What Salespeople Should Expect at a Start-up

start upsUnless you are lucky or have connections, chances are that after you graduate from college, you will probably not work at a mid-size or major corporation. Your first sales job will probably be at a start-up.

Why a start-up? Because start-ups are hungry – if not desperate – for salespeople. And depending on the industry or product line, you could earn a decent compensation package. But even if the compensation package is bad, you could gain experience, contacts and sales stats that you could leverage later for better opportunities.

Sure, you may have your eye on the big prize – a larger company. You have dreams of large paychecks, above average benefits, a 401K plan (with matching contributions from your employer), and maybe even a 2 or 3 week vacation your first year. But most sales managers at major companies would prefer hiring someone with more experience and skills than a college graduate.

Consider a start-up to be your training ground before your hit the big leagues.

But what can you expect while working at a start-up?

1). Expect to work your ass off

If you are seeking a 9 to 5 job, forget it. At a start-up, expect to work 50 to 60 hours per week. That’s a given. You will find quickly that those who try to work normal hours are not going to survive very long. And if your base salary is low, you better work long hours if you want to make up the difference in your commission or bonus package.

2). Expect high turnover and a lot of new hires

Depending on how successful your start-up becomes, expect a lot of turnover in the sales team and a lot of new hires along the way. Start-up owners constantly experiment with a different set sales managers and salespeople before they find the right mix.

3). Expect a lot of changes in your compensation package

If you are one of the lucky few to get hired in a sales position in the early stages of a start-up, you will probably find yourself striking gold in a lot of virgin sales territories or prospects – at least in the very beginning. Your sales territory will probably be enormous. Your biggest headache won’t be the number of prospects or leads you’re working on, but properly managing your time and setting priorities on which key prospects or leads to target first.

However, if your start-up is successful, you will probably see huge number of new faces coming onboard quickly. That means territories will be divided more often, and you may find yourself working in a more competitive sales environment. Don’t be surprised if your base salary changes (up or down). Don’t be surprised if your quotas change (up or down). Don’t be surprised if you commission or bonus structure changes (up or down).

In short, don’t be surprised if your compensation package goes on a rollercoaster ride until the hiring spree begins to slow down, and upper management has a better idea of how to project quotas and measure sales success.

4). Expect to wear a lot of hats

So, you think you’re being hired as a salesperson only. Wrong.

Depending on your background and skill sets, you may find yourself wearing a lot of hats in the beginning before you completely immerse yourself in sales.

You wrote for your school newspaper? You took some writing courses in college?

Congratulations – besides selling, you are now the new blogger.

You took some marketing courses in college? You read some business books?

Great – besides selling, you will also be the new marketing manager until they can either hire a permanent marketing manager, or outsource the work.

You took some online courses on how to code? You developed some websites for your friends in your spare time.

Fantastic – besides selling, you are now the new website designer.

Do you expect to get paid more for all extra skill sets? Not likely. Well, at least not for a while.

5).  Expect a lot of stress and anxiety

Long hours. Bad diet. Little or no social life. Little or no health or dental insurance.

All this adds up to a lot of stress and anxiety.

And that’s just for starters.

Don’t be surprised if the owner or managers are yelling at each other.

Don’t be surprised if your co-workers are screaming at each other.

Don’t be surprised if you’re yelling at someone.

The stress and anxiety level are also excessive because start-ups frequently change their products and services. That’s understandable. As start-ups begin doing business with clients, they will evaluate the pros and cons of their offers, and adjust along the way. In addition, they may change sales and marketing tactics.

It comes with the territory.

selling at a start-up6). Expect selling to be difficult

Selling is always tough – no matter where you work. But at a start-up, your challenges will be higher because of the following –

Working for a company with little name recognition in the market place.

Working with a crappy CRM that’s not very reliable or doesn’t have all the bells and whistles like Salesforce.com.

Working in an open environment where you have little or no privacy. (Please read my post on Open Space Offices – Good or Bad Idea?).  Yes, it’s true that many companies these days, including large corporations, are going with the open space trend. But at a start-up you probably are not going to have a lot of office space. As a result, the noise level will be louder, and you may have a difficult time concentrating. (For example, I once worked at a start-up where I always had someone facing me every day. Very nerve-racking).

