Are you the CEO of your startup? President of a mature company bouncing back from severe downsizing and getting back in the proverbial sales saddle? You perceive the hiring of your first VP of Business Development / Sales as that oasis you’ve been dreaming of: a green light that acknowledges your company is gaining marketplace traction and in growth mode. You want to hire your first sales force.
Congratulations… and a word or two of caution about rushing off to hire a sales force.
Hiring your first VP of Business Development to lead your first sales force is one of the most important first-hires you can make. It can also rapidly become one of your most expensive and disastrous mis-steps, as well. Why? You are making decisions based on too many mis-assumptions. Let’s explore some of the more common ones.
1) You are not comfortable selling, yourself. Alternatively, you are tired of being a one-person sales force. You hire a recruiter to help you search for your new VP, or you “hear” about someone who’s a rock star sales person currently working for another firm. Because you can’t wait to foist the responsibility of driving revenue through your organization onto a “sales type” you assume that anyone with longevity in the sales universe and a successful record of selling other people’s stuff will naturally be able to do the same for your organization. This is a mis-assumption.
2) You have either taken a one-size-fits-all sales training program offered by your investors or the local business incubator. Alternatively, you’ve sold for years and continue to sell the same way: what worked before should work now you are scaling up. You’ve made the assumption that anyone can sell and that selling involves a rather common, low-level skill set that’s based on a stereotypic set of spiel (which is what selling has always sounded like to you). So you hire your first sales force based on what your own mis-perception of what selling is all about.
3) You have hired a consultant who has created and managed sales teams for Fortune 500 companies. The consultant talks you into purchasing an expensive CRM system, hires customer service folks to work leads management, recruits and hires a sales force, and implements a sales performance metrics system based on what has been a successful formula for that consultant and their clients. You both mis-assume that the first sales forces of startups and mature companies in scale-up mode are nothing more than miniature versions of mature, and successful, legacy large companies.
4) Your investors are all over you because sales to early-adopters have tapered off. They won’t approve the next series of funding until you show them that your company is capable of matching their investment. The sales people you hired are dropping like flies since they are working on 100% commission, churning and burning through leads lists generated by your CRM system. You made the mis-assumption that many CEOs make: your responsibility is to be a figurehead and visionary, to delegate instead of sell.
If any of these scenarios sound all-too familiar, you are stuck in your own status quo of sales mis-perception and mis-assumption. In today’s globally competitive market place, selling is part of everyone’s job description. As the CEO of your venture or your company, you are the Chief Sales Officer. If you are unable to articulate the value and relevance of your offering to your first VP of Sales, they will not intuit what needs to be done. If your first VP of Sales isn’t embedded in the input-throughput-output of the tactical and strategic aspects of your business, they will be misdirected in their efforts and, in turn, will misguide your newly hired sales force.
The success of your company or venture’s business development initiatives start with, and are driven by, your own ability to develop business and be that first sales force, and evangelist, for your company. What is making you reluctant to be responsible for leading the charge?
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers, LLC, traverses the sales-engineering interface®, bringing entrepreneurial mojo to small and mid-sized businesses in the manufacturing and service sectors. She builds vibrant revenue-producing business strategies for technical startups.