If you’re a startup founder, you probably have a lot on your plate. So, if you’d rather spend your time developing new features or building the brand, sales can feel like a chore. Even if you enjoy sales, as a founder, you need to make sure those other areas of the business are taken care of.
But, until you have a solid sales team, you can’t step away from the phones to focus on something else.
Scaling your business requires consistent, reliable revenue, and sales is the only way to achieve that. But handing off the sales process to a new team is a delicate transition. If done wrong, it can tank your revenue stream. On the other hand, if it’s done right, it can be the first step you take toward growing a long-lasting company and joining some of the biggest names in the SaaS industry.
Let’s look at the most effective way for startup founders to build a sales team and hand off the sales process with confidence.
Transitioning work from one department to another will undoubtedly cause turbulence. But going into the process with clear goals will help things go much smoother.
Here are a few things you should strive for when handing off the sales process:
Knowing how to build a sales team is one thing. But if you’re handing off the sales process to your first-ever sales reps, it can be tough to know where to start.
To simplify the transition, you can break it down into 7 basic steps.
Before you even start thinking about handing off the sales process, you need to start closing a few deals on your own — and you need to get really good at it.
You may not enjoy it, yet the fact is you know your product and your customers better than anyone else at this stage. A new hire simply won’t be able to sell your product better than you can (unless you’re terrible at sales).
Beyond that, there are two other reasons you should do this:
As you are owning the sales process and closing deals on your own, it’s important to focus on consistent recurring revenue (not just a lump sum). It’s those initial repeat customers that create the stability necessary for growth.
After you close 10, 20 or even 30 deals on your own, you have proven two things:
Once you know it’s possible, you can start documenting how you did it and develop that into a sales process. Doing this is a huge project, and it will require you to document a lot of information about your customers, your sales methodology, your techniques and more. But it doesn’t have to be a full-blown sales plan yet. You just need enough material for your new sales reps to execute the process. To fill in the gaps, you may need to do some additional research and testing in your target market.
Developing your ideal customer personas (ICPs) is key to an effective sales process. Know their pain points and the way they think, then describe how your product solves specific problems for those people.
The goal for this section of your sales process is to help your reps know who they’re talking to. Discovery calls, customer surveys and target market research may help you define those details better. You can then create profiles based on real customers for your reps to study and practice selling to.
Use your ICP information to develop a specific process for qualifying leads. What kind of questions should your reps be asking? What answers indicate a lead that is most likely to close?
Most SaaS companies use the BANT qualification method. This is a method that qualifies a prospect based on their budget to afford the product, their authority to make the buying decision, their need for the product and the timeline for buying.
While this is an effective method, you may also try using a lead scoring system, where points are assigned to a prospect for each qualifying trait they exhibit. The higher the score, the more likely they are to close.
Either of these methods are fine, but the most important thing is to develop the call script. Businesspeople don’t want to wait around while your reps try to psychoanalyze them for 20 minutes. Instead, develop a script that draws out the most relevant information quickly — before they decide to hang up.
After that, you’ll need to develop metrics that measure the effectiveness of your process. What indicates a successful execution of the sales process? How will you know if the rep is doing it all correctly? In many cases, your main metric will be a sales quota. But you may also have other KPIs that measure activity or input.
With that in mind, the most important metric should be revenue. If your rep books 500 meetings but still doesn’t close any deals, that’s still not a successful execution. On the other hand, if a sales rep is closing more deals with your process but only putting in half the effort you “require” for your activity metrics, don’t make them do extra work. Reward them for results, not effort.
To make it easier for your reps to learn and adopt this process, you may decide to make a sales playbook. A playbook is like an abridged version of your sales process that defines specific procedures for each aspect of the sales rep’s job. Great sales playbooks often contain:
At minimum, you should have your process documented in an accessible resource. To get them started, it should also contain call scripts, email templates and a quick guide to overcoming common objections.
It doesn’t matter how skilled they are — every new sales rep needs training and onboarding when they join your company. Before you hire anyone to do sales, you need to have a clear process for onboarding, so you don’t waste time or assume they know what they’re doing.
One main reason for this is you need to train them in your process. Otherwise, they may just use whatever they learned at a previous company.
When you develop your training and onboarding process, it’s important to pay attention to speed. No sales rep can learn everything they need to know about your company and hit quota within just 4 weeks. Instead, your training and onboarding should focus on giving them only what they need to start taking calls with confidence. They have the rest of their initial 90 days to ramp up and start meeting all their KPIs.
One of the first things you should do is help them understand the solutions your product provides. To do this, they also need to dive deep into your ideal customer personas. Then, drill them on cold calling and your sales process until they start to get it. Once they hit the sales floor, they will learn more from experience than you ever could teach them in a controlled setting.
All that said, onboarding a team of new sales reps is admittedly different at a startup than it is at a large established SaaS company. It will take a bit more direct supervision, hand-holding and flexibility (especially if this is your first class of new hires). It’s fine if there is a little trial and error, but you should try to minimize wasted time as much as possible.