Working with little or no experience IT support. If your laptop or phone suddenly doesn’t work, you may be pretty much screwed for a couple of days.

Working with little or no marketing help. Some start-ups may outsource their marketing assignments for a while, but you won’t have anyone on site to help you generate leads, and clearly develop your company’s brand.

7). Expect culture to sometimes turn into a cult

Some start-ups love to glamorize their culture with weekly company lunches, Friday happy hours, company mottoes, and mascots. But underneath that veneer of happiness and camaraderie could be a cult in the making.

(I once worked for a start-up where the motto was “play nice.” But it was anything but nice – a strange young woman kept giving me the evil eye and cold shoulder all the time. To this day I have no idea why she was angry at me. At the same company, a sales person screwed me over royalty when she left and transferred most of her good accounts to two of her friends. I ended up getting mostly terrible accounts from her. So much for “play nice.”)

Some start-up owners and sales managers love to play mind games, or insist on forced group happiness. By keeping you extremely busy, you may be blind-sided by acute favoritism or financial problems. Don’t be so overworked that you don’t see the truth in front of you.

Stay in regular touch with friends and family. Maintain some familiar routines.

Never lose sight of your true self.

8). Expect little job security

You may be the top salesperson at your company, but if the company fails, it’s game over for you.

Many start-ups are created on a wing and a pray….and on maxed out credit cards, loans from friends and relatives, and iffy investments. That’s not to say that the start-up you are working for doesn’t have a great product or service to offer.

If there’s not enough revenue coming in, you could be going out.

We all must start somewhere. Start-ups offer a great opportunity to develop your sales skills, make contacts and hopefully get a steady paycheck.

Just make sure you are going in with the right expectations.

For more advice on working at a start-up, please check out these links –

“5 Things You Should Know before Working at a Startup” by Rikki Rogers

“9 Reasons Why it Sucks Working for a Startup” by Dana Severson

Note: If you like this post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career

What Salespeople can learn from Girlboss

Girlboss(Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Girlboss yet on Netflix, I recommend that you stop reading this post and watch the show first. Yes, Girlboss was recently canceled after one season, but it’s still worth viewing. At this writing the program is still streaming on Netflix).

For those who haven’t seen Girlboss, here is a summary about the comedy program –

The show is roughly based on Sophia Amoruso’s autobiography GIRLBOSS.

(In fact, the producers want to make it clear upfront with this disclaimer – “What follows is a loose retelling of true events… Real loose.”)

The show depicts how Ms. Amoruso started her company Nasty Gal in 2006, which would become a California-based retailer specializing in young women’s fashion. She started her business while working as a security guard/host at San Francisco’s Academy of Art University. When not checking student IDs while sitting at the front desk, she worked on creating her company, which would eventually generate $23 million by 2011, according to Inc. Magazine

(Nasty Gal was purchased by the Boohoo Group earlier this year for $20 million).

Ms. Amoruso’s character’s name in the show is Sophia Marlowe (played by Britt Robertson). Ms. Marlowe is portrayed in this fictional account as a nasty gal herself. She likes to shoplift. She uses crass language. She has roller coaster relationships with her father (played by Dean Norris), friends and various colleagues in her life. In her early 20’s, she is trying to find herself while struggling to pay her rent and keep her car running. Interested in vintage clothing, she soon discovers her calling and starts earning a living by selling clothing on eBay. Eventually, she quits her security position and launches her online store for fame and fortune.

What can salespeople learn from Girlboss? Here are my takeaways –

1). Follow your passion – Ms. Marlowe adores vintage clothing. But she loves working for herself more and being her own boss. Selling vintage clothing online appears to be her ticket to financial freedom. Ignoring negative comments from others, she proceeds with her goal.

In sales, many of us have a passion for selling. But we all face a lot of negativity on a daily basis. We deal with a barrage of rejections from clients, cancelled appointments, unfair criticism from sales managers, and the list goes on.

What keeps us going is our passion to sell. But not just selling per se, but a love for the products and services that we offer our clients. To be successful, your passion has to come through. You have to love what you are selling as well as the industry you work in. If you don’t, then selling is just another job, and your clients and prospects will quickly see through your façade and drop you like a hot potato.

