How Do You Scale Sales at a Startup?

Steve LudwigValue Creation JourneyLeave a Comment

Startup Valuation Curve

Scaling Sales at a startup is a three step process:

  1. Prove product/market fit by achieving founder-led sales and proving that someone will pay,
  2. Hire a Pathfinder salesperson whose role is to develop a predictable, repeatable, scalable, profitable Sales process (a.k.a. a Playbook),
  3. Build out the Sales organisation to implement the Playbook at scale. Note: your Sales leader for this stage is unlikely to be the Pathfinder salesperson.

Most B2B tech startup Founders are tech people, with “business” people a distant second. They think that “Sales” is not one of their primary skill sets. That view probably comes from an outdated notion of Sales that is perpetuated by Hollywood.

In the 1992 movie Glengarry Glen Ross, there is a famous scene with Alec Baldwin where his character talks about “always be closing” in Sales. It paints a horrific picture of high-pressure Sales where the top salesperson gets a new car, second place gets a set of steak knives, and everyone else is fired. 

Not a pretty picture. 

Luckily for us, that’s not what good salespeople do. 

What does this have to do with the Founder that doesn’t have a Sales background? From our experience, nothing sells like the passion, vision, and depth of product understanding that a Founder brings to the table. They are the ones that saw the opportunity in the market, had the courage to bring the product to market, and know what need it fills for customers. 

Many customers love it when they talk to the person that runs the show and knows the product so intimately. However, there is just one Founder and that person is not scalable. So, how do you begin to scale Sales at your startup? 

As we discussed in our last blog post, “When Should I Hire My First Sales Rep?”, it’s critical that a Founder understands the value creation journey and where they are in that process. 

The first part of that journey is Founder-led Sales. That’s where you prove product/market fit, i.e. there is a market for it, the Founder can sell it and customers have proved someone will pay for it.

Having completed this first part of the value creation journey, this is when you should hire your first Sales rep. 

The person best suited for that position is what we call a Pathfinder. 

They are the person that bridges the gap between the Founder-led Sales effort and scalability. They:

  • help prove that non-Founders can sell your product or service,
  • develop a broader understanding of the market and prospects,
  • learn how best to create awareness in the market,
  • turn that interest into warm leads, and are able to close deals. 

The Pathfinder experiments, pushes to open new doors, and builds a predictable, repeatable, scalable, and profitable Sales process. Essentially their role is to build the Sales “Playbook” that others can follow in scaling the business.

Pathfinders are unique compared to a “typical” salesperson. Some of the qualifications overlap including understanding technology, positivity, communication skills and, obviously, the ability to close a sale.

But areas where Pathfinders standout are:

  • their ability to deal with ambiguity, as many startups and their products quickly evolve,
  • not just a willingness but an excitement around building the processes and procedures necessary for a successful Sales operation as an organization scales,
  • they bring a curiosity that allows for creative solutions,
  • their hunger is motivated by something quite different to most other sales types.

How do you find your Pathfinder salesperson? 

We have been in your shoes and have struggled with the same question. That’s why we have developed The Right Five. We have codified the skills and attributes that make a Pathfinder and developed an online assessment that tests for those Pathfinder skills.

No other business is as focused on reducing the risk, time and cost for B2B tech founders looking to make their first Sales hire. We are The Right Five. We help you hire the right salesperson, the first time.

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