The "Hiring The Buyer's Role to Sell" Fallacy

What could be more natural than a marketer selling a product to other marketers? Or an engineer pushing a new devops tool to other developers? Or a customer success person pitching CS tools? After all, they both speak the same language, come from the same domain, will develop trust quickly. Consequently, they will sell faster and more efficiently. This might seem like a very logical argument for differentiating on sales processes, but it’s a fallacy.

Why doesn’t this strategy work?

First, it presumes that the most valuable skill set in sales is building rapport. Trust is critical. You won’t buy a product from someone you don’t trust or respect, or who doesn’t understand your challenges. However, trust-building skills are insufficient to be a great salesperson.

Great salespeople understand how to manage a sales process and the five key people in a sales process. They know how to structure contracts to navigate procurement. Great account executives understand where to spend their time to maximize their success.

Second, this fallacy assumes a company cannot train a salesperson to be knowledgeable enough about a category to develop rapport - or do that at scale. Page through the resumes of account executives at some of the world’s largest software companies and you’ll see most of them are career SDRs and account executives. In fact, startups must teach everyone in the company to speak effectively to customers. This is just as critical for sales as customer support as recruiting as press and marketing.

Third, “hiring a role to sell strategy” creates scaling challenges. How many marketers are currently looking to move into sales right now? The universe of available account executives dwarfs the meager number of career-changing marketers.

It’s possible to build a pipeline of marketers, but the recruiting process will be slow. Imagine meeting an engineer or a product manager to convince them to become a sales-person. “We’d like to hire you as an account executive. We’ll cut your salary in half, give you the other half in commission, if and only if you sell a certain number of customers. You’ll have a few months to learn on the job and then it’s sink or swim.”

Fourth, the last point highlights the differences in motivation between sales organizations and others. Many salespeople prefer the idea of taking home a share of their commissions. There’s more risk, but there’s much more reward than a salaried position. This simple dynamic ensures that sales compensation plans manage sales teams effectively, by rewarding key sales behavior with multipliers and kickers.

To first order, the idea of hiring a role to sell might seem logical. But the challenges of scaling and managing a role sales team outweigh the ostensible advantages.

Published 2017-06-01 in Sales 


I am partner at Redpoint. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 20,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.

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