BTW, while you may think you can hide behind your façade in phone sales, many clients can pick up on the tone of your voice. They can tell if you are really excited about what you are doing, or if you are just going through the motions.

2). Read – Passion alone doesn’t help if you don’t read. Ms. Marlowe is smart enough to realize that. So she undertakes a self-study program by reading (and sometimes stealing) books on how to run a business.

Just because you have taken a few workshops or read some books about selling, doesn’t make you an expert. Learning how to sell, like any profession, requires a disciplined and ongoing training program. Don’t like to read that much? OK, then watch the hundreds of free videos on YouTube or other sites. Listen to audio book tapes. But always be learning.

team work3). You can’t do it alone – Annie, Ms. Marlowe’s best friend, has devoted a lot of time and energy helping Nasty Gal get off the ground. When Annie (played by Ellie Reed) asks to be hired as full-time paid employee, Ms. Marlowe turns her down flat. But eventually, Ms. Marlowe realizes she can’t run the business alone, and decides to hire Annie. She makes  her decision not just based on friendship (which is not always the best way to hire people), but because she knows that Annie has the skills to take her business to the next level. Annie has been working in a women’s fashion store, and was even given the green light for a managerial position. But Annie decides to forgo a safe job and take on a more risky one with a start-up. Through mutual respect and friendship, both these women are determined to succeed.

(With start-ups, your early hires shouldn’t always be those who offer technical or professional skills, but who share the same dream or vision you do).

Ms. Marlowe faces a similar dilemma when she tries to create her own website. While reading a book on website development, Ms. Marlowe struggles to learn all the coding she needs to master the set up her website. Soon, she begins to fear that she will not be able to launch her website on time to meet her financial obligations. However, Ms. Marlowe, admitting her shortcoming, grudgingly relents  to Annie’s advice and accepts her decision to hire a professional web designer.

You don’t need a good friend to tell you what you already know. Instead, you need one like Annie who tells you what you need to know to be successful.

Surround yourself with friends and allies who will support you.

While some romanticize about being a lone wolf salesperson (who are usually defined as salespeople who go it alone, and reject the advice from others), in reality, many of us can’t make it on our own. For example, we need help from marketing, production, shipping and others to be effective.

Selling is definitely a team effort. Never forget that.

4). Shit happens, so deal with it – Ms. Marlowe has to overcome a lot of obstacles along the way to launch her business. For example, fearing a bad review on eBay (which could hurt her business before she has a chance to expand), she literally drives like a madman and then runs to deliver a vintage wedding dress to a bride right before the wedding begins.

Haven’t we all had to go the extra mile sometimes to get a sale? Like coming to work earlier than usual to conduct an online tour for a client based in India, or shipping a product overnight at your expense to ensure it arrives on time.

In another scene, Ms. Marlowe’s competitors, jealous of her success and innovative ways of doing business, plot to take her down by having eBay deny her access. Undeterred, she not only launches her own website, and even finds a rental space to expand her business.

You will always have competitors. Ignore them. Just focus on doing the best job you can and your clients will follow you.

On a side note, I’m personally disappointed to see the show canceled. There are very few comedy or drama programs about the challenges of starting and running a business. While Girlboss is a fictionalized account of Ms. Amoruso’s efforts to launch Nasty Gal, the program and her book offers us lessons on how to be successful in sales.

To some critics, Ms. Marlowe comes across as brash, obnoxious, and narcissistic,  but it’s her persistence, resourcefulness, and street smarts that should be admired by anyone interested in starting a business or going into sales.

As Ms. Marlowe has demonstrated in Girlboss, starting a business isn’t for the fainthearted. And neither is it when pursuing a sales career.

To learn more about Girlboss, please check out these sites –

Girlboss Media
Girlboss, Netflix Official Site

Note: If you like this post, please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Recommend: DC Tech Meetup

DC Tech MeetupYou are new to the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and you would like to learn more about the start-up or tech community.

You are a bored salesperson who wants to work for a more innovative company than your current job.

You are a job seeker trying to find challenging work with a start-up or tech company.

You are a business owner who would like to gain free publicity about your company.

You are a hiring manager seeking new employees.

You are an entrepreneur trying to find ideas to create a new company.

Or, you are a patron of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library who took the wrong turn and found yourself listening to rapid-fire presentations. (Just kidding).

