Transitioning from founder-led sales to hiring your first Account Executive (AE) is a crucial milestone for B2B software startups. Not only is the first sales hire responsible for driving revenue, but it’s also a challenging role, especially when working for first-time founders. This entails managing unrealistic expectations of ramp and sales complexity. Additionally, qualified leads may be scarce, necessitating the rep to function as a “full cycle” salesperson. For example, this could involve generating leads like an SDR, managing sales cycles, closing deals, and building sales playbooks.
So, how can B2B software startups effectively mitigate the risk of making the wrong founding AE hire?
1. Create an ICP (Ideal Candidate Profile)
Any GTM hiring process should start with a clear MOC framework.
- What are the outcomes this person needs to achieve?
- How much compatibility do you need between their previous sales motions and yours?
- How much customer/industry experience do you need them to walk in the door with?
- How much management bandwidth do you have as the Founder?
- What will success look like in this role, early and long term?
- Do you envision them as an individual contributor? Player/coach? Manager? An IC who can grow into a leadership role?
2. Design an interview scorecard/framework of what qualities you’re looking for in a perfect hire:
- Expertise—does the person have sales best practices and command of deal cycles (outbound to onboarding)?
- Credibility—can they persuade customers (champions) to partner with your company at an early stage?
- Autonomy—founders want to transition his/her efforts elsewhere therefore can you trust this person to work autonomously?
- Stage fit—are they comfortable with the chaos that co-exists at this stage of the journey?
- Culture fit— sales hires should NOT erode your culture.
When evaluating candidates, it’s essential to recognise that only some candidates will excel in every category mentioned above. However, trade-offs will need to be made based on individual strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, identifying the risk factors associated with each candidate’s profile is crucial. Additionally, you should discuss these openly with the candidates, and make sure that they grasp the risks of joining a B2B software startup. By building trust through clear expectations, you can facilitate candid self-awareness conversations, thus ensuring their readiness for the critical sales role in the startup.