So Your First Sales Hire Didn’t Work – Now What?

Neil HartleyValue Creation JourneyLeave a Comment

wooden tiles spelling out learn from failure

You did it. You hired your first salesperson. Whether to get yourself out of the frontline of Sales or, maybe, to get the business more proactive in its go to market, you’ve done it.

Now you can focus on other things. Maybe, more fulfilling things. Sure, you’ll still have to ride shotgun on some sales calls but the future is brighter, much brighter.

Fast forward 2 to 3 months.

Something’s wrong. Your salesperson has gone very quiet. They’re not sat on the phone all day (that’s what salespeople do, right?) and their initial positivity has all but vanished. The pipeline is not where you think it should be but you’re not sure how to qualify or ask the right questions..

It’s not working out. What went wrong and what can you do about it? 

Firstly, let’s see where you were on the value creation journey when you made that first Sales hire.

Startup Valuation Curve

Had you passed founder-led sales? Meaning, have you as the Founder sold the proposition and proven that someone will pay?

If you have then it’s likely that you simply hired the wrong type of salesperson for the role.

Perhaps you were unclear on what that role is – to develop a repeatable, predictable, scalable, profitable sales process (a Playbook for others to follow). They are building the bridge between startup and scale-up. Of course they need to generate revenue but you have to expect them to experiment (and fail) and try again. It takes time to get to that optimal sales process.

Maybe you were unaware of the skills required to be successful as the first Sales hire in a B2B tech startup? They are very different to those possessed by most ‘normal’ salespeople. They have to be able to operate in a world of ambiguity and without the resources most salespeople can’t imagine being without.

Then, even with the awareness of what the role should be and the required skills, assessing for those skills in interview is extremely difficult – even for seasoned Sales leaders.

At The Right Five we call those who can be successful in this first Sales hire role, Pathfinders, and the good news is that their unique skillsets (along with the basic blocking and tackling of sales and marketing) have been codified into an online assessment and rules engine.  This means that a mass of applicants can be automatically reduced to a handful of Pathfinders for interview thereby, saving you time and money if you need to hire a replacement.

The second scenario relating to the value creation journey is that you made your first Sales hire without having got through the gate of founder-led sales. There are two common situations where this is the case:

  1. The Founder simply doesn’t want to embrace Sales. Those with a deeply technical background can find the notion of “Sales” uncomfortable, probably based more on Glengarry Glen Ross than the reality of today’s sales environment. Regardless, nobody else will have the passion and knowledge you have for your product – if you can’t sell it, nobody can.
  2. Companies that have ‘grown’ using industry/government grants look to hire their first salesperson without ever really having sold anything on the open market.

The reality of both of these situations is an unreasonable expectation of the salesperson to perform, without any evidence that the Founder can actually sell the product or that someone is willing to pay. As a case in point, a certified Pathfinder found himself at a company that had grown through grants and, within a couple of months, was placed under unreasonable pressure to be closing deals. The company in question had been operating for close to five years (without making any ‘sales’) and was expecting the ‘hired gun’ to ride into town and start winning new business from day one.

In both of these cases, the “now what” has to be for those companies to go back and get through the gate of founder-led sales before looking to hire their Pathfinder.

Understanding the value creation journey is not only critical to getting your first Sales hire right, it’s a language of discourse used within the investor world. Being able to articulate where your business is on that journey will be beneficial both in terms of managing the business internally, as well as externally if you do decide to raise capital.

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