Sales hiring for growth companies is, quite simply, mission-critical.
Successful sales hiring offers an opportunity to pull away from the pack of firms trying to break into the marketplace. And the more strategic and repeatable you can make this process, the faster you can accelerate your growth.
Understanding which sales roles you need at each growth stage allows you to intentionally scale your sales team. How many SDR/BDR roles do you need to work as hunters? How many account executives should be closing? How many account management experts do you need farming accounts for the future? By mapping specialized sales roles to the business objectives in your go-to-market strategy, you know what roles to hire and when.
An overview of specialized sales roles
Every sales team is structured differently depending on their growth phase, their firm’s business model, and how much funding they can dedicate to hiring. As you consider these variables, it’s helpful to have a high-level view of the specialized sales roles used today.
Typical sales roles include the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO), Sales Vice President/Director (SVP/ SDs), Account Executive (AE), Sales Development Rep/Business Development Rep (SDR/BDR), Sales Engineers (SE), and Customer Success. Depending on the size and maturity of your organization, your sales operations might utilize some or all of these roles.
Typically, you will grow your sales organization as you grow your company. Sales roles and functions scale by specialization. This fosters greater expertise and efficiency at every stage of your sales process as you generate pipeline growth, sustainable revenue, and a repeatable sales model.
Scaling sales hires by specialization in your go-to-market strategy
Hiring the right sales roles at the right time during your go-to-market phase gives you an enormous competitive advantage. As you begin to hire, consider what part of your sales process you are hiring to support and how that part of the process is fueling sustainable and scalable business growth.
Smart sales hiring maps to three distinct periods in the go-to-market phase, each of which is defined by its primary sales objectives.
When you first go to market, you need to pack your sales team with hunters, people who open doors, generate new business opportunities, and fill your sales pipeline with volume. This is the accelerate phase, focused on building your pipeline, harvesting sales data, establishing an effective lead generation process, and proving your ideal customer profile. Focus is on input/activities, and this phase generally comprises the first three to six months.
Next, it’s time to optimize your sales approach. This begins when your lead-generation and new business development functions are sufficiently ramped, and your founder’s or original sales hires’ calendars are overloaded. In this phase, you will need to hire additional specialized sales roles and establish a systemic sales process while refining your ideal customer profile. The optimization period typically spans six to nine months (depending on the sales cycles) and is focused on establishing the proper balance between input(activities) and output(qualified opportunities and closed/won deals).
The final stage is defined by establishing a streamlined and repeatable sales process to generate predictable revenue. It’s time to add account management functionality, nail your ideal customer profile, and make fully data-driven decisions as you close more deals and continue to expand to new markets. These actions happen over three to six months. During this time the team’s focus tilts towards output, but with emphasis on the number and value of opportunities/deals.
The acceleration phase: fuel high growth with an input activity focus
Early in the go-to-market stage when your company is still ramping up, you don’t need to (and perhaps can’t afford to) hire a high number of leaders, closers, farmers, or sales specialists. You need hunters to prospect and generate enough leads to fill your pipeline. These are your sales development reps (SDRs).
An SDR is one of the most demanding sales roles. The main tasks of this role are to generate and qualify leads, primarily through outbound sales activities like cold calling and emailing prospects that match your company’s ideal customer profile.
To succeed in the acceleration phase, your SDRs must be self-driven. They need to be comfortable hearing “no” and willing to still show up every day with high energy and grit. They must know that disqualifying wrong-fit prospects is necessary in order to find the right-fit customers.
Depending on your funding, you may also be able to hire account executives (closers) at this time. In this case, your primary sales hiring investment should still be in SDRs. A ratio of two to four SDRs to every account executive is the ideal, depending on ARPA (annual revenue per account). If you do not have enough funding to hire account executives, the company founders can carry this role as your business grows and you move toward optimizing your sales process.
The optimize phase: specialize and finetune your input/output ratio
As you enter the second phase of go-to-market, you will notice that your founders or account executives (AEs) may not have enough time to follow up and close all the deals your SDRs are generating. This is a surefire sign that it’s time to hire more closers, or promote SDRs to AEs.
During this stage of sales scaling, find the right balance between your SDRs and AEs to best support your business model. If you are still prioritizing rapid growth, you will want a SDR-heavy sales team. However, spending too long chasing that goal can become messy. You can risk missed opportunities and a poor sales experience that hurts your reputation. At some point, you should strive for a 50/50 divide between your hunters and closers depending on ARPA and sales cycles.
As you optimize your sales process, promoting the best SDRs you’ve already hired to AEs can work. They already know your product. They’ve completed training. And, they’ve spent months understanding and refining your ideal customer profile. They can naturally mentor new SDRs and have a proven ability to grind. Additionally, cultivating a culture of internal promotion and advancement is critical in the final phase of scaling sales in the go-to-market stage.
The repeat phase: streamline your sales engine with an output focus
In the accelerate and optimize phases of your go-to-market journey, the business focus has transitioned from inputs towards an increased amount of output objectives. Your SDRs have energetically built up the pipeline and generated leads. Your founders and senior sales leaders have closed business and studied the sales process, looking for efficiency gains. You now have a significant amount of data generated from the sales activities, and you can dig in to see what is working with your sales process and where opportunities exist.
During this final go-to-market stage, your focus is on establishing repeatability in your sales process. You are looking for ways to shorten your sales cycle with right-fit prospects, and you want to keep renewing and upselling the right-fit customers you have.
Consider adding account management (farmers) and sales engineer (specialists) roles to your roster to achieve those goals. You might also see your SDR to AE ratio change again, perhaps shifting to two SDRs for every two or three AEs as account management roles are added to handle customer success and renewals.
Each sales role is an investment in your future success
Making the most out of every sales role as you go to market is imperative. The prize for strategically scaling your sales teams is optimal growth.
The prize for strategically scaling your sales teams is optimal growth.– Lars Johan Bjørkevoll, CEO, ScaleupXQ
Intentionally building your go-to-market sales team is a long-term investment in your success. It’s critical to carefully map sales roles to your unique business model and continually evaluate and adjust your strategy throughout the go-to-market phase.