TL;DR Sales people have an incentive to go after low hanging fruit. Building a business depends on doing the hard stuff. Don't be fooled into thinking hiring sales people is an easy way through.
I have two kids who are both now at University. There are many fantastic things about having children and watching make their own way in the world. One thing that is not often mentioned is the opportunity to learn. Even when you think you taught someone everything they know, they can surprise you.
My son has just started the final year of his computer science degree at Heriot Watt University. Having lunch with him before he started back, he offered me a startup business lesson that is both simple and profound.
As close as I can remember, here is what he said:
“The thing that always strikes me about sales people is they have a big incentive to do the easy stuff. You know, sell to the easiest customer first because that gets them their commission. Call people who are easy to persuade rather than people who really need your product. That kind of thing. Surely in a startup, you need to do the hard stuff to get going?”
Note this is also framed as him asking me a question. Nice to be respected. But he is the one offering the insight here.
The Wisdom of Youth
Regular readers will know that I am uncomfortable about using the traditional sales model for a company that is trying to innovate. For the avoidance of doubt by traditional I mean people whose sole job is sales, selling in person to enterprise customers and receiving commission as a significant element of their reward.
There are lots of reasons for this but Duncan nailed the core problem in a way that I struggle to articulate. Listening to what he said, leads me to two key points:
There is another problem hidden below the surface. Finding and hiring sales people for early stage SaaS is hard. There is a reason for this. Good sales people have an instinct for what sells and what doesn’t. This makes them good at picking jobs that they can succeed in.
So if your SaaS smells like it will be hard to sell, the good guys will turn up their nose. When you do recruit, you find yourself with sales people who talk a good game but don’t deliver.
The Chairman's View
I know that you know that doing the hard stuff is a necessary foundation for success. That lesson is the subject of one of the best business books around - The Hard Thing About Hard Things.
Don’t kid yourself that sales is an easy way out. Even a 23 year old student know this.
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.