Seriously, if you fall in anyone of the above categories, attending or speaking at the DC Tech Meetup may be your solution to your problems.

What is the DC Tech Meetup?

From the website –

“The DC Tech Meetup convenes technologists, entrepreneurs, investors and the broader innovation community regularly to learn and share. Each month, 400+ innovators gather to see demos, launch products and meet their future co-founders, partners and funders.”

It is also one of the largest Meetups in the D.C. area, listing more than 16,700 members, Founded in 2011, the meetings are usually held once a month or so at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library (convenient to the Gallery Place Metro). (Locations may change, so please check the D.C. Meetup page).

UPDATE: Starting in March 2017, DC Tech Meetup is now meeting at The Howard Theatre on 620 T Street Northwest, Washington, DC. It’s only a couple of months from the Shaw-Howard University Metro Station.

(I’ve been a member for three years and try to attend on a regular basis).

To date, there have been 53 Meetups.

While the agenda has changed over the years, the meetings normally have 6 to 10 companies that give about 5 minute demos, with a Q&A session after each presentation. Sometimes a sponsor will also speak or a special guest will give a short presentation. Each meeting also begins with “10 Things you Need to Know about #DCTech” (which I enjoy listening to).

The major theme of each Meetup varies. Recent examples include “Women in Tech,” “Tech Inclusion,” “Virtual & Augmented Reality,” and “College Demos.”

Why should you attend and how can you benefit?

Let’s break this down from the attendee and speaker point of view.

start-up companies in Washington, D.C.Here are some tips about being a good Attendee

Whether you are new or a veteran to the D.C. start-up or tech scene, this Meetup is a great way to network. Don’t be shy. One of the best ways of networking at a large event like this is simply sit next to someone, introduce yourself and shake hands. The last thing you want to do is sit by yourself staring at your Smartphone pretending that you’re too busy to speak to anyone. (Sorry, your secret is out). Really, no one is going to bite. This is a friendly crowd who share the same interests and passions you do. So why not talk?

Here are some tips on how to be a good attendee

1). Come early. The seats do fill up quickly.

2). Walk up and introduce yourself to one or two of the organizers. Sure, they may be busy getting things set-up, but shaking hands and thanking them for organizing this event will only take a minute. It takes a lot of time and effort to organize these events, so I’m sure they appreciate you thanking them.

From the website, here are the current organizers – DJ Saul (@DarienJay100), Brandon T. Luong (@BrandonTLuong),  Christopher Beene (@GoForTopherB) , Jessica Ryan (@SirJesstheBrave),  Shana Glenzer (@ShanaGlenzer), and Zvi Band (@skeevis).

3). Sit near the front. You can see the demos better and you will have an easier time being selected if you have a question. (However, the organizers make a good effort of selecting people from the back of the room).

4). Bring business cards. You never know if you are going to meet someone who can help your career or offer you good advice.

5). Do your homework, especially if you are a job seeker. If you notice a company or two on the speaker list, check out their websites and LinkedIn profiles. Write down a couple of questions you may want to ask during the event. If the company appeals to you, try to meet with some of the employees at a local bar after the event (These days the after hour event is usually at Brick & Mortar on 918 F Street NW). You can also meet the employees in the back of the room after the presentations are done.

6). Be prepared to give your own pitch. Yes, you can give your own pitch during Open Mic – but for only 20 seconds. So plan ahead on what you are going to say.  The announcements include seeking work, available job openings, new websites or blogs to read, or upcoming meetings or events to attend.

7). Networking, like learning, should be a lifetime commitment. While attending a recent Tech Meetup, I met four students who were taking courses from General Assembly. Their instructor required them to attend one DC Tech Meetup to learn more about the tech community. Only one? Look, if you want to stay current or just meet new people, attending only one Meetup isn’t going to cut it. Sure, you may think you have a secure job and several connections. But then one day your company gets acquired, or your manager is fired, or you go through the classic department reorg, and then suddenly you’re out of the street. Don’t make attending networking events a one time deal. Make it a lifetime commitment. Because the next person you meet could be your lifeline to a new job or a better opportunity.

