You started as an engineer. You built solid product with fantastic functionality that make customers’ life easier. Now what? You do not know where the customers are or do not have a clear strategy about approaching them, ideally in a cost-effective way. You need the first sales person to make it happen.
You are faced with 3 challenges, one after another:
. What kind of sales people is deal?
. How to get them on board?
. How to evolve into a sales team?
Good sales person, are money driven. But very few of them are risk-takers. If you offer them $1 today or $2 tomorrow, most of them will choose $1 toady. Such average sales people are absolutely not ideal. You need to (and have to) find a sales partner that can take the chance with you. How do you find out? It’s quite easy: Pay them minimal salary with higher percentage of equities. You will hear a lot no’s, but don’t be frustrated. Keep looking until you find someone who believes in you, and are willing take a short term pain.
What value do you need them to bring to you? The most important, opposite to what many people believe (industry-connection), is reputation. Someone with great reputation make your sales process easy, lowering sales cost. That reputation also helps you attract more talents later. The second highest value is industry-expertise. That industry knowledge helps you customize your product to the real need of customers. The third value would be the industry connection. The value of “connection” is much smaller than most entrepreneurs think. When a sales person tells you that s/he has connection with the CEO of a big customer, don’t believe in him/her. No CEO will purchase your product because of that sales person.
Assuming you successfully launched the product line and generated enough revenue, you want to scale. It means you need to hire a sales team. The first sales partner, may or may not be the right sales manager. Sales management takes a different type of skill set, of which the most important is standardization and establishing process. Regardless of your sales partner’s talent level, you need to give him/her a try. That’s is generally perceived as “being reasonable”, or “fair”. If failed, take a decisive action to hire a real sales manager. It’s critical to give limited patience to test your sales partner, since you cannot afford unlimited time growing a person.
Engineers have a tendency to overlook the challenge of sales. Even though sales activity may be simple technically-speaking, getting into customer’s head and composing a message that they want to hear is not an easy task. Good sales person need to exhibit a high level of emotion control, fighting against their own greed, anger, frustration, and impatience. None of these are easy. So, when you find your ideal sales partner, make sure you treat them as a talent, not someone of trivial value.