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The Startup Conundrum: Too Small to Hire a Sales Manager, But Can't Grow Without One

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The Startup Conundrum: Too Small to Hire a Sales Manager, But Can't Grow Without One
June 11, 2015

  By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

Small businesses face a lot of hurdles when it comes to success. One of the largest hurdles they face is building a sales team from the ground up. Startups often begin with one or two salespeople, usually individuals who came into the company at the ground floor. They may take on one or more individuals later to represent different territories. Up until this point, salespeople are often managed by the CEO. The company is simply too small to merit (or afford) a “rock-star” style sales manager, so the burden falls on the CEO.

This is a huge conundrum, wrote Gretchen Gordon of Braveheart Sales Performance for Business2Community recently. The company can’t afford a sales manager until it grows, and the company can’t grow without an effective sales manager. CEOs simply don’t have the time it takes to effectively manage a sales team, and putting the burden on the most senior salesperson means he or she is busy managing instead of selling.

Gordon notes that many companies continue to struggle with the CEO in charge of sales, and often make the same mistakes when it comes to this unsustainable model. They may make non-strategic sales hires out of desperation and take the first person who shows up for the interview. This leads to lost opportunities and more headaches on the part of the CEO. Many companies don’t have a great hiring and training process, which means that even good salespeople will more likely sink than swim. Other “newbie” companies may not have a sufficient compensation and incentive system to attract and keep rock star sales professionals. Finally, CEO-led sales organizations are only getting part-time guidance, which will probably lead to part-time performance.

Gordon recommends that startups get help when it comes to hiring and onboarding. Professional organizations often have well established screening tools to “sniff out” the best candidates.

“When you are counting on getting a rock star salesperson, plan ahead and get some help,” she wrote. “Trying to save money in the short term by doing this in-house is likely to end up costing you an average of 3-5 times the new hire’s annual compensation. So instead of boosting your revenues it can hold your company back.”

When it comes to motivating sales people – something CEOs often really don’t have time to do – this isn’t a process that can be done in bulk. It involves talking to each sales person and getting to know them to determine the best approach for motivating them.

“Once you know what drives each individual, you can work with them to ensure both of your goals are met by aligning the benchmarks to get there. Everyone will be happier, and that will be reflected in your sales performance,” wrote Gordon. “Also, make sure your sales compensation plan is consistent with your goals.”

While you still may be some time away from hiring a superstar sales manager, consider asking for professional help when it comes to ramping up your sales presence. You may not be ready to bring in a manager, but you’re certainly ready to grow, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to do it alone. 

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

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