For more advice about networking at events, please check out these links –

“Meetup Tips That’ll Have you Networking like an Expert” by Cori Morris

“Use Meetup to Start a Networking Group, Even if You’re Unemployed” by Alan Henry

D.C. TechHere are some tips about being a good Speaker

1). Know the ground rules and follow them. For example, each presentation is no more than five (5) minutes long.

2). Dress to impress. Yes, I know that in the start-up and tech world, the casual or grunge look is commonplace, but when giving a presentation before your peers, you may want to dress more professionally. Maybe it’s me, but I tend to listen more acutely when someone is sharply dressed. In my mind, they are signaling that they want to be taken seriously. (BTW, occasionally investors do sit in the audience. You may have a great product or service, but if you looked like you just rolled out of bed, your presentation may fall on deaf ears).

If you don’t have the money to buy good threads, invest in T-shirts with your company’s name and logo. This will keep your company’s name upfront while speaking, and give an esprit de corps vibe about your company.

(For example, all the employees from TrackMaven wore their company T-shirts during the DC Tech Meetup #26: Hacks, Code and Creative. They all stood out from the rest of the crowd. At one point, they cheered their one of their employees while he was giving a demo).

3). Know your audience. Most people sitting in the audience have had a long day. Working 50 plus hours a week or fighting a long commutes, they are tired but still willing to take time from their evenings to listen to you. So please, don’t be boring. It’s not about you, it’s about them. No one wants to hear war stories of you toiling away for hours in your parent’s basement, trying to acquire investors or avoiding bill collectors. The best demos I’ve seen are sprinkled with humor, offering lively visual presentations, and just enough information wanting people to learn more. The two most recent good examples of presentations that stick out in my mind were conducted by Carey Anne Nadeau with Open Data Nation, and Kate Glantz with Heartful.ly. (They both spoke at the DC Tech Meetup #48: Women in Tech Edition).

So if you love what you are doing, make sure you share that passion with your audience.

4). If you are having difficulty coming up with a good short pitch or demo, try to answer the following questions –

Why did you start your company?

What pain points or problems are you trying to solve?

Who are your target customers?

What is your business model?

How does your service or product work?

Why should anyone care?

5). Be prepared to answer some tough questions. While everyone is civil at the Tech Meetup, I’ve heard some challenging questions in the past. Remember – your audience may include investors, or your next great employee waiting to be hired by you. If you don’t feel you can handle difficult questions, make sure you have a back-up on the stage to help you.

For example, I once attended a workshop where Senator John McCain (R-AZ) was speaking. (This was long before he ran for president). When faced with a difficult question, he asked one of his aides, who he called “his brains”, to step forward and answer it for him.

No one expects you to know all the answers. So having a little help on the stage doesn’t hurt.

6). Don’t hesitate to announce job openings at your company. Save that announcement at the end of your presentation, but it doesn’t hurt to let everyone know you are hiring. Remember – if someone is a regular attendee at the Tech Meetup, that’s a person who takes the industry seriously and maybe a good fit for your company.

7). If you are unsure how to give a good presentation, start by becoming a regular attendee of Tech Meetup. Believe me, after going to a few events, you will pick up pointers on what’s effective or what’s not when speaking. I’ve gone to enough Tech Meetups and start-up pitches in my career that I can predict within the first two (2) or three (3) minutes of a presentation which companies have a good idea and which ones need to go back to the drawing board.

8). Give away free samples or swag. If you have free samples or swag to give away, announce it at the end of your presentation. Invite people to stop by after the end of all the presentations to pick up what you have to offer. For example, GateKeeper gave away free their security lock on a first come, first serve basis after the DC Tech Meetup # 36: Demos, Demos, Demos. Or better yet, set up a small display table of your free samples, swag, or marketing literature. (However, make sure you get permission from the organizers before you do this. Display tables were set up during the DC Tech Meetup #43: Virtual & Augmented Reality Edition, but that may have been an exception to the rule).

Or, you may want to follow Pendo’s example. As a sponsor, besides giving a short presentation, the company also gave away free Georgetown cupcakes at the end of the DC Tech Meetup #48: Women in Tech Edition.

As a speaker, you are following in some big footsteps. Previous presenters have included Framebridge, Aquicore, Encore Alert (which was recently acquired by Meltwater), FiscalNote, Social Radar, Social Tables and Quorum.

