The Wild West

Around 1.3 million workers quit their jobs in the year ending February 2022 in Australia, with many looking to leave the corporate world and jump into the world of start-ups. Skilled employees who dive into start-up life often have a romanticized view of what it will be like: a vibrant culture, fast-paced work, free lunches, and the chance to make a real impact.

While all these are true to a certain degree, the truth is that start-up culture can be tough to navigate. Start-ups are notoriously stressful places to work and can be even more challenging for salespeople. Fast-paced environments may be familiar terrain, but the uncertainty, risk, lack of resources, and absence of structure can be difficult adjustments.

Salespeople must refocus their mindset when ditching the corporate bandwagon for a start-up, or else these realities will hit hard.

There is no sales process

A primary concern for salespeople used to working in a corporate setting is that there is no set sales process in start-ups. Enterprises usually have a clear strategy in place, often with multiple steps and teams that need to sign off on a deal. This linearity can provide great comfort and allow salespeople to focus on their strengths without worrying about the rest.

In contrast, the start-up world is more like the Wild West. There are no rules or processes, which can be both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. To be successful, a salesperson must be adaptable and think on their feet.

Sales culture? Never heard of it

In larger businesses, there are usually teams dedicated to specific tasks like generating leads or closing deals. This can make it easier for salespeople to find their niche and build relationships with other team members.

In start-ups, the focus is often on product development and growth hacking rather than sales. The founders are likely not to have a sales background and may also take a biased approach toward sales – more focused on the product and technology. Salespeople with corporate experience must be proactive in creating their own opportunities and building relationships with potential customers.

Recruiting the right sales team

Salespeople are the backbone of any company, but they can be critical in a start-up. In addition to being the driving force behind revenue, they also play a key role in shaping the culture and direction of a young company.

High-performing salespeople can be an invaluable asset to a start-up, but only if they can navigate the often chaotic and unpredictable environment. As a founder, it’s essential to be thoughtful and strategic when building your sales team.

1. Identify the skills you need

It’s easy to pick a salesperson with impressive work experience, but that’s not always the best indicator of success. A more relevant question to ask is: what specific skills does this person have that will help them succeed in your environment?

2. Look for self-starters

There is often no clear path to success in a start-up. It’s vital to have salespeople on your team who are comfortable with ambiguity and can take the initiative, especially since there is no proper sales process in place. Someone who is independent, organized, and has a knack for planning can be leveraged to help shape your company’s sales culture.

3. Be upfront

Recruiting a salesperson from a corporate job board can be difficult, which is why some entrepreneurs make the mistake of sugar-coating the start-up life. There is more value in transparency about what you’re looking for and what the position entails. If you’re honest from the start, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy in the long run.

Figuring out your growth strategy

Often, start-ups default to a product-led growth strategy, which means the product sells itself. Several businesses succeeded this way: Slack, Zoom, and Dropbox are some of the most famous examples.

This method may sound like good news for salespeople – after all, you’re not selling a product; you’re selling a vision. In theory, it should be easier to close deals when prospects can see how your product will improve their lives.

However, product-led growth is plausible to a certain point. If your start-up doesn’t have a unique value proposition or a mission that speaks to your target market, you’ll have difficulty succeeding with this strategy.

Sales teams are naturally wired for sales-led growth. This is when the salespeople are responsible for acquiring customers. For this to work, a company defines a sales funnel where each stage is a milestone in the buyer’s journey.

The advantage of sales-led growth is that it allows start-ups to be more hands-on with their customers. It’s easier to control the narrative when you’re the one telling the story.

You can also tailor your message and approach to each customer segment, which is essential for early-stage start-ups that are still trying to figure out their target market.

Picking the best growth strategy depends entirely on your business goals. A good leader, especially one who admits their lack of experience in sales, would sit down with the team and evaluate the risks and opportunities of each approach.

This could then be an avenue for salespeople to prove their value, provide sales frameworks, and ultimately contribute to the company’s strategy.

Helping them feel valued

Many start-ups, especially those with a product-led approach, achieved success without ever needing sales teams. But the skills that salespeople bring to the table are becoming more and more valuable as start-ups expand their customer base and look for new ways to grow.

Unfortunately, not all start-ups are created equal when it comes to how they treat their sales teams. Salespeople sometimes are an afterthought; they’re hired because the product is struggling to sell itself, and management is panicking. These situations rarely lead to success.

A better way for a founder to approach things is to allow the sales team to be an integral part of the company from day one. This means that the salespeople should have a voice in product development, go-to-market strategy, and target market selection.

The best start-ups treat their salespeople as experts in their field and give them the resources they need to succeed. In turn, sales teams can help these start-ups scale by bringing in revenue and generating customer feedback that can be used to improve the product.

All on the same page

Start-up life is all about collaboration and working together to achieve a common goal. Each member is essential to the success of the company. While salespeople may bring in revenue, they’re not the only ones who can drive growth.

Regardless of size, any business stands to benefit from revenue operations. “Revenue operations” is the term for a company-wide focus on growth. The goal is simple: to unify all departments around a standard metric, usually revenue. This way, everyone from customer success to marketing to sales understands their impact on the bottom line.

Practising revenue operations is relatively more straightforward in start-up culture because there are no silos or pre-existing systems to work around. The only barrier to overcome is getting everyone on the same page, which can be done through regular communication and alignment meetings.

Think of it as a boat race: everyone has to paddle in the same direction to move forward.

Do you have the right processes, frameworks, and systems in place to set your sales team up for success?

If you’re ready to Go Next Level, contact us today and let us show you what we can do.

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