Even Experienced Business Leaders Get This Wrong

Steve LudwigValue Creation JourneyLeave a Comment

wooden tiles spelling out learn from failure

Even experienced leaders can get their first sales hire wrong in a B2B tech startup. 

“Eric”, who had been in the tech world for more than 20 years, was brought into a new California Bay Area-based startup by its founders to be CEO. 

At the time they had nearly zero revenue. So, he knew his job was to start landing clients and get a sales team set up. Eric had a solid background in leadership and sales and thought what he wanted as his first sales hire was a person with a proven and solid track record in sales.

Unfortunately, most salespeople tend to be very good with established sales systems. Where the prospects are clear and well defined, the process for closing those prospects is systematized, and where there are strong, established internal support systems for the salesperson such as lead generation. 

In short, there is a ‘Playbook’ for the salesperson to follow.

However, these are all the things that the typical startup doesn’t have, as they haven’t been created yet. 

So, Eric hired a Playbook salesperson. They had a great resumé and were great at the interview. On paper, and in person, they seemed like a great fit. Quarter-on-quarter over-achievement, President’s club, and a Rolodex to match.

Eric hired and fired a number of “first” salespeople before he realized his mistake. He needed a Pathfinder. While Playbook salespeople can do wonders in established environments, B2B tech startups need a Pathfinder. 

Think of a Pathfinder as the person who hacks their way through a jungle. Literally creating a path where none existed. We have found that Pathfinders have a unique set of characteristics, including: 

  • A strong ability to deal with ambiguity. The first Sales hire role is one without a Playbook and, by definition, such an early startup lacks the support (e.g. lead generation) of other later stage companies.
  • A willingness and excitement around building the processes and procedures necessary for a successful Sales operation as an organization scales.
  • Curiosity that allows for creative solutions.
  • A hunger motivated by something quite different to most other sales types.

The Pathfinder is the person that will develop the predictable, repeatable, scalable, and profitable sales process. In short, it’s the Pathfinder who creates the Playbook for others to follow and scale the business.

Through trial and error, Eric realized what he was doing wrong and that he should have known better. He finally found his Pathfinder and the company grew to over US$30 million in annual revenue over seven years before they were acquired. 

We know that most B2B tech startups don’t have the time or resources for trial and error with salespeople. That’s why we have developed The Right Five. We have codified the skills required to be a Pathfinder and developed an online assessment and rules engine that classifies candidates as a Pathfinder or a Non-Pathfinder.

You just have to have your applicants take the assessment and then choose from those identified as Pathfinders and interview the ones who best fit your company/sector. That allows you to get the right person hired, right the first time. 

We know from experience, that getting the right person out of the gate can make all the difference for the long-term success of a B2B tech startup. The good news is we just took the risk out of it.

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