Learning This One Lesson About Hiring Will Help Turn Your Scrappy Startup Into a Growing Business

 In the earliest stage of building my first successful startup, I spent a couple years doing all the selling of our product (a B2B SaaS product). However, after enough growth (and some helpful VC funding), I was finally ready to build a sales team. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to build a sales team, so I tracked down a local entrepreneur who was known for being great at it. I annoyed him until he finally agreed to meet with me. When we met, I immediately asked the question I was desperate to answer: “How do I build a great sales team?” Even though I asked the question expecting to learn how to build a sales team, the answer I got taught me much more than that. It taught me the best way to build my entire business.

“In order to answer that question,” he said, “I need you to answer my question, first. Can you guess job my best salesperson had before he became my best salesperson?”

I shrugged and responded, “I don’t know… a teacher, maybe?”

“And why do you think a teacher would be good at sales?” he asked.

“I guess because teachers are comfortable talking with people,” I answered.

“I can see why you’d guess that,” he nodded. “But, no, my best salesperson wasn’t a teacher. Guess again.”

“Maybe a waiter or waitress?” I asked. “Because service industry people are used to interacting with customers.”

“Nope, not a waiter,” he said. “Guess one more time.”

I thought for a few minutes until I realized the answer I was sure he was looking for. “An entrepreneur!” I blurted. “Entrepreneurs are great talkers, they’re persistent, and they don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

“Definitely not,” he laughed. “Trust me… you don’t want your sales team being a bunch of entrepreneurs.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Entrepreneurs aren’t process-oriented,” he said. “They’re mavericks who prefer to operate individually. That’s great for a founder trying to sell his product by himself, but sales teams have to operate cohesively, and operating cohesively requires people who follow established sales processes.”

“What kinds of processes?” I asked him.

“To grow a sales team, you need to start by creating a repeatable sales process,” he explained. “It should include things like how you reach out to people, what you say when you reach out to them, how you follow-up with them, when you follow up with them, how often to follow up with them, and, of course, you also need to ensure you’re collecting all the data to track your sales process by constantly updating your CRM. This will let you monitor your sales process and know how effective it is.”

“Ugg,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I really hate CRMs.”

“Of course you do,” he replied. “That’s a huge part of why entrepreneurial people aren’t good hires for sales teams. Entrepreneurs usually don’t like the kinds of systematic processes that are critical for operating large teams of people as opposed to just one person working alone.”

“OK, so what is the right kind of person to hire for a sales team?” I asked. “What job did your best salesperson have before becoming your best salesperson?”

“A bus driver!” he answered. “My best salesperson used to drive busses for the city.”

“Really?” I responded. “I would hav never guessed that. It seems weird.”

“Does it?” he replied. “Just think about it for a moment. Bus drivers are perfect salespeople because they’re people whose entire job is to follow the same route in a circle all day long. Plus, bus drivers are happy doing it. At the same time, they’re also good at thinking critically in micro-moments. For example, if a road is blocked, bus drivers can figure out how to get around it. But, as soon as they’re around the roadblock, they get right back on their routes. They do this almost every day for years without complaining. That’s who you want to hire when you’re building a sales team.”

Not only did that simple description of a perfect sales person helped me figure out how to build a sales team, it also helped me build the team for my entire company. Before the conversation I’ve described, I always assumed everyone who worked for my startup had to be somewhat entrepreneurial. By that I mean whatever job I hired them for, I looked for someone with an entrepreneurial spirit who could operate autonomously and independently. My employees needed to be able to figure out what job needed to be done on their own and then get it done. In other words, I felt like they all needed to be a little like me. But that’s not actually a good way to build a successful company.

Instead, if you want to build a successful team, you need to put successful systems in place. In terms of sales, that means identifying a successful sales process and then codifying that process in a way that allows you to hire other people who can follow it.

The same is true for most of the other positions you’ll need to hire. When you hire customer support reps, you need to have a customer support process in place that people can learn and follow. When you hire marketers, you need to have a marketing process in place. When you hire engineers, you need to have an engineering workflow in place.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean you can’t give your team the autonomy and support they need to evolve and improve their processes. It just means you have to establish processes for people to follow, and you need to put managers in place who can help evolve and change those processes as you collect data about what works and what doesn’t. Having effective processes in place in your company is how you go from being a startup operated by entrepreneurs to becoming a business operated by employees.

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