Skip to Content

How To Hire Your First Salesperson

How To Hire Your First Salesperson

If you’ve never hired a salesperson before, it’s best to think carefully through all your needs and expectations long before you start seeking out potential candidates.

The first customers a startup attracts might seem like a series of lucky breaks, if not a series of flukes. Initial orders might have come through referrals from friends, for example, or buyers a founder happened to meet at an industry function.

No startup, however — or business of any size — can expect to grow based on twists of fate. At a certain point, especially if you’re focused on many other aspects of running a company, you need a dedicated resource to drive sales. First, though, you need to figure out the best way to find one, bring them on and set them on a path to success.

Although sales is arguably one of the most transferable skills you can have, it can make the competition for great sales talent (and the ability to retain them) particularly difficult for startups who are still in their earliest days. You need someone who will not only believe in your organization’s purpose and its products and services, but someone who has a proven track record of building up a strong base of accounts.

Even more daunting, you’ll probably need someone who can work fairly independently — since you won’t have a big team of reps around them yet — but also has strong communication skills to ensure nothing happens that would put you in a “reactive” mode later on.

If you’ve never hired a salesperson before, it’s best to think carefully through all your needs and expectations long before you start seeking out potential candidates. And even if you have hired sales talent before, it may look a lot different when you’re hiring for your own company versus when you were an executive or manager somewhere else.

Don’t wait until you’re so overwhelmed with work that this becomes something you do on the fly. Instead:

1. Develop your ideal sales professional profile

Marketers today often think about their audience by developing what’s called an ideal customer profile (ICP), or a persona that represents some of the most common traits and characteristics of a buyer. This helps ensure the messages you send such people are relevant and will drive engagement. You can use a similar approach, however, when you’re hiring your first salesperson, because in a sense you’re marketing your job opportunity and what it might mean.

What kind of previous experience might your ideal sales professional have? What do you think keeps them motivated, competitive and driven? Might they have any hobbies or pastimes that somehow relate or align to your organization’s purpose? Why might your customers and prospects trust them?

If you’re stumped trying to do this exercise, put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Think back to the last time you made a major purchase where the overall experience was a positive one. What was that sales professional like, and to what extent might you be able to apply their qualities to the ones you desire for your firm?

2. Walk through the sales pro’s data-driven day

If you’re pressed for time, it’s probably pretty tempting to do a quick search online for some sales job descriptions you can more or less copy and tweak slightly for your own purposes. The problem with such generic job descriptions, of course, is that you’ll tend to attract highly generic candidates.

One key difference in hiring your first salesperson in 2019 is that their role will inevitably be focused on the effective management of data. It’s not just a matter of working the phones (or working the room at an event). These are some of the things you might want them to be ticking off their to-do lists, and which you’ll want to discuss when you’re interviewing:

  • What kind of details do they look for in CRM when prioritizing their outreach and follow up with customers and prospects?
  • How do they tend to approach sharing and engaging with their target audience on social media?
  • What are some ways in which they leverage marketing assets to help take customers through the various stages of the purchase cycle?
  • What are some of the top metrics they tend to track in order to continually improve their performance and close more deals?

If candidates don’t have perfect answers to the questions above, not to worry — this is where you can discuss and shape the role according to your needs, their skill level and with the right training path at the outset.

3. Link selling to impact and personal growth

Everyone wants a salesperson who can meet their number, if not exceed it on a regular basis. Some of the best sales pros feel the same way. As a startup, however, you may have some additional ways to talk about the reason they should join and stay with your firm versus accepting a more traditional role somewhere else.

In a fast-growing business, for instance, sales people can do much more than simply pass on orders. Particularly if they are good with analyzing and deriving insights from data, they can help influence and even steer key elements of the business strategy. They can represent the company and serve as the “voice of the customer” at industry events. They can help connect the dots between marketing, customer service and operations, executing on the founder or CEO’s overall direction. They can help inform what kinds of new features should be added to products, or help identify entirely new product categories or market opportunities.

For sales professionals who dream of one day taking on a more executive role, working in a startup or small business environment can be a perfect place to pursue their dreams. It can also be a great job for those who want to be on the ground floor as a larger sales team is developed, because they will play an essential part in training and coaching other reps who they might one day manage.


Once you’ve managed to hire your first salesperson and they’ve been on board for a year, be sure to revisit the process.

What worked in terms of bringing them on board? What else might you have done to help them get comfortable in their role? To what extent has the job lived up to their expectations, and what should be tweaked?

This isn’t just necessary from a performance review standpoint — it’s a way of continuing to evolve your hiring process as you bring on your second salesperson. And your third. And your fourth. And . . .

5 secrets of the most productive salespeople. Get the ebook.

Get timely updates and fresh ideas delivered to your inbox.