“As a technical consultant-turned-entrepreneur, how can I successfully hire and on-board sales staff to grow my start-up ?”

This question was recently posed to me by a start-up CEO, with a strong IT technical/consulting background who is seeking to grow his business by employing a sales person.

If you are a sole operator, then consulting and selling is synonymous. You are the product. However for  a growing business, how does the sales person get into the mix?

Let’s first review some basic differences between a solo technical consultant and start-up:

  • A consultant can only sell her time once.
  • A start-up your organisation should be geared to scale.

You need to turn your technical skills into an organisational capability.

Consider this context:

  • Turn your services into products. For example you may be a fantastic SAP architect/developer with years of experience in conducting IT audits. Turn that experience/skill into a product and describe what you can provide and work out what you will charge for it! Your sales person can then cast a broad net for potential clients. She would have conversations with 25 leads, meet with 7 and convert 5 into sales. If you charge $25k for your “product”, your sales person will have generated $125k.
  • Seth Godin in his Start-up School podcast explains that the entrepreneur needs to “break the company” in order to grow. Breaking the company means bringing on people that can eventually replace you. In the ideal world you can leave your business and in 6 months the business is bigger and better than ever.
  • Understand that sales and engineering disciplines are meant to be complimentary! As a technical person you do not want to be making 10 cold calls before 10am every day! You get your excitement from solving technical problems for your customers. The engineer needs to understand that sales people have a different thought process to the product/customer relationship and visa versa.

Suggestions when recruiting sales staff:

  • Get a mentor who knows about managing sales people. They will help you to identify the type of candidate you need, and recommend a good strategy for hiring and setting incentives.
  • Your sales staff need to understand your “definition of success”. If you have not read The First 90 Days, read it! Have your employees to read it. What does “success” mean to you?
    • Do you want to achieve solid financial growth in the first 12 months?
    • Is it more important to get quality customers, at the cost of lower sales volumes?
    • If you have investors, what do they expect the business to achieve?
    • The more information a sales person has about your organisation’s success factors, the more likely they will succeed.
  • You need marketing content describing how your products add value to the client. Customer case studies and testimonials are needed. If you don’t have any of this, try and get it organised before you put on a sales person – it will save a lot of their time and your money!
  • Once your sales person has a good understanding of how to sell your products, give them enough space to plan and implement their sales campaign. You don’t want to over-manage or under-manage them. Set expectations for weekly or monthly reports to highlight what they are doing. Always be available when they ask for help.
  • Make sure you have a good vision for your start-up and share that vision with your employees. A vision will help build motivation – especially with your sales staff.

Please let me know your thoughts.