8 Sales Questions and Answers for Early Stage SaaS Startups

Earlier today an entrepreneur reached out seeking help. His company has recently cleared the $1 million in annual recurring revenue milestone and he’s working on the strategy to build out a sales team.

Here are his eight questions and my answers in the Pardot context:

  1. At what stage in the company did you hire your first salesperson (headcount, years since founding, revenue level)?
    Pardot was started March 1, 2007. Our beta (minimum respectable product) was ready at the end of the summer and we hired our first two sales people, while still be pre-revenue, at the same time on September 1, 2007 (always hire sales people in pairs, if possible).
  2. Was your initial sales team functioning as ‘explorers’ or were they repeating a process that you had already defined?
    The initial sales team functioned as explorers and worked to figure out the best places to hunt. One of the salespeople didn’t work out and was let go of quickly while the other sales person worked out incredibly well.
  3. How long before that person became profitable?
    The sales person that worked out was profitable by their second quarter with us.
  4. How long before you hired subsequent salespeople?
    Our next sales person was brought on in Q1 2008 as it was clear the first sales person was doing great. As a simplistic rule of thumb, I like the ratio of $1 in sales rep expense to $3 of new annual recurring revenue.
  5. Did you use the predictable revenue model of one SDR to three Account Execs?
    We implemented Predictable Revenue at Pardot and used the 1:3 SDR to AE ratio (we implemented an appointment setting team before the book was published). In some cases, I’ve seen a 1:1 ratio of SDR to AE.
  6. If so, did you consider other methods?
    We didn’t use a different methodology but have always liked the idea of one team to set appointments and one team to close deals.
  7. What are the biggest things that you would do differently in building a sales team knowing what you know now?
    I’d invest more aggressive in sales people once the model was proven (we could have hired many more sales people) and I’d use more modern sales acceleration tools like SalesLoft and WideAngle.
  8. How narrowly did you focus on verticals at the beginning of your sales process i.e. did your initial team sell across verticals or not?
    Early on, we realized the companies that received the most value from marketing automation were technology companies as they had more tech-savvy marketing teams and good budgets. We didn’t divide the team up by vertical but most of the proactive sales efforts were to other tech companies.

I appreciate the entrepreneur sending me the questions and I look forward to providing more information about what worked well, and didn’t work well, over our five year journey.

What else? What are some other sales questions for a seed or early stage startup?

3 thoughts on “8 Sales Questions and Answers for Early Stage SaaS Startups

  1. David, it was a pleasure to meet you at Venture Atlanta. Long time reader first time replier. What type of initial sales people did you hire? How much experience, industry or otherwise? Did one of your first eventually evolve into your sales manager? My background is sales so I spend a great deal of time in that area, so I’m wondering what type of sales professionals should I hire?

    1. We look for sales people that meet our core values (positive, self-starting, and supportive) and aren’t focused on experience or industry. We train the sales people in-house as SaaS is so new that finding someone with experience would greatly limit our potential applicant pool.

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