One mistake many startup businesses make is hiring a sales representative too early. Oftentimes the founders are more comfortable with product development. They usually have little or no sales experience and would rather die than ask a customer for an order. As a result, their first impulse is to hire a sales rep. I would venture that in most cases taking this route is a huge mistake. One reason for this is that you don’t get the benefit of finding out firsthand what your customer’s problems are and how good your solution is solving their needs.
With many early stage businesses there is often an imperfect fit between their initial idea for a product or service and their customer’s needs. By having the company founders filling the role of sales agents, they can get valuable customer feedback.
In the field, they can ask questions about what their customers would like to see improved. After learning this valuable information, they can race back to the office and incorporate these findings into a improved product or service. After doing this a number of times, your chance for success will go up many fold.
Another big mistake early-stage startups often make when hiring sales reps is hiring highly experienced sales professionals or hiring people too senior, too early. The skills to be a successful sales agent for a mature company are very different from those needed for a startup.
Senior sales persons have often been away from sales field work for many years. In most cases they’ve been concentrating on planning, forecasting, coaching and managing a sales force rather than actually making sales. They’ll also expect to be able to walk into a well organized sales process. They are used to dealing with customers that already perceive a need for their product or service and have a budget assigned to it already. As a result, when startups hire seasoned sales agents it usually ends up with disappointment for everyone concerned. A senior sales agent may be a great person to hire when you’ve taken your company to the next level. However, when you’re first starting, they’ll be too costly. In addition they will view your job offer as a demotion rather than an exciting sales opportunity.
Early stage selling is completely different from selling a product for a company that has been around for many years. With a startup, your customers often don’t even realize they actually have a problem that needs solving. As a result, you want to recruit a sales agent that is more “evangelical” than process driven. In most cases, a new business should steer their sales recruiting towards someone that is young and energetic. Your goal should be to find someone that is ambitious and is comfortable working with a lack of defined structure, process or product. You want to find a sales agent that is intelligent and creative. You also want someone that can listen to customers, find out their needs, come up with solutions and communicates it back to the people in product development.
After interviewing sales representative prospects, doing your due diligence, you finally arrive at a decision as to who would be your best candidate for the job. Even though they may seem like an ideal sales agent, you really don’t know if they’ll work out until after they’ve attempted to sell for you. Therefore, it is usually a good idea to hire conditionally. When doing this, it is important to establish what constitutes success. It needs to be measurable. The probationary time period also needs to be well defined.
Eventually your company will need somebody with professional sales management experience. Many startups mistake early sales success as a scalable sales process.
Doubling or tripling the number of your semi-independent evangelical sales agents will usually not translate into a doubling or tripling of sales. As your company matures, you will want to come up with an integrated well-developed sales process. This will require an experienced sales manager. Hopefully your early sales leader can take on this role. Keep in mind that what makes a good sales agent doesn’t always translate into being a good sales manager. As a result, you will often find yourself having to recruit an outsider to take on this role.
There are a number of ways to go about finding a sales representative or a sales agency. One option is to ask retailers for the names of agents that sell them products that are in the same category as yours. Many sales agents and most sales agencies sell multiple, complimentary but not competitive product lines. Another source are directories compiled by trade associations. Often times you can check out sales agents and agencies at trade shows that are related to your industry.
NewBusinessMarket.com is another excellent way to search for a sales rep or a sales agency. You can search by industry category, and the regions you wish to focus your marketing in. In this listing site you can give a preliminary pitch to potential sales agents and sales agencies. This pitch can contain pictures, videos and narratives to persuade agents to carry your product.
Please keep in mind that using a sales representative is just one way to market your product. I urge you to check out NewBusinessMarket,com to explore your other options. This website will provide you with a wealth of information and tools.