The First Sale

From Z. Kelly Queijo:

Recently, the founder of an information technology (IT) start-up asked if I thought his software was something a salesperson would want to sell. Knowing that, as reported in, the reason most businesses fail within the first five years is due to lack of sales, I felt the weight of his question. "Will someone want to sell this?”

What had worked well for me as a salesperson was believing that the software I sold offered a solution to a problem. I had passion, knowledge, and even experience as a former client – and being a converted client creates a terrific background for selling. But, a start-up doesn't get that with something brand new. A new business starts from scratch – the right fit has to be found for the product and for the company.

Alec Siegel, Director of Blacksburg Operations at S.R. Clarke, Inc. Alec Siegel, Director of Blacksburg Operations at S.R. Clarke, Inc., a recruiting firm specializing in the technology space, says, “Selecting the right sales person can be the most crucial decision a business ever makes. You have to determine why would someone want to work for you. They have to have a good story to sell.”

The tables are turned. Usually a prospective hire has to “sell” him/herself to the company, but before that can happen, the company must convince the prospect that they have something worth selling. According to Siegel, other factors enter into the equation as well: the length of the sales cycle, base pay vs. commission, and direct selling vs. distribution channels.

“Start-ups don't have a lot of money to incite a sales professional, so it's more common to offer a higher commission with a lower base. You know the saying: 'you've got to spend money to make money?' This is true especially when your sales cycle is lengthy." Siegel says to keep in mind that if a company has a six-month sales cycle, the sales person will need to be covered during that time.

So what does this mean to the start-up? It means the first sale made will be the most important one - the one made to the person hired to represent the product or service.


Z. Kelly Queijo writes about business and technology, people and their passions.  She is a frequent contributor to Handshake 2.0, an enterprise of Handshake Media, Incorporated, a VT KnowledgeWorks member company.

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