For more advice about speaking, please check out these links –

“7 Tips for Giving the Best Tech Talks at Meetups” by Katie Richard

“Why You Should Speak at Meetups and Conferences” by Michał Śliwoń

So what do you think? If you feel that attending or speaking at the DC Tech Meetup is worth your time, please go. You never know what you can learn or who you will meet that could help your career.

Note: If you like my post, please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Top photo is from Gil C / Shutterstock.com

10 Things Start-up Owners need to know about Selling

start-ups and sellingYou’ve done it. The months or years of toiling in your basement, garage, dorm room or tiny apartment have finally paid off. No more eating dry cereal or soup for dinner. No more working late in the evenings or weekends.

You have successfully created your first new product or service that you want to launch into the market. Your loyal employees who stuck by you are also thrilled. Your ship has finally arrived.

But wait a minute? You don’t know how to sell!

All those courses in computer science, coding, engineering or business never taught you the fundamentals of selling. Sure, maybe you watched a video or two of Zig Ziglar, or some other great salesperson. Or you cracked open a sales book once or twice, or read some articles online. You may have even taken a workshop or two about selling. But beyond that, your knowledge of selling is weak.

You admit it. So now what?

Well, like most start-up owners, you decide it’s time to hire your first salesperson or two. But before you place employment ads, there are some things you need to know.

1). Do you really need a salesperson? Is your product really ready for the marketplace or do you still have some more beta testing to do? While no product is perfect, no salesperson wants to spend hours over the phone dealing with a constant stream of technical issues or complaints about bugs. Unless you are paying that salesperson well to be a glorified technical support person, you may need to go back to the drawing board.

For example, I recently spoke to a new business development manager at a Maryland start-up who complained to me that his company was having a high turnover of salespeople. Some would stay for only a few weeks or a couple of months, and then leave. When I probed further, I discovered that his product was still being beta tested for the enterprise market. However, the good news is that his product was actually doing well in the consumer market, which didn’t require the same heavy technical demands as the enterprise clients. In fact, the product was receiving high ratings on Amazon and positive reviews from independent tech bloggers. I suggested to him that he immediately stop hiring sales people until his product was more ready for the enterprise market. I also suggested that his company switch gears, and focus more on the consumer market since he was having greater success. Sure, maybe he wouldn’t generate as much revenue in the consumer market, but at least he would be receiving some cash flow and generating positive buzz.

By using public relations, partnerships, and affiliated marketing, I suggested his company could do quite well in the consumer market. Hopefully, that good well in the consumer market would spill over into the enterprise market once his market was ready.

2). Amateur or Pro, does it matter?  There is a running debate within the start-up community about whether your first couple of salespeople should be amateurs or pros. Some argue that hiring inexperienced salespeople are better because they are hungrier and will hustle more. The argument goes that if you hire an experienced salesperson, he will not be very motivated to sale; instead, he would only rely on his contacts rather than making a lot of cold or warm calls. However, others argue that your first couple of salespeople should be more experienced because they can quickly increase your sales by their expertise and knowledge. In addition, they can also establish a sales process that can be used later when more inexperienced salespeople are hired.

My response – unless you are selling a highly technical product or service that requires advanced training and education, trust your gut and hire the salesperson who will help you generate a lot of sales. Young or old, if they know how to sell, if they are willing to learn about your product and market, and if they are trainable or coachable, hire them and get them prepared to hit the ground running.

Having a diversity of salespeople from different ages and backgrounds can offer your company different perspectives on how to grow your sales.

You can’t always judge a salesperson by his age, the length of his resume or his previous sales results. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut.

3). True believers, are they the best? Some start-up owners feel that only true believers, the ones who really understand their mission or see their vision, should be your first hires. Really? Chances are you may be hiring a wolf in sheep’s clothing – a con artist who pretends to believe in the “cause” but will quickly bail out as soon as your company hits rough water.

Look, forget about hiring true believers. You are running a business, not a religion. Just hire good salespeople. Once they start selling, if your product or service is good as you think, they will eventually become true believers.

I once worked for a small tax research publishing company where I didn’t know anything about accounting. However, over time, I became impressed with our products because our clients really loved what we were selling. Then and only then, did I become a true believer.

