Mavericks and Journeymen

Both my parents were high school Math teachers – my Dad worked at the same school for all of his 33 years in teaching, and my Mom had two jobs – but only because she quit her first teaching job to raise my brother and I, and went back to teaching when we entered school full time. We had a stable and predictable lifestyle – in fact, my parents still live in the house I was born in. I worked at AT&T for seven years right out of college and it appeared to everyone that I would be a lifer there, just like my parents.

So where did things go wrong? I have no idea!! But I left AT&T to join a fledgling startup and never looked back. I am always more excited about a new idea that’s not been proven than an existing idea that has already been cracked. I’ve also hired, trained and led dozens of sales folks over the years and have a pretty good idea of what attributes make a successful enterprise sales rep.

A typical way of identifying sales types is the “hunter or farmer” description. I don’t particularly like those designations, particularly these days as SaaS sales tend to be land (hunter) and expand (farmer). A while back, Mark Suster suggested using “maverick and journeymen” as the descriptors, and I like them much better.

So, when you are starting up your next company and looking for the right sales talent, what should you look for? I am biased, but I prefer mavericks, and they tend to have the following qualities:

  • Team oriented – Focused more on overall success than personal gain. This is hard to find as many sales reps are uber competitive.
  • Inquisitive – Knows that the process they are being provided with will most likely fail. They need to learn how/why and help the company create pivot points that make sense.
  • Short memory – Needs to know that success can be fleeting. Success must be repeatable to be sustainable. Don’t dwell on short term wins, focus on what’s working regularly (and what’s not).
  • Long term vision – Most sales people are goal oriented – eyes on the prize (closing the deal). A startup sales person needs to think a few steps beyond an individual sale to what can help the company achieve success on a regular basis, not just this one time. As a business owner or sales leader, you also need to think seriously about how to craft a compensation plan that rewards this type of behavior – even the most altruistic sales person wants to get paid commission – so you have to balance the team player with the guy trying to make an extra buck.

I’ve had many experiences at startups where I had individual success, but the company did not enjoy overall prosperity. This really is not much fun. While it’s nice to be the “king”, the mountain is awfully small. It’s more important to find the repeatability that allows all the sales reps at your company to find success – and that is no small feat. Mavericks have the makeup to get to a repeatable (and measurable) process at a startup and will try 100 different ways to get there. They don’t like being told “this can’t be done”. They’ll just figure out a way to show you it can.

The thing is, most of the people I’ve seen fail at startups are Journeyman. They’ve had TONS of success at larger companies and certainly know how to sell. But they need the manual – they don’t want to try lots of different things, they want to do what “they know best”. And if it doesn’t work, they aren’t comfortable pivoting.

These Maverick qualities – thinking out of the box, ability to pivot, team oriented vs. individual contributor, excellent listener, flexibility, creativity – establish success and failure in a startup so much better than the traditional Hunter and Farmer terms.

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