"We're a large web design company in NJ... We've got a full staff in our office and I think it's time to bring on an official sales person. Out of the companies who are fully staffed, how many of you have a salesperson? If you have one, what has been your experience: when did you hire and why?"
When do you hire a salesperson in your web design company and why?
We hired our first employee in our sales department at the moment when I couldn’t personally handle all the sales inquiries our growing web agency was getting. It was 2008 and we were a six year old company with seven employees (the three of us co-founders included). We were three programmers, two designers and two of us in sales / marketing / business.
At that moment, I was personally handling 90% of all sales work (my other of the two partners was handling the remaining 10% in another city). I remember writing up to five sales proposals daily, of which three to four were for new clients.
The first person we hired in sales was hired as a sales junior and I became his sales manager. He was in charge of answering phones, talking to prospects about their needs and writing sales proposals. With time I let him go to sales meetings. He was handling smaller sales opportunities where there wasn’t so much custom software development. With time he was taking on more and more complex tasks and projects.
My best advice when hiring your first salesperson
(Instead of ‘salesperson’ I prefer another term: sales geek :)
Never forget that you’re hiring a sales junior and never, ever forget that you personally must continue to run the sales departmen in your agency. Do not for a second think that you are hiring your replacement or someone who could do a better job than you with little training. Even if you get lucky and hire a sales star - most of them are never available on the job market - my experience is that this person needs at least six to twelve months training and experience in your company to become profitable.
My biggest mistake in hiring sales geeks was thinking that a new hire can immediately outsell me. None of them could. Not even the ones who had better formal training and twice the experience than I did. There’s more to selling high-tech, high value professional services than just sales skills.
A sales geek who could one day replace you in your role as the main salesperson and sales manager needs to become ALL of the following:
- experienced in selling your services, the way you’ve been selling them or better
- skilled in sales
- knowledge about your products, services and the Internet business
- trustworthy (the last, but not the least)
What this person needs to show up with is passion for sales as a profession and a desire to work in sales for at least a couple of years. You are not looking for someone who is treating a position in sales as a stepping stone to becoming someone ‘more worthy’ in your company. You’re looking for someone who enjoys talking to people and closing deals.
Experience, skills and knowledge are only a bonus for a new employee. As an employer you naturally want to get a person with as much experience as possible. But, be aware that bad sales attitude is hard to unlearn. Sometimes it makes sense to hire a person whom you get to train from scratch and mould to the unique needs of your company.
And what about trust? Your trust is not a given, it’s earned with results in sales. My mistake was that I trusted newcomers too much and overestimated their skills and experience.