activities to generate prospects or sales.
  4. Can sell the product as spec’d – The startup salesperson should be able to find prospects who will buy what the development team has built.  This will be harder than finding prospects who will buy your product if you add a few additional features, but the benefit is that you’re not bloating your feature set and doing custom development to win every deal.   There are many startups that fall into this trap, and its hard to move from here into a repeatable scalable sales model.
  5. Shouldn’t be aVP of Sales’ type –  You will need a VP of Sales if you figure out a scalable, repeatable revenue and sales model and need someone to manage your growing sales team.  Until then, stick to the folks who are hunters, love selling startup company technology, and enjoy having a huge territory in which to sell.
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