4). Should you learn how to sell? Let’s face it – popular culture has not been kind to salespeople. The Glengarry Glen Ross movie and the Death of a Salesman play have done little to enhance the image of salespeople by depicting them as losers or con artists. I actually know people who don’t admit they sell for a living.

So what do you do for a living?

“I, well, you know, I’m a new development person. I mean, I’m a new business opportunity person…I mean I develop new business.”

Whatever.

As a start-up owner, you may feel it’s better to hire a sales expert, so that you can tend to other matters, like product development.

But if you don’t learn about sales, your run the risk of either hiring lazy salespeople, or worst, con artists who will take advantage of your naïve. Either way, you could lose a lot of money, time and prestige.

I once knew a small publishing company owner who admittedly knew nothing about sales or marketing. He never held a sales meeting. Never cracked open a book about selling. His marketing campaigns were from the Dark Ages. Instead, he hired a saleswoman who literally sat by the phone all day waiting for it to ring. She spent her three-year tenure at the company reading books. When a prospect did contact her, she went through the motions of qualifying him, scheduling a short demo, and offering a trial. Sometimes she would follow-up and sometimes she didn’t. With a large base salary, she had no incentive to work hard. Then one day, she quit. A more proactive and assertive salesman was hired. He ended up generating more new sales in 4 or 5 months than the previous saleswoman did in an entire year.

Why? Because he made cold and warm calls. Because he followed-up. Because a true salesperson can’t live on his base salary. In short, he knew how to sell.

The owner, realizing his mistake, now regretted not hiring a more proactive salesperson in the first place. All those potential sales slipped through his fingers because he didn’t take the time to understand the sales process and hire the right salesperson.

On the other hand, I knew another owner who not only took the time to understand sales, but provided a small library of sales, marketing and business books for his sales team to read. He even watched videos about not only how to sell, but how to hire good salespeople.

But let’s say you are an extremely busy start-up owner, and have little time to read about selling. Have no fear.

I would like to suggest two books you should read to get you quickly up to speed –

The Big Book of Sales, by Alan Gordon
The Ultimate Sales Machine: Turbocharge Your Business with Relentless Focus on 12 Key Strategies, by Chet Holmes

If you are ambitious, and want to read more, HubSpot has created a list of the 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time.

Also, there are several excellent YouTube videos about selling that you can also watch.

And BTW, I know there is a lot of debate about which is the best sales process. Is it The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, or could it be SPIN Selling, by Neil Rackman? Maybe you believe in Relationship Selling: The eight competencies of top sales producers, by Jim Cathcart.

Look, all three are good books. Read them. Consider their arguments. But at the end of the day, you will have to decide which sales process really works best for your sales team and your company.

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Speaking of books, if you like this post, please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career for help.
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5). Should you create a Quota system? As a start-up company, I wouldn’t worry too much about setting quotas for the one or two salespeople you have on staff. In the beginning, you are going to spend most of your time testing the market and seeing who is actually is buying your product or service – if in fact, there is a real market. Sure, you can guess. Create a client profile of who you think will be a good customer. You can make some cold calls, send out some emails, and maybe send out some direct marketing pieces. But I would avoid creating any hard quotas for sales until you have a better feel of your market.

Rather than creating sales quotas, you may consider doing activity quotas. Activity quotas are when you expect salespeople to make x-number of phone calls per week, or schedule x-number of demos or trials per week. On paper, this sounds like a great idea. However, be carefully that you are not forcing salespeople to do a lot of “make or busy work” – you want them to focus on selling, not dialing for bogus dollars.

carving up sales territories6). Should you carve up and create sales territories? If you had three or more salespeople, my answer would be yes. But if you only have two salespeople, and the entire country (if not the world) to cover, I would say no. However, as your sales team grows, in order to avoid duplication and hard feelings, setting up sales territories by geography or market segmentation may not be a bad idea.

Some companies prefer using the Round Robin method of distributing leads – where inbound leads are dole out on a rotating basis among the sales team.

Experiment. See what works. But no matter how you distribute leads, always focus on the end game – obtaining sales.