Now that you have a solid sales process and you’ve developed training for your new hires, it’s time to actually find them. But keep in mind that you can’t just hire 1 rep — you need to hire 2.
Why? Because if you’re working with a new sales process and you only have 1 rep on the team, who is at fault when they fail? Is it the process or the sales rep? With only you and the sales rep on the floor, you have no way of testing their performance fairly. Even if they do great, you still won’t know if they’re just naturally talented or if your process really works.
If you start out with 2 sales reps, you can accurately test your sales process with less potential for error. If one succeeds and the other fails using the same process, you can easily isolate the issue to the performance of one sales rep. It’s also less likely that both your sales process and your sales reps fail at the same time. So if both reps are struggling to meet quota, you may have a problem with the process itself.
As your very first micro-sales team, these reps will likely be working as both the SDR and the AE for some time — qualifying leads and closing deals. With that in mind, make sure you hire candidates that can do all of that. Some people tend to be good at one or the other, but it’s a special candidate that’s good at both.
To find this person, you want to look for someone with training or experience in SaaS sales who is also a good fit for your company. In other words, they should be someone you would want to buy your product from.
When looking through resumes, keep in mind that someone with experience working at big companies (e.g. ZoomInfo, Slack or Salesforce) isn’t always a great fit for a startup. Big companies like that have had years to perfect their sales process. They have huge teams that support their sales reps, and they already have standard procedures for just about everything. While it does take impressive sales chops to land a job at those places, the experience isn’t the same as working at a startup where the sales process is still being defined.
Instead, the ideal sales rep for your startup will be flexible and comfortable with carrying more responsibilities at first. If your sales reps are used to having a clear decision path for nearly every situation, they are going to get frustrated when you don’t have a pre-defined process for everything. In some ways, you’re looking for a pioneer — someone who is willing to make your process work in uncertain situations and carry a bit more weight from time to time.
When you go to interview a few candidates, sales skills and flexibility are key. But work ethic is the main factor to look for. So much of sales is unpredictable. You can’t control whether or not a prospect is going to close. But you can control the amount of consistent effort you put into the process.
During the interview, if you believe the candidate may be right for your company, make your expectations clear before they accept the job. Explain the role and the metrics they will be accountable for. Leave no room for imagination. If they agree to those expectations, you have a mutual understanding of what they are prepared to do for your company. If they join the team and don’t meet those expectations, the decision of whether or not they’re a good fit for the team will become clear.
Even though you have a few sales reps on your team, your responsibility in sales isn’t over yet. In fact, it gets even more difficult in some ways when you transition to sales manager. When managing a team like this, you are still directly responsible for the outcome of your sales process—but you lack the direct input of doing it yourself.
You will still need to be present for regular coaching and call review sessions with your team. However, you can transition from direct sales to sales strategy. With 2 reps now closing deals, you can focus on building a sales pipeline, refining your sales process and tracking success metrics.
You may need to remain in this role for a while until your sales process fully takes shape. In some cases, you may decide to hire a few more reps to differentiate between SDRs and AEs. However, many founders don’t exceed hiring 2 sales reps before they hire someone to manage them.
You know it’s time to hire a sales manager or VP of sales when you reach 2 goals:
This may take a few months or even a few years. But when you reach this stage, you should start looking for someone else to take over your position in the sales department.
The VP of Sales will grow the sales team and coach reps toward success. While you may have hired your first 2 sales reps based on your own preferences, your VP of sales is likely to hire a more diverse team. That’s good at this stage. By hiring people from all different backgrounds, you can build your team with reps that connect with your customers in a variety of ways. If you haven’t split your sales team into SDRs and AEs by this point, your VP of sales will almost certainly do this. They may even create new roles for your team such as account managers, outside sales reps or sales engineers). In many cases, your VP of sales will also help refine your sales process.
When you hire for this new position, keep in mind that they aren’t just an extra sales rep. In other words, they probably shouldn't have a quota at this stage of the company’s development. Their main responsibility should be scaling your team so your sales process can have greater reach — not closing more deals. Instead of distracting them with a sales quota of their own, create metrics for them that measure their hiring practices and how well they coach reps toward meeting their goals.
After a while, you’ll be able to watch your sales team grow in size and your VP of sales grow confident in their role. This means your sales team is starting to form into its own department. While you can let go of the reins a little bit, you should still meet with your sales team — even if it’s just monthly or quarterly.
It’s important for sales reps to stay connected to the founder in some way. After all, the sales process was developed from your unique understanding of and passion for your product. By meeting with them on a regular basis, your sales reps can then exude that passion to your customers.
As you continue to meet with them to discuss the sales pipeline or team metrics you’ll notice that things are starting to operate on their own. Your sales process is now taking flight. At this stage, you can successfully transition from direct manager to supervising the department as a kind of advisor.
