Dear SaaStr:  Can great SaaS salespeople seamlessly switch between industries?

No. They can’t, unfortunately.

Well, the very best can — up to a point. And even there they have limits.

A few learnings over the years:

  • Only the very best reps can sell something more complex or harder to understand than the prior products they’ve sold. They just tend to melt when they have to sell a much more complicated product.
  • Only the very best reps that have sold sales or marketing tools, which are very similar to the tools they use every day already, can sell vertical saas or developer tools. They think they can hack it, but they can’t. They never learn the industry or the buyer. Sales reps mostly know how to sell sales and marketing tools. They use them every day, after all. Be wary hiring from these companies if you don’t sell something pretty similar.
  • Only the very best and most driven reps that have sold solely with a brand behind them can sell well without one. A related point. Sales is always hard, but it’s just very different at a top brand. The prospects come in mostly knowing you, and what they want. It’s radically different at an upstart without a brand. Much more different than most reps expect.

And a few other limiters:

  • Most enterprise reps really struggle to sell SMB tools, and vice-versa.  It’s just such a different cadence and process.
  • Most reps that have only done in-bound really struggle to do any real outbound themselves.  The “full stack” rep isn’t a myth, but it’s close to a myth.

Whatever you do, make sure if someone comes from even a slightly easier sales environment, that they really can do it at your startup.  Don’t get blinded by where they worked, or how smooth their “sales talk” seems to be.

You’d think a great SaaS rep could sell any other SaaS product.  In theory, “Sell Me This Pen” should work in SaaS to quickly discover if someone can sell your product, and it does work, up to a point.  But only up to a point.

Even the best reps struggle to sell into harder spaces, into areas that are more complicated, and into domains they don’t really intuitively understand.

They could do it — if they really, really invested the time and energy to do something harder than last time. But usually, they don’t. And the less-than-great? They can’t do it at all.

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