The Startup Salesperson

When building a startup, it’s important to “Always Be Closing” as Alec Baldwin says in “Glengarry Glen Ross”. The movie is a classic to say the least and you can check out the clip here: (Warning: Some Explicit Words)

As a trained stage actor I have always appreciated the art of storytelling. Great storytelling, believe it or not, is simply another form of sales and of course startups need sales to survive.

One of the most frequent questions I am asked by budding entrepreneurs is “where can I find a good sales person or sales team?” Before we answer the question if you actually need a sales professional in your startup, it’s more important to understand what startups companies today are requesting from their sales professionals.


To do some initial research, I started to look at sales job descriptions posted by startup companies in online forums and job posts. Some of the startup companies I came across were very young with no more than a few founders, while others were growing quite nicely into larger teams. Across the board however one thing remained constant.

Each company lacked an official sales leader, and was looking to fill that gap with an outside hire. Over the course of my research, I actually got to speak with several HR recruiters who at the time I informed that this was a research based project.

The first and primary question I asked was in regards to the specific qualities the company was looking for in a sales leader. As expected the answers ran the gamut from “someone who can meet a weekly quota” to “someone who can generate strong executive leads”.

Now anyone who knows me well knows that I am a big believer in having at least one of the founders in a company heading the sales efforts (at least in the beginning). Remember that sales is about selling a prospect on the indispensable value of your product or service.

As a founder, CEO or whatever title you decide to give yourself, know that if you cannot successfully champion your product or service to others, most likely any good sales person will have a difficult time doing so as well.
Sales is not magic, there is not some mystical formula that great sales people have that you as a founder do not possess. Even if you are not the most dynamic speaker, I am sure you can communicate what your product or service does to anyone you speak to – at least I hope so.

Think about how you successfully recruited other people to join your new, yet unproven company. Think about how your potential customers got excited about your new idea. You’re already engaging in sales and probably doing it well.

Now of course there are sales processes and methods which can help to refine your sales ability, however stop being afraid of sales by looking for someone else to do it for you. You better believe even CEO’s of major corporations are great sales people. They must sell the board of directors to let them keep their job after a disappointing quarter, or sell the vision of the company to fellow co-workers to keep everyone motivated.

It is understood that you may not be able to handle all sales efforts alone and may need help from time to time, especially in the very early stages of your company. But before you go out and hire a sales professional, first make sure the role is not something you or some of your current staff cannot take control of.

Ultimately if you do find that you need a good sales professional, here are three tips.

Expect to pay a big sale commission.

The best sales professionals are not looking for a fat paycheck with an average commission structure. Many times, you can expect to pay 50% and even sometimes 70% commission to sales leaders. Yes – they may have small upfront fees, but they make it back 10x on the backend. Usually they work on multi month contracts, so this can get expensive in the long run.

Your product should be good.

As we mentioned earlier, in startup, sales is not magic, and an awesome sales person cannot make a horrible product sell, at least not long term. When we held an event with Kevin Harrington from ABC’s show shark tank, one of the things he reiterated was the need to have a great product first. You can hear from more from professionals at our upcoming Hackathon event.

Yes, having a great salesperson is wonderful, but your product must be worth selling

Is there passion behind your voice when recruiting?

When I speak about a product or service that I believe in, there is always passion behind my words, even if I am speaking with a member of my internal team. Passionate and successful sales people usually have lots of energy and enthusiasm. Ensure that you do as well when speaking to a prospective sales candidate. Not only will this get the person excited about your business, but you can see how well the candidate matches your energy and enthusiasm. Why is this important?

Think about the different types of customers your sales person is bound to engage with. The ability to adapt to changing situations is very important in sales, and if the person you are speaking with cannot adapt quickly to different types of personalities, then you may need to continue your search.

Finding a good sales candidate doesn’t have to be difficult, but ensure that you are looking for an outside hire for the right reasons. 

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