Building Your StartupThe Real Deal

4 Ways To Spot Top Startup Sales Leaders

By May 10, 2021 No Comments

by Gary Peat, general partner

As a startup entrepreneur, have you asked yourself about your budget for training programs for new hires on your leadership team?  

“What training programs?” you ask.  Exactly.  

Startups demand leaders with successful experience at successful startups that scaled up.  How do you measure successful experience as a sales leader at a startup?  That is the easy part.  

All you need is 4 data points from a potential startup sales leader. 

For each job a candidate has had as a sales leader, ask them:

  1. How many sales people did your sales team have when you started?
  2. How many sales people did your sales team have when you left?
  3. What was the TCV of your team’s new customer contracts in the first year you were there?
  4. What was the TCV of your team’s new customer contracts in the last year you were there?

If you ask a sales leader for those data points and they do not give them to you, or if they give you the data, but the data does not speak for itself as outstanding, then they do not have successful experience as a sales leader at a successful startup.   Screen them out. Yes, that’s hard, but do it. Life is a series of hard choices and this is one of them that sets the winners apart from the also-ran.

Salespeople and startup sales leaders learn to sell themselves, not just customers. 

Don’t let them sell you.  Let the data speak for itself.  If you interview sales-leader candidates without first screening based upon the 4 data points for each sales leadership role they have had, you court failing as a company because you are going to fail at hiring a great sales leader.

There are people who were formerly employed as sales leaders who sell their performance in a “story” about how “good they are” . . . with a subplot of how the company was the obstacle due to (Pick one: senior management, market, tech flaws).  The ones who are not successful do that.  You should also screen these storytellers out. They might be telling their version of their truth–you don’t have to judge–but you do need to move past them.

Fast growth is rare and it lasts for only a short time, so drill into the data to find real skill.  

A decade of fast growth is EXCEEDINGLY rare.  Sales leaders who grow a team and sales during fast growth that is sustained for years have learned the many things necessary to grow. Growth is no accident and doing it well on a sustained basis is a top skill–one you need.  What is fast growth? Make sure you get this metric right now– 100% sales growth or more annually is fast growth until about $20 million ARR in B2B software. Past $20 million ARR, fast growth is >50% per year. 

Look at the data on your current startup sales leader, too.

If they don’t have at least one run of fast growth as a sales leader that sustained for 5 years or more, you haven’t hired the right sales leader yet. Sometimes, founders tell me they are so good that they can spot talent who hasn’t been a successful sales leader –yet. It’s possible, but I offer you the following perspective from over 100 venture financings in my direct experience:  there are so many ways to fail to scale if you hire the wrong sales leader that you would be better off investing in lottery tickets.  Don’t gamble your whole company when hiring a sales leader at a startup.  Get the data.

Here are more posts to help you hire the winners you deserve:

  1. Your First Marketing Hire
  2. Growing Your Sales
  3. Building Effect Startup Boards

 

–Gary Peat