Podcast Episode: Building the Sales Team from the Ground Up


In this episode of Extraordinary Pursuits, BIP Ventures CPO Christy Johnson speaks with John O’Brien from sales placement firm Sales Talent Group. The discussion focuses on the ways that hiring skilled sales professionals or managers can make or break business growth. John shares the key considerations for sales hiring in a company, including knowing when to hire, core qualifications, and spotting the signs that it’s time to replace a sales manager.

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What is the ideal timing for a startup to make its first sales hire? The ideal timing for hiring a first sales team member often coincides with a company reaching a critical inflection point. The founder is overstretched so sales can no longer be founder-led. This point happens earlier than you might think. The startup has a few employees and under a million in revenue.  

3 Signs That it's Time to Hire a Sales Lead
  1. Bandwidth issues
  2. Stalled revenue growth
  3. Initial networks are exhausted   

What are the key qualities to look for in this first sales hire? The first sales hire should have an entrepreneurial spirit, be adaptable, resourceful, and team-oriented. They should have a genuine passion for the product and ideally, experience in similar market environments. A risk-oriented mindset and a track record of success in sales are also crucial.

How should the role of the first sales hire be structured?  Focus on hiring a doer, not a manager. This person needs to be primarily focused on selling without being bogged down by administrative or non-sales duties. The role should be clearly defined with specific expectations and goals outlined in what we term as 'job design'. Job design is a thoughtful process that goes beyond a traditional job description to ensure the role is clearly understood by the hiring team and the candidate, and that all efforts align with strategic company objectives. Job design forms the basis for evaluating the success of the hire long-term.

2 Pillars of Job Design
  1. Specific expected outcomes and accomplishments  
  2. End results and contributions crucial for the success of the business

What common mistakes do startups make when making their first sales hire?  Common pitfalls include not aligning job expectations with the company’s actual needs, overvaluing experience from big brands, and failing to integrate the new hire into the company's culture effectively. Startups often fall into the trap of failing to adequately prepare the hire to succeed in a lean and dynamic environment, particularly if they are not coming from a startup environment.

Making the first sales hire is a pivotal decision for early-stage startups. The process of identifying and hiring the most appropriate candidate requires a thorough understanding of the company's current stage, clear definition of the role, and a strategic approach to recruitment. This is not a process to rush. Invest time and resources to define the role and expectations clearly, ensuring alignment with the company's goals and culture. This preparation sets the stage for the hire's success and significantly impacts company trajectory.

Stay informed and inspired with regular updates from BIP Ventures.

About the Guest

A seasoned executive in the field of sales, John O’Brien specializes in Go-to-Market (GTM) placements across the United States. As the Founder, CEO, and Managing Partner of Sales Talent Group, he oversees the day-to-day operations, focusing on all GTM professional positions, from marketing, quota-carrying sales reps, customer success, sales operations, solution engineers, and senior leadership.  

Christy Johnson is a General Partner and the Chief Performance Officer for BIP Ventures, where she provides comprehensive and tailored advisory support and resources that help the firm's portfolio companies grow further and faster.

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