Always hire Marketing people first over Sales

I have a friend who started a new SaaS company for larger (1000+ employees) organizations. The product is aimed at enterprises and must be “sold”, not bought, meaning while some of his potential customers have this problem, they are not actively looking for a solution. Instead they have used a band-aid to provide short-term fixes for the problem. There are no opportunities for a self-service solution, where someone can “try” then “buy”.

After the initial 5 beta customers (all paid, $120K ARR), and terrific feedback from them, he started to think about raising a $1-$2M round of funding. He had previously raised $300K from angel investors.

The approach to raising his round began with a discussion with his angel investors who each made 1-2 connections to other follow-on investors.

Many of those follow-on conversations turned into “we will wait until you are further along” passes or “you still need more traction for us to get involved” meetings. The company is in Seattle, so the number of investors in the target list was less than 10. A few meetings were in Silicon Valley as well, with similar feedback. None of them mentioned the market was small, but a couple did mention that it was likely a bigger company might be able to build this.

In search of traction, he started to think about hiring a sales person to increase ARR. His website is functional, mostly informative and has the basics. He is spending $1-2K per month on Google ads, getting 4-5 inbound requests from those efforts, but the pace of customer acquisition was slow.

He did connect with a BD / Sales person who he knew from his previous company and started to talk about having her join the startup. She was making $200K all in (base + commission) and wanted some assurances that she will be able to make that in a year. After realizing that it won’t be possible to give her that confidence, he looked at trying to get “commission only sales reps”. No luck there as well.

He finally got a friend-of-a-friend to recommend a young, sales person in New York who wanted to explore a career in technology after selling electrical equipment to large companies for 3-4 years. He was able to get the sales rep for $120K (60K base) all in, a jump of $20K for the rep from his previous position, if he hit his targets. The rep was to generate $500K in initial revenue from large companies in the New York / New Jersey area.

The first 2 weeks of the sales rep’s time was spent in demos and learning, while my friend helped him build a target account list. Then the rep started to build his “email list” of IT directors and managers with the titles that fit the company’s profile. That took 7-8 hours a week to research, collate and build over 2 more weeks. The rep also went back to his connections to ask for referrals to the right person in their organization, which resulted in 3 follow-on meetings.

They built a list of 250 targets with names & email addresses after combing through LinkedIn and another “IT database” from a vendor (DiscoverORG). After 1 week of emailing and cleaning email addresses, some of which bounced, trying different messages and subject lines (A/B testing), they got 2 emails back – both asking them to “remove me from your email list”.

2 months into the process, my friend realized his company was not ready for a sales person.

They did not have content, enough inbound traffic or interest to make the sales person effective. While he identified a few marketing tools – whitepaper, videos that he needed to get done, they were in the works, and he was using contractors and his own time to focus on those, which slowed things down.

He let go of the sales person 3 months after he hired him.

His angel investors provided bridge financing for another $150K for him to hire a marketing person instead and my friend eliminated 1 developer to make room for the marketing budget.

He hired a freelance marketing director for 3 months on contract and is the primary sales person, with a vastly improved website, whitepapers, 3-4 blog entries each month and has appeared in a conference as a speaker as well.

Results:

Sales person for 3 months – total spend ~$18K ($15K salary, plus travel expenses, LinkedIn navigator subscription, email tool – Outreach, database subscription – Discoverorg), etc.

> 23 meetings, 3 follow on discussions and no sales.

Marketing person for 2 months – total spend – $23K ($15K monthly retainer, plus whitepaper content, blog content, travel for conference, etc.)

> 32 meetings and discussions, 5 inbound inquiries, 3 initial pilots, 1 sale for $28K.

While not definitive, I see this consistently with SaaS and enterprise sales startups. The return on marketing dollars over sales is higher, more immediate and sustained.

Most technical founders think they only want a “sales closer” not marketing guy that “creates content” and does some “google ads”.

They dont realize that to make the sales person effective, they need marketing in the first place. Thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Always hire Marketing people first over Sales”

  1. From my own experiences from my Tech Product company based out of India, I have learnt this the hard way…..this is 100% GOLD advice that in today’s day and time, Internet is ever prevalent…people are glued to it many hours in a day….not getting them to say ‘wow’ in their hearts about what you are doing or what your product is doing….means you are just a click away into oblivion…marketing is a pure science….and is an highly iterative process with content and information as the main driver that can grab eyeballs and attention spans from your potential customers….In fact your claim to being a company is nothing if you do not have proper offerings defined with all the marketing paraphernalia surrounding it….you can measure engagement, bounce rates, e-mail openings, network call backs…but with Sales, if your guy comes back empty handed, it can be quite nerve wracking and heart-wrenching…then we start on a trajectory with him about how to market and how to sell, which I think is a bit too late in the game as also pointed out by you.

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