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Rocket GTM 🚀 - The First Sales Hire Manifesto
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Founder-Led Sales to The First Sales Hire
The first sales hire is incredibly important. The requirements are very different from that of a sales team with 20+ people.
Your first sales hires will be joining with almost zero process in place. Founder-led sales have enabled you to validate the idea and get the first thirty customers, but there's no proof you have a repeatable sales process, something series A investors will be looking for. There is a ton of uncertainty around what your ideal customer profile is, and how you should market to them. This environment requires a certain type of person.
As a founder your time is in short supply and other responsibilities take precedent like; product, engineering, and hiring other A+ players.
You need a sales person to take the reins, but you don't have the time, or perhaps the necessary skills, to train them.
So, given that, what makes a good first sales hire?
'The First Sales Hire Manifesto' is written in a similar fashion to Ben Horrowitz' article 'Good product Manager/Bad Product Manager'. Positioning the two extremes against each other for clarity.
Yes, there are multiple types of go-to-market motions; inbound, outbound, product-led, community-led and so on. And each of these require different competencies. These competencies are not discussed here today. Instead I focus on the key characteristics which hold true regardless of which go-to-market (GTM) motion you adopt. These traits should hold true across any GTM motion.
The First Sales Hire Manifesto
Dealing with ambiguity
A good first sales hire is not only comfortable with ambiguity, but they excel in it. They are comfortable not having the answer before executing. A good first sales hire seeks answers to their questions through action, not prolonged thought. They dig in a tunnel of darkness knowing that they will find light at the end. They know that the only way to determine the future is to create it.
A bad first sales hire needs constant certainty. They need clearly defined processes to be comfortable getting the job done. They need evidence of existing success to be confident in what they are doing today. A bad first sales hire needs to see the light at the end of the tunnel before entering.
A good first sales hire acts autonomously. They understand everything that can influence their end goal and takes ownership accordingly.
A good first sales hire believes other people's time is more important than their own laziness. In the absence of information they seek to find it themself first, before seeking it from others. They do not ask others for information that can be found elsewhere.
A good first sales hire has the necessary skills to get the job done or is able to acquire them quickly. They give energy to your team, they do not take it away.
A good first sales hire invests in themselves before asking others to invest in them. They are the CEO of their role. They know that their job is not just to complete a daily task, but to influence everything that makes that job possible. A good first sales hire possesses extreme ownership.
A bad first sales hire needs constant hand holding. They are quick to solicit help from others before investing time solving the problem on their own. They are unable to understand how external systems influence their end goal.
A bad first sales hire operates in a vacuum, they are unable to link their daily tasks back to larger business objectives. Instead of a CEO, they act like an assistant.
First principles learner
A good first sales hire learns by doing. They don't look for consensus, they look for truth. They find validation through the results of their actions, not the in the felicitations of others.
A good first sales hire operates from a first-principles basis. They understand root causes of problems, rather than focusing on symptoms. They understand that context is more important than content. They know that the sales process is a science, but execution is an art.
A good first sales hire is annoyingly inquisitive, they challenge authority, ask too many questions and are not afraid to cause friction.
A bad first sales hire learns by copying. They need to see how something is done first in order to be successful. They seek validation through consensus, even at the cost of truth. Acknowledgment of their work is more important than the satisfaction of succeeding itself.
A good first sales hire is curious. They are tinkerers. They like to know how things work. They ask 'why?' multiple times before being satisfied with the answer.
A bad first sales hire is silent. They do not ask questions. They follow your lead and rarely challenge you. They are quick to obey orders. A bad first sales hire is satisfied with just knowing the answer and doesn't seek to understand why it is so.
Tinkerers not thinkers
A good first sales hire is biased towards action. They are doers not thinkers. They choose imperfection today over perfection tomorrow. A good first sales hire is entrepreneurial. Often indulging in entrepreneurial endeavors outside of work. They bring immediate value to the team.
