Startups are looking to hire new employees - at real hard rates. Three in four startup executives plan on growing their workforce this year. But finding the right people has become increasingly difficult.(Source: SVB)
That's likely because working in a startup requires a special skill set. Moving from selling insurance at a corporation to selling software at a startup, I experienced this shift firsthand.
Truth is, the typical sales rep won't survive on the startup sales floor.
Primarily because there is no "sales floor" - but also because of the different skill set it requires. So from my own experience, chatting with customers, and meeting with some VCs from the area, I've pinpointed 11 top skills I think all startup sales reps need to survive at their company.
Be willing to learn every day.
I get it. You've been selling for years. You've been told you're a natural salesman, and you got this in the bag.
When I moved to my startup sales role, I realized that working in startup sales means learning constantly. I had to know my product inside and out, and make sure I kept up with the constant changes to the user interface and functionality.
Beyond product, I took on projects that required me to learn a ton about my industry and truly become an expert in the field. Do the same and before you know it, you'll have wisdom beyond your years.
Have the desire to make a real difference.
Startups love making money, you love making money, I love making money. But the best startups (and ones that make a lot of money) have a mission to change something big. Having a sales job at a startup means wanting to be a part of something big, and using each closed deal as an opportunity to make a real difference in your customer's lives on the path towards that overall company mission.
Inspire everyone you speak with.
When you're on a mission to change something big, you're going to have to brush up on your persuasion skills.
In sales, we naturally have the persuasiveness to sell. But in startup sales, we need to be able to truly inspire someone. In fact, you yourself need to be inspired first. Aim to work with a company that you wholeheartedly believe in and this will come naturally.
Resist the urge to sell - be helpful instead.
We hear it left and right, "The times have changed."
But it's true. Our buyers can sniff out a salesperson like never before. But people are not adverse to having a passionate and educated adviser listen to them and point them in the right direction. Everyone's schedules are so packed that anyone who can help them along the way is truly seen as valuable.
Connect with the right people.
Most sales reps jump right for the c-suite executives. But these executives don’t just accept unsolicited emails and LinkedIn invites from anyone. We need to be strategic - find the influencers, the insiders, the mutual connections, who you can give value to in exchange for getting to the top.
Embrace and be comfortable with change.
Time is counted in dog years at a startup. Get ready to have your world flipped upside down at least once per quarter - I know mine did when I started.
Whether it's moving offices, changing seats every few weeks, meeting new co-workers, managers, or investors; the only constant will be change.
Take a consultative approach.
Yes, I know we sell products, but we need to forget about that product when we're on the phone. Be the human Wikipedia in your space, and give people real advice and help. Our prospects need help getting their job done, and if we can provide that help, they'll be interested.
Differentiate from the pack.
I don't care how "innovative" your startup is, because that's the differentiate point of every startup out there. More likely than not, there are other companies who do something similar, or possibly the exact same thing, that yours business does. Think critically about why your differentiation. Part of being in a startup sales role is building your own playbook - a sales handbook won't be handed to you during training (if training even exists).
Have tough negotiation chops.
People can smell a startup a mile away. It smells like ... half price!
But seriously, it's generally understood that tech startups are looking to grow at any price, so be ready to negotiate. If a potential buyer can sniff out how desperate your startup is to grow, they won't hold back. We need to learn to hold our ground to grow the startup.
Ditch the 9-to-5 work routine.
This isn't a "skill," but incredibly worth including on this list.
Working in a startup requires dedication, passion, and downright will power. If you're passionate about what you're doing, this shouldn't be a problem. But before you take the plunge, you'll need to decide if you're really up to the challenge. Sure, sometimes I end up leaving at 5 p.m. But some nights I'm here for hours, sometimes I head home just to finish my next project. A startup schedule is scattered, and you have to be ready to groove like that.
Tell great stories.
In my experience the one thing that separates good salespeople from great salespeople is single handedly the ability to inspire through storytelling. Tell a real story. Refine it. Tell it again. Nail your story. Then you'll be in business.
Of course, many of these skills are interconnected. At the end of the day, working in a startup sales job means embodying dedication, passion, and energy constantly. If we believe in our cause and act as a consultant, the sky is the limit.
Originally published Jun 19, 2014 8:30:00 AM, updated March 03 2021