Today we’re going to talk about building a killer sales team for your U.S. operations.


Me too.

Because it’s a fact: No matter how good your product is, it won’t sell itself. In most cases, you’ll need a sales team. And a killer one.  You’ve got serious competition out there, and you need stellar salespeople championing your offer and driving profit.

So who should you recruit? We’ll get there.

First, YOU should be doing the selling.

(c) Yesware

(c) Yesware

You may enjoy some comfortable traction in France and Europe, but to the American customer, you’re a foreign startup. And it’s going to take your prospect a leap of faith to go ahead and buy your product. Your prospects need to be reassured and will want to talk to the founder at some point.

Doing the selling yourself will allow you to figure out the pattern, the repeatable sales process. Not only will you get more comfortable with American prospects, but you’ll also gain direct insight into their concerns and how they use your product, allowing a faster product market fit.

When you hire your first sales rep, just make sure you hire two

sales2If you only hire one and they do poorly, you won’t know why. Likewise, if they do well, you won’t know why. Hire two and you’ll get the benefits of a competitive environment mixed with lessons learned of A/B testing. It will cost more, but it’s worth it, says Jason Lemkin from EchoSign and Saastr.

Your first sales reps need to roll with the punches and be able to shoot from the hip…wild west style.

Aim for a mix of Mavericks – you know, the unmanageable type that can lead evangelic sales and get referenceable clients – and Hunters, who can work with processes and aren’t afraid (love) of metrics. The Mavericks will hit your home runs and go for the big wins. The Hunters, well, they’re no less than the lifeblood of your organization. They are methodological and hugely process-driven. Check out Mark Suster’s post on the topic for more details.

As your team grows, you might want to consider splitting your sales team into prospectors and closers. While sales development representatives (SDR) focus on researching, prospecting, and qualifying buyers, the account executives (or you at first) can concentrate on closing deals, thus maximizing efficiency and output.

Hire slowly

If you’ve never hired or been around American sales people before, be prepared for a bit of a shock: You are going to want to recruit every single one of these “aces”. Except it’s good to remember that it isn’t because the candidate was good in his previous role or has experience in selling products or services in your industry, that he/she is a good fit for your company.

Think Culture fit: would YOU want to buy YOUR product from this guy?

Consider candidates with an experience with the same size deals, even in another industry. They’ll know the language to use and how to close. They’ll know what to ask and when; and go beyond the low hanging fruits.

Overall, you are going to need a rock-solid hiring process. Hubspot provides an interesting list of 25 sales interview questions.

According to a survey by Bridge Group among BtoB companies, it takes on average 3.3months to get an SDR from hire up to full productivity. SDRs onboarded in 3 months or less will achieve 29% higher performance than those who onboard more slowly.

Also, expect your SDR to quit after 1.4 years with you, unless you offer them a clear career path.

According to the same study, the average total on-target-earnings (OTE) is $72,100, with 64% base salary and 36% bonus on-target. The largest share of variable compensation should be paid on meetings booked. Obviously experience (3+ years), average sale price of the product, region and specific role will impact the total OTE. Check out this infographic for more details

Once you have initial traction in the US – around $1m – $1.5m in revenue – and a repeatable sales process (and this is really key), you’re probably ready to take in a VP of sales.

However, you should start meeting with as many potential candidates from day one. VP of Sales hires may take 6 to 12 months and are costly.

Hire that great VP of sales and see the magic happen

Your VP of sales’ number one job will be to build you a killer sales team.

Therefore, the number one criteria to evaluate a candidate should be: has he/she recruited a sales team in their previous positions or not. Not only does the candidate need to have done it before, he/she should also have in mind at least two or three amazing sales reps they want to bring in. Great VPs build great teams, who like to stick and work together.

It wouldn’t be surprising if your new VP of sales started by firing one or two of the reps you hired. And it’s perfectly ok. It’s actually a good sign. Your VP is an expert at this, whereas you are not.

This graph from Jason Lemkin is quite self-explanatory in terms of profiles you should be looking for, depending of the stage you’re in. If you have the time, check out this video of a conference Jason held at NY enterprise Tech meetup a couple years ago.


Track your sales team’s metrics

What you need is sales, not sales people: Always track the achievements, not the actions.

What you need is sales, but not at any cost: Track customer satisfaction throughout the entire journey.

This is extremely important because not only do you want customers, you also want (and need) returning customers, who will advocate your offer to their peers. This will never happen – quite the contrary in fact – unless you pay very careful attention and incentivize customer satisfaction throughout the journey.

Fire lightning fast (yet humanely)

Poor sales reps or VP of sales can have a long lasting impact. Not only are they expensive – and no one wants to lose money – but they can also seriously damage your reputation with prospects and existing customers.

You need to part with mediocre team members fast – yet humanely.

You should not need more than 90 days to figure out whether this person can bring in leads, close or not. As to the culture fit, trust your gut. You can sense that in a glimpse.

Good luck!



 Florence Tison – Linkedin

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