Introduction: The Importance of the Founding Salesperson
There is hardly a better teacher than experience. Further, there is hardly a more coveted quality in the business world than experience. However, when it comes to developing leadership skills, many young professionals struggle to find roles that offer these valuable lessons. At a larger company, it may take years of climbing before seeing any form of tangible leadership experience, which can certainly prove frustrating to those with ambitions of executive positions.
Thankfully, all hope is not lost. Startups have provided an excellent opportunity for business professionals to enter leadership positions at the ground level. While startups operate on a much smaller scale (at least initially) than at an established company, the founding team of a startup must shoulder an enormous amount of responsibility, perhaps no one more so than the founding salesperson. Founders might initially take on the duty of a salesperson, but given the importance of the role, a startup will soon want to hire a dedicated salesperson. In either case, what remains non-negotiable is the importance of sales performance itself.
In the nascent stages of a company, not only is there a need to craft a compelling sales narrative but to also properly identify the key demographics that comprise the consumer base. The founding salesperson is responsible for the significant task of shaping the identity of the startup and bringing on early customers. We have written this blog to highlight the importance and responsibility of a founding salesperson, and how it can help you fast-track into leadership.
Marketing and Product Development
A classic obstacle startups (specifically tech startups) encounter occurs when a product is developed and the startup then haphazardly hires underqualified salespeople to sell the product. The sales team might make unrealistic promises to customers or return to the product team and demand alterations in features and pricing in order to match their standards of marketability. Either the company pours more resources into R&D until the product matches the sales team’s standards, or the product never sees the light of day.
With a good salesperson in the room from the start, this obstacle is completely bypassed. Without a shrewd understanding of marketing present during product development, startups have no way of anticipating customer’s needs or comparing with competitors. As Bill Davidow, head of Intel’s Early Microprocessor Marketing, said, “Great ‘technology’ is invented in the Engineering Department. Great products are created in the Marketing Department” (Marketing High Technology, Davidow).
With the number of tech startups steadily increasing in the past ten years, there is a rapidly growing need for competent salespeople to lend their expertise at the ground level, to think strategically on behalf of the company, and to work flexibly and quickly. For those seeking immediate exposure to leadership positions, the position of founding salesperson could easily fulfill that ambition.
Market Understanding and Investor Communication
On top of requiring expert knowledge of the target market, a founding salesperson must be able to differentiate between the early adopter and long-term market opportunities. Without a proper understanding of the market, a startup can hardly expect a smooth expansion. A new market naturally requires a new set of sales strategies and having this established from the start can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful scaleup.
Another pivotal role of the founding salesperson is to represent the company to all stakeholders. A Forbes report revealed that after a presentation, 63% of attendees remember stories, and only 5% remember statistics. In other words, a sleek but impersonal PowerPoint will prove far less effective than the genuine narrative of the company’s success. Customers and investors alike require some sort of tangible passion on behalf of the company in order to justify either purchasing or investing in a product, no one can communicate that type of passion better than a founder. Having a qualified sales representative with an early connection to the startup will only personalize the sales campaign in a way that speaks to your audience and cuts through the milieu.
A founding salesperson clearly can play a large role in the success of a startup and can also provide an excellent opportunity for sales representatives seeking immediate experience in leadership positions. Founding salespeople have to engage with the development of the product and company in ways that require founder mentality and grit. However, it is important to note the potential pitfalls that a founding salesperson can face, namely that the first sales rep is usually the guinea pig. This can lead to conflict with other founders if there is a difference of opinion over marketing strategies, or the exact opposite can occur, where the salesperson is given little to no oversight and thus no meaningful feedback.
It is important for founders to set their salespeople up for success by first speaking to customers themselves and developing a clear and practical understanding of how challenging it is to sell the product, but that there is indeed strong market demand. Founders must also trust their founding salesperson and give autonomy.
If you are a salesperson looking to get involved at the ground level and you’d like assistance finding fast-growing startups looking for founding members, please reach out at [email protected] or fill out our form at alariss.com/candidate.