The shift from working in larger organizations into a startup is a jarring experience for some. Startup culture has its own unique style from established companies. Where once a sales rep operated in a well-structured system with numerous resources, now they are exploring uncharted territory. Startups are the Wild West of the business world.
When facing the wild frontier of the startup world, some might get anxious. This anxiety comes because of not knowing what’s to come. In large companies, one knows what to expect every day. Show up in the morning, get coffee from the break room, review leads, place some phone calls, sit in some meetings; each day was predictable.
But the wild west of the business world is a wide expanse of unknown possibilities. What’s out there? What adventures are waiting to be experienced? What discoveries can be made? And what dangers should I beware of?
To help ease some of those anxieties, here are some responsibilities to expect while riding towards business success.
Get Ready to Operate in Non-traditional Sales Roles
One of the first things to prepare for is the diverse set of responsibilities that go outside of traditional sales management roles. In a startup, all departments are interconnected and work with each other.
Where once sales was a segmented department with specialized training, now it’s a jack-of-all-trades. Startups need their sales management to become a swiss army knife.
Here are just a few departments whose responsibilities sales management will need to take on.
Human Resources (HR)
Odds are that a startup has no one in-house to handle HR concerns. Generally, startups that reach around 50 employees begin the process of establishing an HR team. In the meantime, startups use HR software or pick someone who has the best understanding of HR to manage it. Regardless, specialized HR is something a startup rarely has. Here are some HR responsibilities sales management might have to take on
Hiring: Hiring new employees is made simple when there is an established HR department. HR filters out the best candidates and provides them to sales management. In a startup, those preliminary searches and interviews, now fall onto the lap of sales management.
When hiring, avoid hiring in a cookie-cutter fashion. Large companies can get away with hiring employees with similar skill sets and backgrounds because those employees have already proven successful. In a startup, aim to hire sales reps with a diversity of experience. A sales team with a wide variety of skill sets will come in handy when unique challenges inevitably arise.
Firing: Nobody likes the “f” word of business. It can be messy, cause pain, and damage relationships. In larger organizations, it is easier to overlook poorly performing sales reps, because resources are plentiful. And if it ever came down to having to fire a sales rep, then HR can be the bad guys.
In a startup, it’s not so easy to avoid getting dirty. Startups have limited resources, and that means there is less grace when dealing with under-performing sales reps. Sales managers in a startup cannot be afraid of letting someone go.
For those with especially thick skin, who have no issue with letting people go, avoid becoming trigger-happy with the firings. Sales management cannot simply fire a sales rep who under-performed just one month. There needs to be a documented trail showing that plans for improvement were made to help the sales rep. If the employee continues to under-perform over the course of a few months, then documents will prove that this sales rep wasn’t the right fit.
Team Activities: Want to have a retreat to build team trust? Want to throw a party to celebrate the team? Hell, want to help the team be healthier by having a walking group on breaks? All of these used to be handled by HR, but now who is going to be responsible for all the fun activities? It could be anyone in the startup. It could be the CEO, it could be (heaven forbid) the accounting department, or it could be sales.
Company Training: Guess who gets to deliver the anti-harassment policies to the team? Since there is no HR department to instruct employees on company policies, chances are that it will fall onto the shoulders of each manager to handle disseminating the information to the sales team. All those company policies that get forgotten in large organizations will need to be remembered and enforced by sales management.
Marketing and sales have always been best chums. The two departments work closely with one another, but normally they function as two separate entities. In a startup, the divide between marketing and sales is blurred, and in some cases nonexistent. Sales management might be responsible for creating sales strategies and marketing strategies.
Marketing Strategy: Who is the target audience and where do I find them? What’s the value proposition of the company? How are we different from our competitors? What kind of brand do we want to create? The list of questions that marketing normally answers is vital for an effective sales team.
Without a concrete marketing strategy, sales can become lost in ineffective activities. There is a reason why marketing and sales are inseparable, it’s because the two succeed best when they work together. If a startup doesn’t have a marketing strategy, then sales management will need to take the lead in creating one.
Content Creation: High quality content can generate leads for sales reps, and normally marketing runs point on content creation. In larger companies, content is being constantly generated by teams of writers and artists. This content is at the fingertips of sales reps and is influential in closing sales.
In a startup, that fountain of content is closer to a water fountain then the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas. This is often due to a lack of resources. This is where sales management can direct their sales reps to double-up as content creators. Sales reps who have experience creating infographics, blogs, whitepapers, case studies, or digital art can take time to work on creating original content for the company.
Good sales managers understand the value of having access to high-quality content. Sales managers of startups should understand the process behind content creation.
Social Media: With the rise of social media, more and more companies are using platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn to promote their products. Normally, social media falls into marketing, but isn’t social media the same as sales just in a different medium? Pretty much.
Social media is not just a tool for marketing and advertising departments. It is something sales can utilize as well. When a startup doesn’t have the marketing resources to launch on social media, there are still ways sales managers can direct their teams to reach out and find leads through it.
Ideally, a sales rep should do their jobs so they are no longer the first point of contact with clients after a sale is closed. When clients have concerns, they should contact a customer service representative. They should.
In a startup, things rarely go the way they should.
Imagine a sales team hits a record number of closed sales. In fact, the new clientele will generate enough revenue for the company to scale to the next level. That’s fantastic news!
Hiring new customer service reps to support the new clients takes time. Of course, there is a hiring emergency, but it could take anywhere from a week to a couple months to hire and train a new team to provide the infrastructure needed.