While these 7 steps capture the idea of a successful transition, the actual process is rarely ever this clean. There are bound to be extenuating circumstances along the way and decision points that aren’t crystal clear. If you’re not careful, the wrong move can make the process very difficult, if not detrimental to the health of the company. Here are a few common pitfalls to avoid:
Startup founders often enjoy other parts of the business much more than sales. Because of this, many of them try to get out of sales as soon as possible. While this can be tempting (especially if you hate sales), handing off the process too early can be dangerous.
In the early stages of the company, when there is no clear sales process, your passion and knowledge of the business is mainly what drives new revenue. Until you form a process and hire a competent VP of sales, you really need to maintain control of sales to ensure consistent revenue. You don’t want to leave your sales pipeline’s success up to chance. Be sure that your sales department is running properly before you take a step back.
Before you hire your first sales reps, your sales process needs to be more than just a general outline. Remember that your sales team is there to scale the process that already exists. If you hire a small team of reps without having a clear process for them to execute, they’ll only waste time trying to figure out the best course of action. They may even get frustrated while you try to figure it out.
While your reps will help you refine your process by testing it on real prospects, you should already have some kind of process documented before they start taking calls.
Similar to hiring without a sales process, hiring without a clear onboarding process is inefficient and frustrating for your sales reps. It’s important for developing the right culture in your company from the beginning.
During the initial stages of your startup, you (the founder) are the champion of your brand and your product. In other words, you are the company culture. How you teach the sales process to your new reps will determine how they sell your product. You want them to sell from a position of confidence, knowing that what your company sells is truly valuable. If you aren’t confident in what you teach them and how you conduct yourself, they won’t be either.
If you pay your sales reps below the average market salary, you can’t expect your best talent to stick around. The best reps know the value of their skills and they will leave your company to work with someone who pays them what they deserve. Likewise, you will only attract low-tier talent and slackers if you underpay your reps. The best of the best might not even send in their resumes.
Instead, it’s best to pay your reps slightly above the going market rate. Then, set high, but attainable goals and reward reps when they go above and beyond. This will create a motivational pay structure that reinforces great performance. As time goes on, top-tier performers will challenge the mid-tier performers and your incentives will fuel continuous growth.
Beyond that, if you start out paying above market, you’ll have more qualified sales reps who are willing to work for you from the very beginning. This means you have more good reps to choose from during the interview process, making it easier to hire the best people for your team.
Think of it this way: if you hire mostly (or only) low-tier sales talent, there’s a greater chance that some of them won’t work out. Statistically, this means your organization will have a high turnover rate. When you only hire the really bad (or really cheap) performers, high turnover can eventually destroy team morale. Imagine if this becomes the perception of your workplace — not only will your good reps leave for greener pastures, but it will be hard to convince new talent to join a place that constantly fires people.
The truth is, you don’t want to hang on to reps that can’t meet quota for too long. While you may be able to handle paying their salary for a little while, every lead you lose in the early stage is lost lifetime value. If you continue to waste opportunities on someone who can’t sell your product, you’ll only be handing more business to your competitors. Don’t let laggards stick around to do any more damage.
Instead, you can avoid all of this by hiring great sales talent in the first place. With each new rep you interview, seek to raise the bar of performance on your team. This will challenge the rest of your sales reps to work harder and improve your revenue stream.
As a founder, handing off the sales process can be scary and unpredictable at times. But, with careful attention and dedication to making your sales process work, you can build a sales team that basically runs itself.
Once you hand off your sales process to a well-built sales team, you can work on developing other parts of the business with confidence. From there, you can steer the ship in virtually any direction you want. You can be the visionary at the top while entrusting the stability of your revenue to a strong sales team.
However, none of this works unless that team is built from great salespeople. If you don’t have highly qualified and competent salespeople to execute your process, it won’t be very effective. Even if the blueprint is perfect, trying to build a house with improper tools isn’t very efficient or profitable.
At Prehired, we can help you find your business’s best assets. We offer a highly curated list of qualified SDR candidates to help you fill your sales team. These reps are hand-picked from our members after they have completed our Science-Based Sales® training — a program that gives members everything they need to join the top 5% most effective salespeople in the SaaS industry. By becoming a partner, you can consistently hire reps that are ready to start taking calls and closing deals from the beginning. Before you know it, they’ll be doing it all on their own.
Build your team with top-tier sales talent you can trust to scale your sales process. Hire a Prehired member this quarter.
As Prehired's Founder & CEO, Josh Jordan is leading the mission to help 10,000 people launch 6-figure software sales careers by the end of 2024.
How? With Prehired's Science-Based Sales® process -- born from helping dozens of software companies build their sales teams...
...and then consulting with hundreds of Software Sales Managers on exactly what they wanted new hires to know...
...and then helping hundreds of regular folks break into software sales in 12 weeks, on average.
Josh created Science-Based Sales® to help nearly anyone succeed in software sales, because it creates clarity for prospects. No killer closer instincts, charisma or kissing up to decision makers needed.
Learn about a typical day at work for an account executive (AE) at a SaaS company and what experience you would need to land a position.