From Founder-Led Sales to Hiring Your First AE

17 Jan, 2023

Collin Stewart

One of the biggest hurdles in the transition out of founder-led sales is knowing when to make that first hire. How do you build a sales team from the ground up, and who should you hire first? What qualities should you look for in your first sales hire?

This post will summarize the entire process and the four key outbound funnels to keep in mind as you build your sales team. 

Who to hire first (hint, we’re biased)

It’s hard to figure out who to hire and why when you’re in the thick of selling, managing, and trying to push a big rock up a hill (trying to find product market fit). What follows assumes that you’re selling a product b2b and have a deal size that will eventually support a sales development motion. You probably have some inbound interest, but most of your revenue comes from referrals from your network and clients. 

The ideal candidate for your first sales hire is an account executive (AE) with recent experience as a sales development rep (SDR). Most companies at this stage are looking to use sales development as a demand generation channel, and SDR experience will give the AE a greater appreciation for everything that goes into booking meetings.

In terms of experience level, they should have at least 3-4 years of sales experience, with 1-2 years in each position (SDR and AE). They should have demonstrated their ability to hit quota, follow up, and keep the conversation with prospects going. 

Even more important than this direct experience, however, is finding someone who will take ownership of their growth. They should have a fast-paced career trajectory and high potential to grow into a management position. At this stage, you’re looking for someone to fill a hybrid manager and sales rep role.

 

Growing the team

 

After you’ve brought an experienced AE on board, it’s time to hire an SDR. The first SDR function will simply be to keep the AE’s calendar full and free up their time. 

As you build out the team, that first AE will step into more of a manager role, keeping everyone on track to hit quota. You may bring on additional AEs at this stage as well. As you do, keep your eye out for any with management potential, but remember that not every great salesperson makes a great manager. 

The 4 outbound funnels you need to scale

One of the biggest mistakes made in the founder-led sales stage (and the early stages of building a sales team) is poor management of prospects. 

For a deal to close, you need to reach the right person at the right company at the right time. No matter what industry you’re in, only a very small portion of your market will meet those criteria. The mistake is to focus only on those deals and throw out all the rest.

Instead of focusing only on the most interested prospects, you should build out four separate outbound funnels:

From Founder-Led Sales to Hiring Your First AE1. Interested now

These leads are the least common when a salesperson happens to connect with the right person at the right time and the prospect is already in buying mode. The lead is passed from an SDR to AE, who closes the deal. There’s very little back and forth, and the entire process is straightforward.

2. Interested but not ready 

The prospect is interested, but there’s some obstacle standing in their way: other stakeholders in the company, internal processes, or budget. But just because they’re not ready now doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future.

This is why nurturing relationships and establishing a clear follow-up strategy are important. These leads should stay in your funnel, and an SDR should reach out at least every 90 days. If you know what specific obstacles are holding them back, you can tailor your content to help overcome some of those barriers.

3. Not interested 

These are the prospects who read your emails but don’t reply (yet they haven’t unsubscribed, either). There’s no positive engagement on their end. 

In this case, you should still keep them in the funnel but reach out to them less often than you would with an actively interested prospect–try following up every six months instead of 90 days. Keep following up until they actively tell you to stop.

At least 60% of customers say no four times before saying yes, and persistence will pay off in the long run.

4. Long-term nurturing

These are your closed lost opportunities that made it to a meeting with an AE, but the deal fell through for whatever reason. 

If they were the wrong person to make a deal with, an SDR could reach out to someone else at the same company. If it was a budget issue, they might enter the “interested but not ready” funnel. Either way, these leads should be nurtured long-term.

Effective lead nurturing tactics 

1. Leveraging targeted content 

Nurturing your leads strategically with targeted content can significantly improve results.

Once you have a clear understanding of your unique buyer personas, start creating creative and insightful content designed to nurture each of your personas based on their characteristics like interests, goals, objectives, and marketing triggers.

2. Multiple touches

The idea behind most lead nurturing strategies is to deliver content that helps prospects move along the buyer’s journey by addressing common questions and concerns.

Consider using a mix of content types, such as social media, blog posts, eBooks, direct emails, surveys, and interactive content, such as calculators, to help prospects move from the awareness stage into the decision stage. 

Here’s an example of our interactive SDR Calculator

3. Send personalized emails

When you finally hit your prospect’s inbox, you want to make them feel like they’re hearing from a trusted friend, not another advertiser. 

Your emails should be:

  • Anticipated: Prospects look forward to hearing from you.
  • Relevant: The message is about something the prospect is interested in.
  • Personal: The messages are directly related to the individual.

There are many ways to personalize emails to improve your lead nurturing strategy. 

The best personalization is based on the content the prospect engages with: downloading your gated content, clicks on your newsletter, visits on certain pages on your website, etc. 

Align your sales and marketing strategies

Alignment between sales and marketing will allow for more transparency and more efficient collaboration, ensuring the highest level of customer experience and growing sales. 

For lead nurturing strategies to be successful, marketing and sales should clearly define the traits of a buyer persona and what the buyer journey looks like on both ends.

Building your outbound sales strategy

All four of these funnels should be tracked in a CRM, where you can put prospects into tailored campaigns and sequences. Systemizing this process will help ensure that no prospects get lost along the way.

If you need help with your outbound sales strategy, click here to book a free discovery call. Our expert sales coaches can help you expand your team, build a playbook, and craft sequences for each of the four key funnels.

Although there are unique challenges that come with working online, there are also a lot of great benefits. This ebook will show you how to make the most of leading a remote team, from the hiring and onboarding process to virtual coaching tips, team building, and more.

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