Three Factors to Consider When Building an Early-Stage Cloud Sales Team

I have the privilege of engaging with cloud software business founders on a daily basis as a general partner in a traditional Series a venture capital firm. A lot of business building remains to be done at this early stage, including the establishment of a professional sales force. Let me set the scene: the founders have been at it for around two years, have produced an early product, and have attracted their first group of customers; the ARR ranges from $200,000 to $500,000. The creators enlisted the help of early consumers, and the original market was verified as a result. To generate more leads, they just recruited their first BDR.

The creators are now looking for their first salesperson and have a lot of queries. Should you hire a leader and work your way up, or should you start with a single rep? What type of profile should they have, and how much experience should they have? Will adding a few salespeople right immediately help them expand more quickly? Founders frequently come from successful cloud startups and have seen what a well-oiled sales engine looks like in the early stages of development. 

But that’s not the case for a firm that’s just getting its sales engine up and running, so the first topic I normally bring up is early vs. later-stage sales. Founders want someone who sees the broad picture, comprehends the business sector, is passionate about technology, and, most importantly, asks a lot of questions.

Keep an eye on the stage, selling an early product to an unknown group of clients in a nascent market is like to being dumped into a forest with nothing but a knife. What is the location of north? What about food, water, and shelter? Who is a friend and who is a foe? To be effective at this level, a sales professional must be extremely intellectual, self-directed, and interested, as well as consultative with prospects. They must be at ease with a lack of clarity, resources, and guidance.

The profile of a hot-shot sales candidate who is a high performer and has exceeded quota three years in a row at a billion-dollar cloud unicorn is frequently enthusiastically shared by founders. They’re remarkable, but they’re probably not the appropriate person for the job. Founders want someone who sees the broad picture, comprehends the business sector, is passionate about technology, and, most importantly, asks a lot of questions. They want a salesman with an inquiring mind that pushes prospects properly and learns and adjusts rapidly. This individual should also be able to think of new and innovative methods to use technology to deliver value.