Sep 282004

When Do You Hire a Real Head of Sales?

When Do You Hire a Real Head of Sales?

A fellow entrepreneur I’m friendly with who’s got a really early stage company asked me the other day when he should hire his first head of sales.

I think the answer completely depends on what kind of business you’re in and how dependent it is on external relationship building, and also what kind of entrepreneur you are. But I tried to distill my answer down to three things for him to think about:

If your company requires a meaningful amount of customer participation before your initial product is launched, you need to invest in sales months ahead of anticipated revenue. This was the case for us at Return Path. We hired our first head of sales five months before our anticipated launch because we needed to have 10-12 beta customers on board in order to have a successful launch.

If you can wait until your product is developed and ready to ship before selling it, you can afford to wait longer if you’re handling early market development and requirements yourself. However, when you find that you don’t have time to call back interested high value prospects within a single business day because of competing priorities to get your business off the ground, it’s definitely time to bring someone in. This is especially true if you’re in a buzz business where you have prospects calling YOU to ask if they can try out your product or service.

Finally, in either case, the trick is timing. The moment you actually need a head of sales is too late to start looking for one, since that process can take a few months. So what you have to do is make your best effort at figuring out 2-3 months ahead of time when that urgent need will pop up and start your recruiting efforts then.