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Hiring your first sales and marketing people at an early-stage company

Vik Duggal
Vik Duggal
• 5 min read

"Hey Paul," I start while making sure my camera, mic, recorder all work. Normal behavior these days before any video call. "How are you?"

Paul paused. This was our second call in three weeks with a few email exchanges in between and I had a general sense there was a feeling of overwhelm. I was genuinely curious about his headspace and I knew he'd be honest with his answer.

"Um...we have so many sales leads. I know it's good, but it will take me two, three, sometimes more, days to get back to people." He paused. "So that's not good."

Paul leads sales, customer success, and marketing at an early stage technology company. How early-stage? 1 paying customer early stage. 5 employees early stage. Just closing their $1MM round early stage.

After 15 minutes of questions, we agreed to go through, here is where things panned out. The business is currently:

  • overwhelmed with sales leads at the moment
  • need to build more awareness
  • want to get feedback from marketing and sales initiatives back to product

What I gleaned (not explicitly stated):

  • it's unclear what benefit the customer will get from buying into this offering (it's clear to the team, but it's not written down someplace)
  • the job descriptions are being made up as they go along and
  • selling the offering for cash is going to be important in a few months

All normal stuff.

This company could be another rocket ship in which case great people should be looking to find a seat anywhere, but only if they can actually help (and not just fill a seat). In this essay I cover the three things Paul and his team must do.

Contents

  1. First Sales Hire
  2. First Marketing Hire
  3. Create an aligned growth motion

Let's jump into the details.

Step 1: Hire the first salesperson

Your first sales hire. Like a mythical creature, or a character from the future, the first sales hire is nothing like the 10th or 20th sales hire. They will likely be half sales rep, half product marketer.

The first salesperson profile

The question to address is: “What’s the profile of the person we are looking for?” Sample ideas:

  • communicates well via email, video, or audio
  • takes ownership ("clock changer") with little no project definition
  • manages context switching well
  • has been at, or worked with early-stage startups
  • comfortable with investor discussions
  • is part of multiple online communities

Once you have clarity on this what we want to find is someone who is part sales professional (can empathize with people, cares about the problem being solved, can manage a sales process, wants to make money) and part product marketer (cares about the mission, can gather feedback to improve the sales process, can bring key internal stakeholders).

Armed with the profile of the individual, create a scorecard with the important criteria. Examples of criteria include:

  • Overall sales experience
  • Sales Maturity
  • Discovery
  • Technical Awareness
  • Sales Style (Role Play #1)
  • Sales Style (Role Play #2)
  • Coachability
  • Curiosity
  • Hunger/Passion/Hustle
  • Humble/Humility
  • Creativity

This individual will likely ride shotgun on larger deals and quarterback smaller ones. This individual will help you create and iterate the sales playbook.

The first sales hire job description

Job Overview: We are looking for an experienced B2B Sales Program Manager to help us manage and grow our sales rhythm for customer acquisition.

Responsibilities:

  • Managing the entire sales cycle from lead to close
  • Negotiating agreements with clients
  • Working closely with marketing, account management, product, and engineering to ensure customer adoption run smoothly
  • Meticulously tracking correspondences and progress with each client
  • Working with the marketing team to identify targets for account-based marketing

Qualifications for the sales hire:

  • Experience closing business without a well oiled machine and reporting on the results
  • Exposure to B2B sales
  • Competence as a communicated with an eye for creating great discovery call questions and presentation guides
  • Strong familiarity with the following:
    • Email sequences
    • Inbound lead management
    • Outbound calling
    • Pipeline management
    • Strong forecasting skills
    • Strong problem-solving ability, including reviewing customer calls
  • We’re looking for someone with 4+ years of experience in sales, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering or Business or similar, and is familiar with the following software/tools:
    • Salesforce
    • Other??

Some helpful assets:

Step 2: Marketing Hire

Like the first sales hire, the first marketing hire starts with an internal conversation. The first good question is always: "What is the profile of the person we are looking to bring in?" Answers may be similar to above.

The first marketing hire job description

Job Overview: We are looking for an experienced B2B Marketing Program Manager to develop and manage marketing programs for customer acquisition.

Responsibilities:

  • Develop full-funnel marketing concepts. Help us develop compelling answers to questions like What message will someone see? What action are we asking them to take and why would they want to take it? What does the sales team need to know about how to respond to the leads we generate? How will we measure and report on it? What results do we expect to get from the campaign?
  • Develop execution plans for delivering the marketing concepts (we do this today with objectives that we break down through an Agile backlog grooming approach). Lead the execution of marketing programs from start to finish, including driving collaboration with the stakeholders and leveraging the right internal processes.
  • Propose experiments and track learnings to learn the best combinations of channels, audiences, and messages to acquire customers.
  • Provide campaign analysis and optimization recommendations.
  • Evaluate the impact of marketing programs in achieving their stated objectives, including campaign performance, lead acquisition, and sales opportunity outcomes.
  • Where needed
  • Propose and manage marketing research projects to generate consumer insights in support of improved marketing strategy and communications
  • Partner with creative teams, other internal stakeholders, and external agencies and vendors

Qualifications for the marketing hire:

  • Experience building complex marketing programs and reporting on the results
  • Exposure to B2B digital and direct response marketing
  • Competence as a creative writer with an eye for great emails and landing pages
  • Strong familiarity with the following: Content marketing, Digital paid media (especially Facebook Ads and Google Ads), Email marketing, Campaign tracking
  • Strong project management skills
  • Strong problem-solving ability, including metrics-driven thinking
  • We’re looking for someone with 4+ years of experience in marketing, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing or Business or similar, and is familiar with the following software/tools: Salesforce, Other?

Step 3: Align around a growth motion

I advise you to implement a growth motion to increase the top of funnel demand.

Once the above two items are complete, you will want to focus on acquisition. With a clear sense of the ideal customer profile and a sales motion being fully executed from the buyer-motion, I believe your business will be ready to execute a growth motion to initially focus on increasing demand. The vision here is to build a growth machine that is scalable, predictable, and repeatable. The question we hope all your team members are always asking is, “What is my goal?” We want to support creating a culture of encouragement and enablement of brainstorming and hypothesis creation. This will result in constant experimentation to deliver outstanding results.

What this looks like

  1. Organize a team of people that includes: product, marketing, design, engineering, analytics and sales
  2. Leverage the customer and team goal work from above to drive momentum
  3. Base the components of the growth team dashboard around the Pirates AARRR! framework:
    • Acquisition
    • Activation
    • Retention
    • Revenue
    • Referral
  4. Create weekly team cadence
    • Define target metric(s) within AARRR framework to target, for 2 to 4 week periods. These should align with company goals. Assign cross-functional team to each target. Create priority level for each target.
    • Each week, each person reports out in a brief document and in the weekly growth meeting:
      • What experiments) did I run last week?
      • What happened?
      • What did I learn? What success did I have this week?
      • What will I do next week?
    • Report outs should last 2-5 minutes per person
    • Time will be used to reinforce the model, dashboard, share learnings, lessons and dive into a specific topic, if needed.

Some helpful assets:

SaaS