Building an enterprise sales team

Team Sequoia India & SEA

Published August 17, 2021

By Doug Leone

Don’t believe anyone who tells you that building a sales team is an art. Sure, each situation is different, but we’ve seen enough companies do it that we can safely say it’s a science. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t hire a sales person before your product ships. It’s really important to have someone in the building who knows what customers want so you can nail that final 10% of your product and often founders think a sales person can help them do that. But it never works. Sales people can only sell.
  • When your product is ready to ship, hire a moderately experienced rep, possibly someone who was recently promoted to a low-level sales management role. That person will remember how to sell and will have slightly higher maturity and skill levels.
  • Don’t hire a VP of Sales until you have 10 to 20 customers. A great sales exec will wait to make sure the dogs are eating the dog food before signing on. If you try to hire someone before that you won’t see the best candidates.
  • When you do hire that first sales exec, pick an up-and-comer regional sales manager who has managed 40 reps over a very experienced sales person who has managed 1,000 reps. The latter is likely an administrator, which you won’t need. Give your new hire the title of VP NA Sales. This gives you the option of hiring a VP WW Sales later.
  • Make sure you have lead gen in the company early on. It is a crime to have telesales or direct sales people (both of which are very expensive) and not have enough leads. Hire a very transactional lead gen person who can measure leads and cost per lead.
  • Hire a VP Marketing shortly after the VP Sales. VPs of Marketing are tough to find. They are often either on the path to CEO or retreads. Be careful of the latter.
  • Hire a full-time controller early on once you have $1M-2M in revenues. At that point you have something to count and the company will start to need some of the control systems in place that make for clean contracts and overall good business practices.
  • Experience is a great thing, but don’t be fooled into picking someone because of his or her resume. Beware of people who have a set playbook. Each company is different and someone who comes in thinking that they know the answers won’t be looking for new answers – and definitely won’t be asking questions. Also, be careful of anyone who has had numerous jobs with 2-year tenure since it is easy to hide incompetence for a short period of time.
  • When doing a retained search, talk to the search person once a week and do not get managed into a final candidate. There should always be new candidates entering the funnel in case the final candidate turns out to be a bust or walks away. Prepare a 10 slide pitch for the search exec and for anyone meeting candidates. It is important that all interviewers say the same overall messages about the company. Make sure that you get to references that someone on the team directly knows. Do not trust blind references.