June 9th, 2008 Systems posted by dmerritts View Comments

Sales Teams in Enterprise Start-ups

Good salespeople can make your life great, bad salespeople make your life miserable. Hiring salespeople in a start-up is key to making your life as a product manager easier. Make sure you (product manager) get a chance to interview them on the way in. You must find salespeople who are scrappy, hungry and, of course, happy-losers (HBR). Zhivago makes some very good points on selling in a start-up in this post: All of these are things that CEOs think, but Salespeople don’t do:

  1. The salesperson I’ve hired will sell the way I sell. [ Yeah right, sales training is rarely effective at changing sales practices ]
  2. Salespeople are open to change. [ Salespeople sell the way they've seen success; so in a resource strapped start-up BigCo sales strategies don't work ]
  3. You can “wind them up and let them run.”
  4. Salespeople can be managed the way other workers are managed.
  5. A “one size fits all” approach to coaching will work.
  6. Salespeople know what their customers are thinking. [ This one is quite true to the Product Manager in me. Ask salespeople about facts and make sure you, marketing guy or gal, perform win/loss analysis. This will help you figure out what's going on. Salespeople typically tell only the latest story, not the trend or obvious minus 2 layer analysis ]
  7. The best salesperson is an aggressive salesperson.

I’d also like to add: Salespeople create solutions for their customers. Wrong. Salespeople are great at leveraging the organization to have others create things for their pursuit. These requests typically land squarely in marketing with engineering providing support (when product related).

Often these are valid requests, because all of the collateral required to sell effectively hasn’t been created. The product is new. The stable of collateral hasn’t been produced. So, often, a sales pursuit is a good reason to create something that other customers may need in the future. However, occasionally you get requests that will only ever be used by a single customer. Prioritize these requests carefully and make certain that the need is real, not just a sales solution to a perceived problem.

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