During that time those new clients can’t wait, they need support now! The promises made to them need to be fulfilled, but the current customer support team can’t live up to the expectations set by the sales reps.
In occurrences likes this, sales managers might need to organize their sales team to be customer service reps for a time. This means sales managers should know how to run a customer service department, just in case an emergency like this happens.
And Many More…
These are just three departments that larger organizations segment. Startups must be far more adaptable and the only way a startup can possess that trait is if the teams themselves are adaptable. When making the transition to a startup, sales managers should be prepared to wear many hats. The demands of survival will dictate what roles sales reps and managers should fulfill at certain times.
Sales Coaching is Still Paramount to Success
Moving into more traditional sales management responsibilities, sales managers should still place a strong focus on coaching their sales reps. In fact, coaching takes on new levels of value in a startup company. Veteran sales managers understand the value of taking time to train, but newer sales managers might underappreciate training sessions. This underappreciation could prove costly if that new sales manager takes that into a startup.
Use Training to Prevent Turnover
Employee turnover is a nasty expense on a startup. There are studies that show the cost of replacing a salaried employee could be anywhere from six to nine months of that employee’s salary. An expense like that could hurt the startup’s bottom line.
There are many reasons why a sales rep would leave an organization, but one reason is because they don’t see the company helping them grow. A lot of people who join startups do so because they want to grow alongside the company.
Coaching provides a win-win for sales managers and their sales reps. On the manager’s side, their reps will sell better and on the reps’ side, they will acquire skills that keep them satisfied.
By focusing on training, sales managers will simultaneously see revenue increases and prevent unnecessary costs. Both of which are vital to a successful startup.
Don’t Assume You Know Everything
Remember, startups are the wild west of the business world. Nothing is tame, everything is unknown, and the only way to survive is by learning as fast as possible. This means that sales managers shouldn’t be the only arbiters of how to sell.
In fact, sales reps might pick up tips and tricks that make them better at selling then their managers. This is not a bad thing! Everyone in a startup is adjusting and if someone found a way to succeed, then capitalize on it.
Sales management should allow their sales reps to take the lead in training too. Review numbers and goals. Identify which sales reps are doing the best and ask them why. If they stumbled across something worth note, then ask the sales rep to share and train the rest of the team in the next meeting.
Learn How to Approach Sales Reps
Coaching sales reps in a startup company can be stressful. There is a high demand to turn over a profit as soon as possible, and sales is largely responsible for making that happen. There will be numerous disappointments while trying to grow the company. But sales managers need to be careful to not let those frustrations slip into their coaching.
Avoid being overly critical with sales reps. Learn to manage the stress of being in a startup.
Manage a Tight Sales Budget
In a startup, whoever is leading the sales reps, is probably the person who oversees the entire sales operation. With this responsibility comes a budget. The budget in a startup has one major difference then established companies: it’s a lot smaller.
Because of this, there is an emphasis on being as frugal as possible. A good sales manager will take on the responsibility of keeping sales expenses within the budget. An exceptional sales manager will try to lower overhead costs to bring the budget down.
Use Technology to Cut Expenses
The simplest way to cut expenses is to cut wasted man-hours on processes that could be done by technology. Certain activities like sales forecasting, goal setting, and managing the sales pipeline are activities that technology can do.
Constantly be on the lookout for new technologies that will give a startup a competitive edge. As a sales manager, it is important to keep an open mind and to embrace changes in the marketplace. A larger organization can survive changes because of the sheer number of resources they possess. A startup doesn’t get the same mercy when their competitors stumbles across technology that make them scale faster.
Lay the Foundations for Future Processes
A startup is like a child that is easy to impress ideas on. Sales managers of startups play a massive role in laying the groundwork for future managers to follow. These processes will influence not only the success of the company in the short term, but also the long term. Here are a few areas sales managers should think about carefully as they will have an impact on future processes.
Creating the Sales Playbook
The sales playbook will be constantly updated. However, that initial first draft will be scripted by a sales manager who was around when the company was still a startup. The sales playbook will guide the sales reps in how to reach out to potential clients and the process to close a sale. This information will change with time, but the structure of the first playbook will shape the insights sales reps receive and those insights will become a part of the evolutionary history of the playbook.
Onboarding New Sales Reps
How do sales managers introduce sales reps to the company? Is there a company wide announcement, a sit down meeting with the CEO, a training packet? Are there mentors who can support a new sales rep? All these questions will be determined by the sales manager.
The goal of onboarding is to help the new hire feel comfortable in the workplace and get them oriented to become productive members of the team. Sales managers should analyze their onboarding processes and implement a solution that will be an effective fit for the company culture and team.
Interactions with Other Departments
Sales will need to interact with many other departments—specifically marketing—if it wants to succeed. Initially, sales managers will bounce around and play HR, customer service, and marketing, but as the company scales, those departments will materialize into their own entities.
That growth will be influenced by sales managers and the ways sales interacts with those growing departments determines the success of both sides. Ask what tasks should sales pass on to other departments? For example, onboarding processes can be passed onto an HR expert and content creation can go to marketing.
But sales managers should also ask, what tasks can sales take on to alleviate the burden on other departments. By reaching across the table and asking how sales can help others will show a willingness to cooperate and build relationships with the other business leaders.
The famous western actor John Wayne once said, “Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.” The transition to a startup from a large company will be fraught with anxious moments. But that fear doesn’t mean you’re unqualified to become a sales manager for a smaller organization. What will disqualify you is if you choose to let that anxiety hold you back from learning everything you can and then embracing the challenge.
So, saddle up and ride into that sunset.