Early Stage Hiring: First Sales Hires and Titles

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I was having lunch recently with a local tech startup’s CEO/Founder and it’s first employee about the state of their startup. I have been helping them figure how to drive recurring revenue and how to further organize their sales process.

Everything was looking great for them. They were able to secure their first few paid customers, who are now signed and committed to several month engagements. They then went on to explain a little more about there experience with the previous sales hire who was a VP level professional, more details view here.

It is my opinion that VP levels are brought in when companies are ready to start building, scaling, and managing large teams and should not be brought on in the early days. Also as much as I hate to admit, I do believe that VP level hires should have a decent amount of experience under their belt.

As a side-note, this is coming from me, a guy who wanted to rule the world at 21 and thought he’d build a Fortune 500 company by 23 years old — so in other words for me to admit that wisdom and experience comes with time takes a lot out of me to admit. And I say this not based on one’s maturity level or intelligence; there are plenty of really young talent out there that would blow away your seasoned executive in a heart beat. What I’ve learned was that with time you just experience more; you fail more, you meet more people, you are able to identify trends within the people and technology aspects of business, and you are able to effectively manage internal politics slightly better — for example. Agree with it or not, this is what I mean (BTW – I’m still only 32 years young!).

After the CEO finished explaining the recent events around hiring, I looked at them and said, if you want to build a successful team that scales and avoid having to demote people and conduct painful re-orgs in the future, you will no longer give VP, Director, or Senior anything titles for a very long time. I proceeded to explain that he has a pre-seed level business that is trying to figure out who they are, how they are going to survive to live another day and raise their first round of money; this is not the stage where they are ready to hire VP, Director, and anything Senior level employees; not only is it a horrible investment but their skills are not needed yet. At this stage they need a hungry hustler not a senior manager. They need someone who is going to take instructions provided by the CEO, execute them, and see if they work.

Since I have been helping them with sales strategies I proceeded to explain that their first sales hire should be given the title of account executive and given a chance to move up very quickly into a more senior position based on their personal performance and the company’s success. I told them that at some point in the future after a few milestones had been hit and of course if it made sense, they could hire a VP of Sales to grow, scale, and manage a team – not to sell. This account manager will be humble enough to accept their scrappy, hustler, get-stuff-done role and title, yet motivated and wise enough to see the big picture and prove themselves. They will get lower salaries with higher commission and equity packages.

Early Stage Sales Hire Profile: 

  • Is entrepreneurial. Has built and ran clubs in college and/or high school
  • Played competitive sports and can tell you stories of overcoming challenges or even dealt with failure
  • Needs little management and oversight
  • Has attempted their own or wants to launch their own startup one day
  • 1-3 years of sales, marketing, customer service experience
  • Is excited about building something
  • Not afraid of making mistakes
  • Is more action oriented versus being great at “strategy”
  • Successful experience cold calling
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