7). Should you use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool? My answer is yes. Using Excel spreadsheets or Post-it Notes isn’t going to cut it for you. While Salesforce.com is considered the dominate CRM in the market, as a start-up, you may not afford to purchase it. There are other CRMs that do cater to start-ups and small businesses for free or at a reasonable price, including –

Close.io
Contactually
Act!
Insightly
Pipedrive
PipelineDeals

To get a full listing of CRMs and obtain independent reviews, please check out Capterra, a Northern Virginia based company that helps businesses and nonprofit organizations find software.  Not only does Capterra provide reviews, but you also receive product details, deployment, vendor contact information, and features checklist. You can even request a free consultation from a Capterra customer service rep to find the right match for you. They also publish interesting blogs and infographics that you can download.

My final advice is this – buy the best CRM you can afford. In the long run, a good CRM will save your sales team a lot of time and money. Take your time. Do your research. I recommend that you consider at least three CRMs before making a final buying decision. You may want to contact other start-up owners and compare notes with them.

8). Are the Yellow Pages a good source for sales leads? Unless you’re living in the 1980s, my answer is No. As a start-up, you are probably under a tight budget. However, there are several inexpensive or free lead generation sources you can use including –

Data.com (formerly Jigsaw)
LinkedIn
Twitter
Industry newsletters and blogs
Business websites
List of clients from your competitor’s website (yes, I know this is sneaky, but if your competitors are going to publish their clients, you might as well call them. Who knows, some of them may be upset with their existing vendor).
Google Alerts
Networking events
ZoomInfo

RedJester created a list of 23 lead generation tools you may want to consider.

Also, check out Neha Jewalikar’s article on the “7 Must-Have Lead Generation Tools for Marketers” in Radius.

As you grow, don’t forget to take advantage of inbound phone calls or emails, referrals, and trade shows.

No lead generation tool is perfect. You will always have bad contact information. When I receive a new lead, one of the first things I do is check the contact on LinkedIn. While not everyone keeps their LinkedIn profile up-to-date, it’s usually a good way to verify if you have a good lead.

sales pipeline9). What are your expectations? You really need to keep your expectations within reason. For example, in most cases, it takes a good salesperson at least three months to build a pipeline from scratch – that means straight cold calling with no referrals or no inbound leads. And even if a salesperson is lucky enough to receive some inbound leads from your website or word of mouth, converting that lead into a customer can take weeks or months. I’ve worked at sales jobs where the sales cycle can last anywhere from a few months to two years. I know of some salespeople who spent five years closing a sale.

It really depends on what you are selling and the type of industry you are in.

And when it comes to cold calling, it’s not unusual to make at least 6 to 8 attempts before you reach the decision maker. I know some sales people who have told me it will take them at least 12 attempts before they reach the key person at a company or organization.

And yes, there are ways you can help shorten the sales cycle, like providing a good CRM, generating good qualified sales leads, and offering great marketing solutions. Remember – your salespeople are serving on the front lines. Like any good soldier, they need your support.

10). Are Salespeople miracle workers? Do you still believe in the tooth fairy? If your product or service is crap, the best salespeople in the world aren’t going to help you.  While it’s expected that any new product or service will be shaky during the first couple of years, if what you are offering is completely bad, salespeople are not going to save you. Sure, they may use hard sell or strong-arm tactics in the beginning to generate sales, but in the long run you are going to fall flat on your face. Selling is a team effort – the product, development, shipping, marketing and administrative teams all have to work together with the sales team to ensure success. In today’s economy, and this is especially true for a start-up, all employees are salespeople.

Summary:

Selling is tough. But for a start-up it’s even more difficult because you are facing several obstacles – tight cash flow, little brand or no name recognition, shoestring budget, and an ever evolving change of plans or directions. You have to be agile, smart and focused.

You have to face the fact that some salespeople you hire won’t cut it or just don’t like working for a start-up. It’s nothing personal. It happens to the best of us.

When it comes to hiring salespeople for a start-up, you need to be brutally honest. If the hours are long, tell them. If the compensation package is low, tell them. If your resources are limited, tell them.

But also tell them this – that you worked your ass off for months, if not years, to create a product or service that will benefit thousands of people. That you truly believe in what you are doing is not a pipe dream. That you really believe your product or service could change the world for the better. That you are committed to improving your company. And if they hang on, the ride will get rough, but the rewards may be great.

Note: If you like this post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career for more help.