2 Keys to Sales for Startups – People First

2 Keys to Sales for Startups – People First

Sales is the fuel that makes the startup engine run.  Many young entrepreneurs believe that lack of funding is the biggest barrier to their early success.  Wrong!  For most startups, their lack immediate success is either that they are seeking product perfection before entering the market, they have a poor product for their target market, or they have a lack of sales.  Finding the right people and keeping them motivated are critical.  Also critical is getting the sales process right and using the right metrics to measure performance.  In this post I’ll focus on the people.

  1. Right People – I can’t emphasize enough how important this is.  Hiring people with the skill, attitude and proper level of aggressiveness that fit your company culture and target market is vital to your success.  Jim Collins sure got it right in his book Good To Great when he wrote that we need to “get the right people on the bus”.  Part of his premise is that even if you don’t have it all figured out, the “right people” will help you get there.  A final point here is that, just because someone has been successful in sales in other environments, doesn’t mean he/she will be successful in sales in your company culture.  If the sales person has an aggressive, transactional, independent style, he/she will not likely be successful selling your product if it requires education and relationship building with prospects, the sales cycle is a bit long, and your process is somewhat regimented.  The opposite is also true.  This is simply a bad fit and it won’t yield the revenue volume you seek.  The hiring process must use a combination of interviews, mock selling scenerios, information gathered from questions about personality, aptitude, temperment, sales style and other culture matching data.  Psychometric testing instruments can also be helpful in the hiring process.
  2. Right Motivation – So we have the right sales folks, but how do we keep our sales team motivated?  Finding great people is a most important first step but it isn’t enough.  Only if we continue to motivate these talented folks will we be able to sustain a high performing sales team.  A number of studies have identified recognition, competition, skills development, and money as motivating factors for sales personnel.  Also, working in a positive, encouraging environment and knowing that their effort is making a difference are also motivational elements.  In order to promperly incentivize your team members, you need to know your team members, their interests, hobbies, goals, etc . . ..  I like having both individual and team performance goals, if possible, because I want the individuals to not only do their best best but help others so that the performance level of the entire team rises.  Sometimes it is best to set short term goals to build confidence and momentum.  Supplement your weekly and monthly goals with daily or midweek goals and reward achieving these mid-term goals with unique recognition or a special gift card.  I also think competition spurs performance in most sales people so tracking everyone’s progress on a tally board could also be motivational.  Your training regimen should also be integrated with these milestones since it is unfair to expect someone to reach certain performance levels without the proper training.  A final word on incentives. Rewards need to be somewhat unique and tailored to the interests of individuals and the team if possible.  Also, there needs to be a sufficient budget for performance rewards for the sales team.

THE TAKEAWAY – Managing a startup sales team has some unique challenges.  If you are an old school VP of sales, you will likely have to change your management style and be open to a wider variety of motivational elements. If you are a young startup entrepreneur or founder, you may be great with creative motivation, but you may also be challenged by the hard realities of managing people and firing them if they continuously underperform.


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