Identifying 4 Common Challenges for Building a Sales Team at a Startup

October 10, 2018

This guest post was contributed by Tracey Wik, Managing Director, GrowthPlay.

Your startup has gone from just one or two founders working all hours of the day and night to a dozen or so employees. Now, you have a team. You’re excited to have landed the funding you needed to grow your vision and move into this next phase of growth.

Except growing now is difficult.

Today, your business is experiencing a host of new problems—people who shouldn’t be selling are spending too much time selling, you’re losing people, and you’re not meeting your numbers or growing as you thought you would (and maybe not as much as you promised your investors.)

As the founder or tech person in your business, you were likely the best salesperson your business has seen. Eventually, the market outpaces your capacity to sell and you need to hire salespeople, so you can lead your company. When your business was getting off the ground, you were (and still are) passionate about your product. Maybe it’s something you invented or created—either way; it was yours. Your passion project.

Truth: No one will ever sell your product with as much devotion as you.

But to grow your business, you can’t be both the salesperson and the CEO. You need to clone yourself. If only it were that easy. You can’t clone your fire and passion, but you can certainly hire the right kinds of people who will thrive in sales at a startup.

The good news is that this is okay. Let’s dig a little deeper to understand the challenges as a startup starts growing a sales team:

1. Selling is different in your company today

Before we look into this challenge, let’s first give some credit to the new salesperson trying to fill your shoes. When you first launched, you had the momentum of a new product or idea behind you, and probably enough caffeine grit to get out there. Today, your product or service is getting closer to maturity, its newness has faded, and a new salesperson has to recreate yourself in their image. That’s no easy task and if you expect them to step in your shoes and sell the same way you did, you could be in for disappointment.

2. You can’t organize your sales organization like the big players

Large businesses organize their sales roles by the type of activities a buyer would look    for based upon the market and buyer behavior. Startups must tailor a sales role to a smorgasbord of activities. Simply stated, a startup is not a smaller version of a large company. Startups don’t have the ability to create sales teams around discrete tasks until their revenue merits that kind of a sales structure. Until that time, the key is to create flexibility and responsive to customer needs.

3.The need to be all things in a startup

Because most employees working in a startup wear so many hats, it can be difficult for people to focus most of their time on where they naturally excel. This is why we so often see our people shine at one thing and settle into mediocrity in so many others. When looking at sales specifically, they need to be all things—farmers, hunters, and maybe even proposal writers too. With bigger companies, they have the ability to hire both inside and outside sales roles, and since you don’t have the luxury, you’ll hire and train people with a blend of skills.

4. Buyers will buy from you differently

When you were the one out in the field doing the selling, you trained your buyers to buy from you in a particular way, so when you start to hire salespeople, your buyers will need to relearn how to buy from your company. They will show up differently from you with a whole new set of processes.

Many startups don’t even realize these problems exist. These SMBs are busy doing their executive thing, digging into the numbers, and constantly walking away confused as to why they’re not seeing the growth they’d planned for.

Identifying these four challenges are a critical step in beginning to solve them. Most CEOs and CTOs of small startups don’t recognize it’s an issue at all. They’re continuing to hire the wrong people, not codifying the sales process enough to know what to do when, and not understanding the value of their product or service when they uncouple it from themselves.

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