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5 Things You Need to Know Before Becoming an SDR/AE at a Startup

Written By @RajenSanghvi

· hiring,Account Executive,SDR

It's an exciting time to be a new grad or an individual with a couple of years of sales experience; there is a huge demand for Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) as well as Account Executives (AEs) at B2B startups looking to accelerate their growth. However, startups are also just as risky with many (if not most) of them destined to fail. As a salesperson, your success is often tied to the bottom line success of the company. So if you're coming out of school or on the upswing of your career, how do you put yourself in a position to succeed? Here are a few ways to make sure you're walking into any opportunity with your eyes wide open.

1. Your Value: You Have More to Offer Than You Think

value, startups, hiring

You might not realize it, but that lack of sales and industry experience is actually working in your favour. It means you probably don't have too many bad sales habits to unlearn, you don't have any inherent biases of how things should be, and there's a good chance you have an exceptional amount of energy as you look to break into the professional world. Oh and by the way, the fact that you've spent more than a decade on the social web knowing how to use Twitter, Snapchat and all those productivity apps on your phone, makes you a pretty lucrative sales hire. Don't settle for just any opportunity that comes your way; evaluate both the risks and the rewards, and be intentional about the startup you choose to work for.

2. Product Value: Don't Get Caught Selling Snake-Oil

sales, snake oil

Image Source: Clark Stanley attributed to: Clark Stanley's Snake Oil Liniment, True Life in the Far West

Anyone can start a "startup". Anyone can create a product. Unfortunately, not anyone can create a product that delivers real business value to its customers. Get informed during the interview process by asking insightful questions (this will actually increase your chances of landing the role as well). Find out what the startup does to make its customers truly successful. Find out if the startup has figured out how to quantify the benefit of its product. Ask to see case studies and testimonials from existing customers. Your goal is to better understand the strength of the product's value proposition. Remember, it's going to be your job to convince prospects that they should care. Your success will be defined by your customer's success. Don't get caught selling snake-oil; it's insincere and demotivating.

3. Unit Economics: Know Your Path to Making Cash

cash, startups, unit economics

I'm seeing all types of startups hire SDRs these days, even ones with really low deal values. When you're fresh out of school, you may not be able to tell the difference but this matters a lot. In very simple terms, the amount of money you can make for a startup will impact how much money they will have to pay you. So let's just look at two simple examples:

  • Startup A: has an average deal size of $4,000 annually (i.e. $333 / month) with a 3-month sales cycle
  • Startup B: has an average deal size of $40,000 annually (i.e.$3,333 /month), with a 3-month sales cycle

Since the amount of work to close both deals is the same (i.e. 3 months), think how much more money the rep will have made Startup B as compared to Startup A (assuming they are both equally successful). To be clear, I'm not advocating that all startups need to be charging 3K per month for their service. As a startup sales rep though, I do believe it's important to think beyond your commission cheque (no matter how awesome it could be). Think about how much money you can generate for the company and at what speed. Because that's what will be used to reinvest in the company; whether that's growing the team, building a better product, or even paying out larger commissions and/or contests.

4. Repeatability: Confirm There Are Working Processes

engine, sales process

Repeatability can have a big impact in determining the right fit for the role. Some sales reps want to walk into an environment where they can just come in, and crush their numbers by following the process. In other cases, sales reps may care about being part of the startup journey in building the processes to scale. As a result, even though startups may share similar titles, the level of repeatability will make for very different roles. Here are a few things to ask during the interview process to flush this out:

  • Is there a working process for finding new prospects and acquiring customers? If so, can you walk me through it? 
  • How repeatable are your processes? As a %age, how many of your existing customers have followed your current sales processes?  
  • How do you onboard and train new SDRs or AEs? How many do you have today? 

While the responses here will vary from company to company, it doesn't mean that one is better than the other. It's all about finding the right fit for you. Know whether you prefer having some structure, or being thrown into the deep end and figuring things out for yourself. If there is no process and no repeatability (and the startup is still hiring an SDR or AE), I'd be worried.

5. Interest: Do You Really Care to Become an Expert?

focus, interest, books

As a sales rep, it's your job to become exceptionally knowledgeable about the product you're selling. The best sales reps however, don't just stop there; they focus on developing their industry and market knowledge as well. They take the time to learn about trends in the industry, the competitive landscape, and what customers are going through to develop a deep sense of domain expertise to differentiate themselves. So the question is, do you really care? Or, can you get excited about this startup's particular industry? Is it something you'd like to spend your personal time learning about? If the answer is no, this is going to make your day job a drag. If the answer is yes, you'll enjoy what you're doing, even when you're having a slow sales day. Find that startup with a product you're excited to represent and industry your interested in working in.

6. *Bonus*: Try and Find Out Everything Else Also

Since there's already a tremendous amount of content available around "What to Ask Before Joining a Startup", hopefully it's clear that the above list is not exhaustive, and only covers additional sales specific areas to explore in further. It doesn't cover all the other areas that are equally important, such as the team, direct manager, culture, vision, compensation structure, equity, etc. For more information in this area, I've compiled a few articles for reference below:

Thanks for reading. If you found this post useful in making your career decision, I'd love to hear from you. You can leave me a comment below or email me at rajen@salestraction.io. Thanks.

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