Building a Sales Team From Scratch with Olivia Herron: The GOAT to Market Podcast Recap
Last month, the newest generative AI tool on the market launched. It’s called Typeset, and Olivia Herron, GM of Innovation, was brought onto the team to bring that tool to life.
Since its launch, thousands of new users have flocked to Typeset, creating tens of thousands of pieces of content in just a few weeks. The product is growing rapidly and, with it, so is the need to scale business and build a team.
Olivia sat down with Rajiv Nathan, creator of the Startup Hypeman: The GOAT to Market Podcast to discuss how she’s thinking about building a sales team here at Typeset as she looks to her past experience at Facebook Labs as a reference.
Her advice is poignant for anyone in the startup community, but even for established sales organizations that want to expand their hiring strategies. We recap some of that advice below, but you can check out the full episode here.
The timeline: When does it make sense to build a sales team?
Every startup grapples with the question of when to start a sales team or begin hiring people into sales roles.
Olivia stresses that it’s about what your motion looks like. “If you have a product-led GTM strategy and you’re getting people in because of the product and you have a freemium-like model, it probably doesn’t make sense [to hire] until you’re in a place where you can really go further,” she says.
“Those roles are really interesting – they’re an expansion-like role, as opposed to a hard-and-fast outbound AE. You’re bringing on someone who's diving deep on use cases and understanding the business and building relationships.”
Sales-led GTM strategies, on the other hand, need to bring people onboard earlier to start targeting their customers with the right pitch and bringing people into the fold.
There’s no golden timeline to follow, but Olivia says once sales takes up more than 25% of a founder’s time, or there’s an opportunity to create a repeatable sales process, it’s best to bring someone on.
Creating a successful hiring process
“Always use your network,” Olivia says. “That’s a no brainer.”
But again, different companies will need to create hiring processes in different ways depending on their GTM strategy:
- Product-led growth: Look for account managers. They’re focused on expansion, digging deep on use cases and how to align them to the product, mapping organizations, and earning referrals
- Sales-led growth: Persistent hustlers who are willing to ask and try new things to find the right people.
What to establish before bringing someone into a sales role
During their discussion, Olivia and Rajiv talk about what makes a great first sales hire. In many cases, it’s someone that has strong sales acumen who also knows how to create sales processes.
Sometimes, new hires are coming into an organization with an established playbook that’s open for adaptation and change – other times, it’s a blank slate, but Olivia stresses that founders need to have a few things figured out prior to hiring a salesperson or a team of them:
- What are the key pain points we’re solving?
- Who is our ICP (ideal customer persona)?
- What conversations have we been having and how can we refine them?
Don’t bring people on with the anticipation that they’ll be closing deals right away. Productivity metrics are always a great measure of success in those early sales roles so down the line, you know that processes have been put in place for your sales team to execute on.
Product knowledge vs. industry knowledge: Which should come first?
Olivia and Rajiv have an interesting debate about which knowledge set is most important for your early sales team: Deep product knowledge and use cases, or industry knowledge about the market? Rajiv argues the latter is more important than the former, but Olivia argues they’re equally important and debating which one comes first depends on the organization.
“Really deeply understanding the industry and being able to drive discovery is really important, and you can only do that if you really understand the industry. The product knowledge can and should follow, but you want to be in a situation where you can answer questions about the product,” Olivia says. “You want to establish yourself as an authority in that process, and that authority should come with your product in mind.”
Check out The GOAT to Market Podcast featuring SamCart GM of Innovation, Olivia Herron
In addition to her sales hiring process, Olivia shares a wealth of knowledge on understanding your customer, tying that understanding back to your product, and knowing where your fit in the market is. Salespeople as well as product experts, marketing professionals, and anyone in the startup world can benefit from her advice.