A good first sales hire knows that failure is not the opposite to success, but the road to it. They are able to stay focused on the task at hand and require little energy to course correct.
A good first sales hire spends less time pointing out problems are more time finding solutions. To every problem they bring two suggestions.
A bad first sales hire focuses on the negative. They spend too much time thinking and planning. They get bogged down by analysis paralysis. They are problem finders, not problem solvers.
A bad first sales hire get distracted easily. They go 'down the rabbit hole' and demand your energy to course correct. They are philosophers who enjoy intellectual stimulation more than execution and being in the trenches.
A good first hire knows that previous experience is only one variable in future success, but it can betray them. They understand that your company will quickly outgrow their current skillset. They are biased towards learning to avoid being left behind.
A good first sales hire is 'learn it all' not a 'know it all'. They enjoy reading around their field. They constantly look to improve themselves and prepare for the next challenge. They never stagnate.
A good first sales hire seeks out conflicting perspectives to challenge their thinking. They prefer the purity of truth over the comfort of consensus.
A good first sales hire isn't impeded by constraints, they play within the parameters available to them and don't complain. They learn from failure and know that the greatest failure of them all, is the failure to try at all.
A good first sales hire seeks out feedback, they get excited by growth and are not offended by critique.
A bad first sales hire is a 'know it all' and not a 'learn it all'. They rest on their laurels. They rely on old experience to solve new problems. Their rate of learning does not keep up with the demands of the company.
A bad first sales hire seeks perspectives that confirm their current thinking. They seek consensus more than truth.
A bad first sales hire doesn't learn from their failures, they repeat them. They have a fixed mindset. They see success as validating their greatness while failures are blamed on others. Worse yet, they avoid failure at all.
Generalists not specialists
A good first sales hire has a generalist skillset. They are a jack of all traders, and a master of some. They wear multiple hats and are comfortable switching roles quickly. Being out of their comfort zone is an opportunity to grow.
A bad first sales hire is highly specialized. They have a narrow set of skills and quickly fail when pushed outside of their comfort zone. They seek out tasks in areas they are already competent. They are not malleable.
Missionary not mercenary
Missionaries work for meaning, mercenaries work for money. Missionaries are builders, mercenaries are scalers.
A good first sales hire always does what is right for the company. They are missionaries not mercenaries. They do not prioritize their interests above those of the company.
A good first sales hire focuses on what's right for the customer, not their commission. They are motivated by both personal and business growth over short term paychecks. A good first sales hire enjoys camaraderie, they do not act as a lone wolf.
A good first sales hire likes to build the sales playbook from scratch. They do not fear a lack of process, they see it as an opportunity to create something impactful.
A good first sales hire knows that good results are a consequence of the right actions. They do not try to cheat the system for their own interest. They are not motivated by results which come from improper actions.
A bad first sales hire does what is right for them. They are mercenaries. They prioritize their interests over those of the company. A bad first sales hire considers others as a resources and blame them when things go wrong. They are only helpful when your incentive and their incentives are 100% aligned.
In failure, a good first sales hire looks for what they could have done better, a bad first sales hire looks for who to blame.
Wrapping it up 🌯
It can be incredibly frustrating not being able to tell if you have product-market fit problems or hiring problems. Getting your first sales hire right is incredibly important.
A good first sales hire is autonomous, curious, first-principles oriented, growth oriented, and excels in ambiguity. They are builders who enjoy building the sales playbook from scratch. They get sh*t done and expend less energy doing it.
They put the interests of the company above their own. They invest a great deal in themselves. They grow at the same rate or quicker than the needs of the company.
Your first sales hire is there to find/build a repeatable sales process, they are not there to scale it. This is important. Scaling requires a very different skillset. One is 'building from scratch' and the other is 'optimizing what already exists'. The ideal sales person is crappy, entrepreneurial, and has a generalist skill set.
Finding this person is not easy.
But then again, no one said it would be.