90%-95% of Salespeople Won’t Make It At Your Startup. A 6 Part Test to Help You Get It Right.

So a while back we did a deep dive on why 95% of the VPs of Sales candidates just won’t thrive at your start-up.  That doesn’t mean they are “bad”.  Many, in fact, will thrive as a VP or Director somewhere else.  It’s just they won’t make it at your particular, early-stage, quirky, pre-brand startup.  More here.

I think it’s important to repeat that analysis, but for your first few sales reps.  The ones you hire before your first great VP of Sales.  The ones you hire yourself.  Most of the ones you meet that seem good or even great may well be … but they won’t make it at your start-up.

Let’s list the reasons why a successful sales rep might still fail at your startup, even one with a great product:

  • They’ve only sold with a strong brand behind them.  Making the transition to selling without a brand is very hard.  Most actually cannot do it.  And the strong brands tend to also have a ton of support behind them.
  • They’ve only sold a product somewhat easier to sell.  Almost all these reps fail. Sales is never easy.  But if you go into a new environment that is a little easier to sell, sales often flies.  But put them into selling a product that’s even 20% harder to sell than their last role … and they often sell nothing.
  • They’ve never really sold at your price point.  This almost never works out.  Selling to SMBs is just not the same as mapping out 5 SVPs at a big enterprise.
  • They’ve never really sold without a ton of support. From RevOps to collateral to a manager above them to SDRs feeding them deals.  It’s really hard to go from an environment with a ton of support to one with almost none.  And as noted above, anywhere with a “brand” has a lot more sales support than you do as a startup.
  • Your industry is much more complicated than the one they’ve sold at before.  This sometimes can work, but it usually doesn’t.  Someone selling Gong today often will really struggle selling a complex developer product or nuanced pharma SaaS.  It’s just different selling in a more complex, more technical, and/or more regulated environment.  Later, when you are bigger and have a big RevOps and enablement team, you can make it all work for reps even without a lot of experience selling complicated products or into complicated industries.  But it’s really tough in the early days.
  • You wouldn’t buy from them yourself.  Would you buy your own product from this rep?  No?  Then don’t make the hire.

So if nothing else, use this 5+ part test above.  Does that sales rep you really like, that others even say is really great … pass the 6-point test above?

If so, make the hire.  If not, slow it down.

Published on January 16, 2023

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