Renaissance Sales Rep Playbook
Updated: Aug 3, 2021
Perspective from Companyon Investor and Serial Startup CEO, Nate Bowler
If you have read Companyon’s post about the Sales Learning Curve, then you know how vital the renaissance rep is to the success of a B2B startup emerging from a post-seed round. As a refresher, the renaissance sales rep is an entrepreneur at heart that has had experience at an early-stage company and is chomping at the bit to do it again. They are willing to adapt, roll with the punches, work with the team, and are not obsessed with the money - at least not right away. Think the opposite of someone who has ten years of experience in a sales role at a name-brand, super established tech company.
But how do you find the renaissance sales rep? Unfortunately, the title will likely not be on any LinkedIn profiles. Lucky for you, throughout my time as a founder and CEO of startups, I’ve encountered the renaissance sales rep many times and know how to identify these individuals. Here’s my playbook.
Hire for the skills, not the role
A lot of times, when companies look to hire, they are looking for another default, white-label sales rep. Someone who has worked in sales at companies everyone has heard of and done the nine-to-five workday. But startups aren’t just looking for everyday salespeople. They are looking for entrepreneurs that can solve problems, adapt quickly, and work with a team.
So, when you hire your renaissance sales rep, you want to approach it in the same way that a college coach approaches recruiting high school athletes -- and no, we are not talking about buying sports cars for your prospective hires. When you see kids that get drafted out of high school, many times, they’re not position recruits. They are simply recruited because the coach sees the skills they have as a pure athlete. They don't get recruited as a wide receiver or second baseman. The coach knows these are fantastic athletes that will contribute. They may be punt returners or tailbacks, who knows, but they're recruited simply because their skills are clear as day.
That's what I tell startup CEOs. You've got just to find your best sales athlete. Find somebody that loves the freedom and flexibility of figuring out an early-stage problem. This person may not have 10 years of sales under their belt, but make no mistake, they are competitive, and they want to win. They want to close deals, but they've got integrity. They work well with the team. They may have never played the sales position before, but you just know they will jump at the opportunity if presented with it.
They can tell a story
If you are going to sell something, you better know what it does, who it helps, and how it helps. You better know how customers will learn about the product, how they will acquire it, and how motivated they are to acquire it. You need to find someone capable of absorbing this information and then can tell a good story around it.
All great salespeople know how to set the hook. They can help people understand what it is you're offering and why it’s meaningful. A renaissance sales rep is willing to iterate that or try it again in a different way until the story sells.
What I’m alluding to can also be referred to as the consultative sales rep. A consultative rep doesn't go into a situation just pitching a product and features, but they engage the prospect in a conversation to sort of pull out the pain points that are relevant to what they are selling. Then the selling is easy because you aren’t just selling a product. You’re selling a solution that the prospect essentially just said they need. To do that, you need to find someone who can listen, who will be consultative, and who can engage.
They play on your team
Finally, the renaissance sales exec understands the importance of listening to the CEO and founders and isn’t hellbent on doing things independently. After all, who knows what you are selling better than the people that built it and have been working with it since day one. The renaissance sales reps understand that they are one piece of your overall strategic vision. They are one of the nine batters in your lineup.
When they go to sell, they are selling your story with your pitch materials. They are okay with you holding their hand -- especially in the beginning -- and using your lines, your key points as the CEO, and your overall approach.
The renaissance sales rep learns the product and gets the hang of things, then the CEO can start having a constructive dialogue about what they are seeing out there. What has worked? What hasn’t worked? Which part of the story is not resonating with potential customers? Why are sales going well or not well? What do you think we should do? All of that will come in time, but first, the renaissance sales rep needs to be able to trust the process, and they need to show an understanding of this from the get-go.