In a startup environment it can be hard to know what to expect from a new sales leader you bring in from the outside. And while I hate to say, “It depends”,…well, it depends. Much of what a new sales leader at a startup will be able to achieve will depend on the resources available, and the actual stage of the company.
A “startup” can be a pre-revenue, zero customer company. Or it can be several years old, with hundreds of customers and many millions in MRR.
And sometimes, startup is a mindset embodied by a modern company, no matter its age and revenue. Also, there are different types of “new” sales leaders—new to your company, or new to sales leadership? Because that makes a difference as well.
So, yes….what you can expect from a new sales leader in a start-up environment does actually depend.
Hiring sales management is one of the most delicate, fraught-with-risk things we do as entrepreneurs. Especially when that hire comes from the outside of your organization. Sometimes a new sales manager comes in, instantly makes an impact, knows exactly what to do and where to focus and is a clear fit for your company. They are the hires that cause you to breath a deep sigh of relief every time you think of them, or interact with them.
But sales is a tricky profession, and sometimes there are more gray areas than we want. A new sales leader comes in and some things are going well while others aren’t as rosy as you would like them to be.
In my experience, gray areas are never good with new leadership. A new sales leader is either a win or they aren’t, and you know it deep down almost instantly. Same goes for any new salesperson as well, actually.
In that way, assessing sales employees—whether SDR, AE, manager, director of VP—really should be the same. When someone is giving us doubt, or seems not quite right, but close…we agonize over whether we should keep them. But really, shouldn’t it all just come down to results at the end of the day?
That said…let’s get back to the original question. What can you expect from a new sales manager in a startup environment? Here’s a quick list of what any “new” sales manager should be focused on:
- Recruiting: Creating a hiring strategy/plan and then hiring the right people based on the plan.
- Comp planning: Creating a compensation strategy/quota that motivates and retains their team.
- Managing: A start up sales manager needs to spend a lot of time with their team and be very hands-on. Significant focus should be on managing, coaching, supporting and co-selling with their team in the early days.
- Culture: Creating the right culture for recruiting, retention and results. A culture that emphasizes learning, flexibility and agility will be very important in the startup phase.
- Documentation and process: Early on, you don’t want a sales manager to be too in the weeds on documentation and process, but you do want some focus on this. As the team scales you want effective rep onboarding and predictability. That can’t happen without documentation.
More than anything you want a startup sales manager to deeply understand your customer, your product, and your value proposition. They may help you define these, depending on your stage, if they aren’t already defined.
Obviously, you also want a new sales manager to know how to sell and how to lead. A startup sales manager should be focus on selling, customer acquisition and building their team. It’s easy to get distracted with other stuff, and not focus on the hard work of landing customers and building a team.
I think it’s easy to spot the new sales managers who are going to make an impact from those who aren’t. Don’t hold on to a wrong-fit sales leader.