Building a sales team for your startup

Building a Great Sales Team For Your Startup

You have just done the semi-fearful, semi-exciting work of admitting to yourself that you need a sales team.

As a CEO with little sales experience or a newly appointed sales manager of a startup, this can be a daunting task. How do you start the process? What do you look out for? How do you ensure that your team is the absolute best and pulls in stellar revenue with each deal?

The answers to all of these are below.

When to Start Hiring?

There is a certain specific time when you begin the process of building your sales team. And that is not when you are still on day 5 of your business.

You start hiring when you have more deals than you can handle:

This is a good place to be in except when it is not. You have interested prospects lined up but you do not have the time to convert them into customers. Your selling process is limited because of a lack of follow-up.

Who are you Hiring?

Before you start scheduling interviews, you must know the roles that you will be hiring for.

When it comes to building a sales team, you look for people to fit the role of either an SDR (Sales Development Rep) or AE (Account Executive).

What is the difference between the two?

An SDR’s job is to generate leads and set the stage for a sale to happen. The AE takes it from there and does the important task of closing these deals.

Every day, an SDR sits down and based on the ideal customer profile, generates leads at specific companies.

This can involve sending around 50-300 emails per day and calling about 50-100 people every day.

The success metric for an SDR is the number of scheduled appointments and qualified demos.

An AE, on the other hand, follows up on the interested leads generated by SDRs. More often than not, they meet the prospect in person, seek to understand their problem, and then give solutions in the form of their products.

The success metric for an AE is the number of closed deals.

SDRs pass on the baton to AEs so to speak.

Scaling Your Sales Team

You begin building your team by hiring 2 AEs.

This is because depending on the particular situation you are in you would already have a few leads that you need to follow-up on.

Before the SDRs come in to generate new leads, you need to ensure that your AEs can close the deals that you already have.

These early days AEs need to be highly passionate, hustling, and creative. This is because their responsibility is to market and sell a product that still has a limited audience. This will require them to think out-of-the-box and be persistent with their efforts.

Also, the AEs that you hire first will take on the role of an SDR too. But only initially. Once the AEs begin to pull in business and close deals, you can move on to hire SDRs. Growing your team at this point would look like going from 2 to 3 AEs and from 2 to 3 SDRs.

When it comes to hiring SDRs, you would be looking for a person who has great drive, is passionate about the domain your product belongs to, is curious with a thirst to learn and improve, and can be a great team player.

Once you have a team of 5-6 people in place, you look for a team leader. There are two ways to go about this- either hire someone from outside or promote one of the people in your in-house sales team.

Companies go for the first option when they are looking to bring the sales acumen of another company into their company. However, if you already have a growth model in place, you can go for promoting the most talented/ experienced AE as the leader.

Once your team is ready with a leader, hire slowly. With 3 AEs in the team, you don’t need to hire more until their schedules are overflowing. If their schedules aren’t full to the brim, the SDRs need to improve their lead generation game.

How to Hire

You now have an idea of what your hiring process will look like and how you will scale. But when you finally sit down to interview a candidate, how do you judge them?

The first step is to have a written plan for your sales team addressing key questions.

Do you need an inside sales or field sales team? What kind of business do you want to pull in? Was is your base target? How many experienced and amateur professionals do you need? If you want experienced professionals, what kind of experience and background will you be looking for? How much will you pay? Once the hiring is done, how will you support and train them?

Only after you have answered these questions sufficiently well, you should head to the interview room. Once there, keep the below pointers in mind:

Look for the right kind of sales talent

The right kind of sales talent cannot be pigeonholed or described completely in an ad on

You look for a person who is intelligent. Marks during the degree course are not indicators of intelligence. Evaluate the response of the person during the interview. If you are going to sell a technical product, you need a person who is well-versed in the technical language but can still describe the product in layman terms should the need arise.

Next, you look for enthusiasm. Synonyms for the same include passion, hunger, drive. Sales is hard. You are convincing people to give a piece of their time (and consequently money). You have to be persistent and not lose heart easily. Having the ability to approach the client and deal with them with same optimistic attitude as you did on the first day is crucial.

Speaking of persistence, you need someone who is patient. Someone who won’t give up before all the possible no’s have been said.

Also, look at the person’s aspirations. ‘Where do you see yourself 1 year/ 5 years/ 10 years from now?’ If they have an ambitious plan in place, you can bet that they’ll do all they can to hustle their way to the top.

Finally, look at how willing the person is to learn. At no point in any career can one say that there is nothing more to learn. For the 1-2 AEs that you hire in the beginning, this trait is all the more important. If you have little sales experience yourself and have no sales leader to lead them, they themselves will be responsible for their learning. They should have the drive to learn from their experiences and figure out what does and doesn’t work.

Aim for Diversity

Build a team that is diverse in terms of gender, culture, and experience.

First, a diverse team means a wide-ranging set of talents. Women bring their empathy, whereas men bring their tirelessness work ethic. This is not to say that men are not compassionate or that women can’t work hard. It just happens that there are some traits which are natural to a large percentage of a gender. The overall team that is created is more balanced.

A culturally diverse team means that you have different people you can go to when in need of different perspectives. Also, as your clientele expands, an SDR from Germany will be better able to tell the cultural and professional nuances of a German client to an English AE. Also, people are more easily able to trust people from the same racial/ ethnic/ cultural background. You can leverage this fact when trying to permeate new markets.

When you have a team where everyone has varying experiences and backgrounds, everyone is kept on their toes. The juniors are eager to learn from their seniors while the seniors are continuously challenged to retain their position by the very same juniors. This fuels drive which (hopefully) leads to more leads and conversions.

After Hiring

Have a learning process in place that readies your new employees to be successful in their roles. Set targets and deadlines and encourage them when they seem to falter. Remember, the team is as new for them as it is for you. Invest in tools, technologies, people, and workshops that improve their knowledge and help them to work efficiently. Use leaderboards and a point system to (positively) motivate them.

Set benchmarks of excellence and mediocrity. Those who keep up with the former, reward or promote. Those who aren’t able to move beyond the latter, fire away.

Summing up

Building a successful sales team is no easy task. There is a high chance that initially your newly-formed sales team doesn’t look like your dream team. Worry not. With time, patience, and all the other skills of a salesperson, you and your team will soon be on your way to creating more business than you can keep up with! Which is a very, very good thing.