Selling the startup dream to a sales team

Entrepreneurs can only get so far on their own – hiring a dedicated team of salespeople will eventually become a necessity. However, selling them the startup is just as important as getting them to sell themselves

Selling the startup dream to a sales team

It’s not just the bank manager who needs convincing that an entrepreneur’s big idea is ripe for commercial success – you also need to convince those who will be selling it on your behalf.

Scarily enough, putting together a sales team can ultimately make or break your product and with it, your entrepreneurial success; choose the wrong set of salespeople and it’s more a case of being held to ransom, rather than being the next Richard Branson.

With tight startup budgets usually leading to lower salaries, salespeople, ironically enough, need to be sold something themselves. That thing is vision – your vision. Particularly if you’re looking to attract talent from the corporate world, this can provide one of the most telling challenges for a startup.

“Inspiring your sales team starts at interview and needs to be built on with a strong induction process, explaining who you are and where you are going,” starts Ian Baxter, founder and chairman of Baxter Freight, the freight company.

“We normally spend three full days ‘in the classroom’, inducting new joiners,” Baxter continues. “In this time they will be engaged in interactive training, explaining the corporate vision and values and will have to sell them back to the team to demonstrate that they’ve been received and understood.

“It’s really important that staff not only learn your mantra, but also understand why it’s good and will benefit customers, suppliers and ultimately your sales team itself. As Baxter Freight is still in its first year of business it is particularly important that all our team believe in what we do.”

But what about finding those bums to fill seats on your sales team?

“It can be a challenge for startups to attract talented salespeople to join their team, especially when they have previously worked with larger, more established companies,” explains Tom Castley, managing director of Xactly EMEA, the sales performance management software provider. “It is important to ensure they understand that working with a smaller company does not necessarily equate to a lower return.”

“Joining a smaller team brings more individual responsibility for driving the success of the company and the opportunity to sharpen entrepreneurial skills,” Castley continues. “Further rewards for getting on board early can include better returns on share options and more attractive promotion opportunities while actively growing a company – a real badge of honour on anyone’s CV.”

The buck, euro, yen or – more likely – pound doesn’t stop there though. You may have enlisted the help of the best sales team in the world but motivation and keeping your team incentivised is something that doesn’t just happen overnight.

According to a recent survey of sales professionals conducted by YouGov and Xactly, 68% of respondents suggested they prefer to be rewarded based upon their individual and personal needs. Whilst this might appear to be quite a challenge for entrepreneurs and startups with small sales teams, it is ultimately what it will take for people to see, understand and follow their vision. Getting to know your team well is therefore indispensable, as Castley attests.

“Working in a small tightly-knit team as part of a startup can be great fun but takes effort and time to make the relationships work for all involved,” he says.

The above being said, it can be tempting with a small team to assign additional roles and responsibilities that can ultimately distract from the end game.

“Salespeople with too many responsibilities won’t be able to meet the goals initially set in the first place. It’s important to focus on, and work to their strengths to help them attain their quota,” continues Castley.  

“One option is to create specialist roles for your sales team, which makes it easier to break out different steps in your processes, driving better metrics, and more effective rewards. What’s more, when things aren’t working and you inevitably hit a few hurdles, lumped responsibilities can obscure the view of what’s happening within an organisation, making it difficult to isolate and fix issues with accountable follow through.”

Attempting to mould every member of a sales team into a mirror image of yourself can be a dangerous game indeed. After all, what’s good for the goose may not always necessarily be good for the gander.

“Refrain from rushing to drill your dream into your colleagues’ heads, forcing them to subscribe to it and expecting them to be inspired to achieve your goals,” says Castley. “Take the time to sit down and pinpoint the motivators for each individual employee, talk about their dreams, and then align what motivates them against the overall goals.

“Taking this time to find out what drives them will demonstrate you can help them achieve success in their professional and personal lives,” he concludes. 

Joe Jeffrey
Joe Jeffrey

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