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Building a great startup sales team.

Now that you have hired our first sales rep, it is now important that you scale the sales efforts to a team and begin seeing the progress that the organization makes. The questions that could come in your mind would be

  • When should I hire beyond my first sales person?
  • How should I decide the team structure?
  • How should I hire these people?
  • How do I make these people perform?

Here are a five stage process that you can adopt in scaling your startup sales team.

  1. First version of a sales playbook

Now that you have done the initial sales yourself, you would have a mental framework on what you would need to do in order to sell. You also have a sales person who is working along with you. You would have definitely learnt many techniques from the sales person yourself. Now, you will need to ensure that there is some traction that is coming out of the first sales person.

Once you see the activities booming and you see sales happening, this is the time to infuse some science in the sales process. This comes out as a sales playbook. This is a document repository of what has worked and what has not worked for you in the past. A detailed documentation of the knowledge of the two of you along with the rest of the customer facing people will put some science. Now, the initial success  can be replicated by handing the sales playbook over to the junior or the new sales people who will use this as a reference  to sell. This will be an easy reckoner for them.

This also eases the pressure on you because you would not have to train the sales people from basics yourself. The sales playbook will give the entire success formula specific for your company straightaway.

  1. Deciding the JD

Now that you are ready to hire, the next activity in the process is who would you need to hire. You will have to assess the skills you will need to look out for in a sales person. You will have to go through the sales process and find out the areas of difficulties you would face as a founder. You can then find out how the first sales person is, what their strengths and weaknesses are.

You can assess what is the gap that you still face in the sales team and in the sales process. That can become the Job Description for the next sets of sales teams you will hire. Alternately, you can also replicate the strengths that you have found in your first sales person if you find this very valuable for you.

The JD will consist of listing down the key attributes you would want the person to have. The JD will also highlight what you would want this sales team members to accomplish once they come on board. Setting expectations is very important in the sales hiring as you will immediately weed out those people who would either not fit into the skills or the ones who would not want to work and accomplish the way you would want them to.

  1. Interview process

Now that you have identified the type of the person you would want; you will have to identify the interview process. The interview process should be completely focussed on evaluating a person based on the JD that you had drawn out.

I have seen many companies doing a mistake either in defining the right JD for the hire or giving up too fast and hiring someone because they are not finding the right person.

This is a wrong approach. You have to remember that you are hiring this person to solve a business problem that you are unable to solve. If you don’t find the right person who can solve these problems, then it comes back to be your problem again.

So, you will have to have a very specific round of discussion at the first level to find out if this person comes in with a complementary skill that you are looking for.  You will have to go to the next level of interview only if you are convinced that this person can do the job

There is no point in having an interview process that you would do for a developer. This is because the skill levels will not be the same. You will have to look at the resume just to find out if the person has some skills that are similar to what you are expecting. You will have to go with the gut feel because sometimes , a sales person resume may not be the right way to shortlist or to reject.

The first interview can be on the phone just to make sure that you are talking with the right person before getting this person to step in for a face to face meeting. You should structure the questions to evaluate a sales person the right way.

  1. On-boarding and fixing targets

Once the team has joined, you will have to on-board the team the right way. The on-boarding comprises the right kind of induction, telling them about the company, capabilities and expectations from the job and from a culture perspective. The on-boarding also includes training them about the solutions and differentiators

This will include some sales training also as the selling skills the sales team would have acquired in the earlier job may not necessarily fit in with your company.  This is where the sales playbook comes into picture, where you can train your sales team and also take their opinions to add to the playbook if it is applicable

Once the training is done, the targets need to be fixed. Based on the needs of the organization at that point in time and based on the skillsets you desire; the targets can be fixed. It can be a prospecting target where the quota is based on the number of meetings is fixed. It can be a revenue target where the evaluation is based on the sales done. It is important to fix the target as that will help in tracking the people.

  1. Constant evaluation

. Now that you have set the targets for the sales team, it is important that you evaluate them constantly. Many founders leave the sales team undisturbed. They feel that the sales team will perform on their own. This is a big mistake. The sales team needs to be guided on what they should be doing and when they should change the way they work.

This happens only in constant reviews. You will be able to find out what they are doing right and what they are not doing right. You will be in for a lot of surprises when you would not talk to them and take a strong decision if they don’t perform. You are being unfair both to the sales team as well as to your organization.

Your review should be focussed on questioning them on the efforts they have put in during the review period. The review should be an evaluation on how their efforts lead them into achieving certain milestones. The milestones can be measured against the targets they were given at the beginning of the period.

Corrective actions can be taken to retrain them, guiding them the right way or you changing your strategy based on the feedback you have tak


So, identifying the right JD, having a robust interview process and finding the right team helps you in setting up a great sales team. This will help in finding complimentary skills that you don’t have as a founder. This will help scale the sales successes you have had as a founder and you can build a great organization.