Should my first business hire be Marketing or Sales?

This post is part of our Hiring series. Check out our previous posts here:

You have your MVP (minimum viable product). Now it’s time to get your first customers. Whether they are design partners, pilots, or actual paying customers, someone needs to go out there and do the selling—and marketing. Alas, your startup is currently devoid of business folks; all you have are engineers, data scientists, designers, and you, the CEO.

So who should it be? Should you hire a sales person or a marketing person first?

Well, at this stage, the answer is neither. The founder / CEO should make the first 10 (or 5, or whatever) sales themselves — even if they’re not a “business founder.” That way, you’ll know first-hand what works and what doesn’t, and get direct feedback from the field. For “marketing” (i.e. reaching out to your audience), use your (and your investors’) network, go to (virtual) conferences, send cold emails, literally do whatever it takes to start those initial conversations. For “sales” (i.e. closing deals), rely on your founder evangelist sales passion. Resist the temptation of skipping this stage. If the CEO can’t sell the product at all, it’s very unlikely someone else can. (More here from SaaStr’s Jason Lemkin: Should a startup founder handle sales when first getting started? The answer is yes – 95% of the time)

After you have the first few customers under your belt and things are going well, it’s time to hire. We recommend hiring both a sales person and a marketing person at the same time. The advantages are obvious — the marketing person will generate demand for sales to close, and they’ll have a great mutual feedback loop. By starting at roughly the same time, you get strong bonding for two roles who are supposed to be best buddies, but so often are not.

If you can’t hire both at the same time (for example, for budget reasons), go for sales. A good early-stage salesperson should be able to hunt for their own leads using their network or sheer hustle. On the flip side, a marketing person who can close deals doesn’t really exist. If you go that route, consider supporting the sales person with a marketing agency (Should I hire an in-house marketing employee, or work with a marketing agency?)

The Bottom Line

Close the first deals yourself. Then hire both marketing and sales at the same time if possible, or just a salesperson (and complement with a marketing agency). Happy selling!

Further Reading

Hat tip and thank you to El-ad David Amir, founder and CEO of Astrolabe, for asking the question that sparked this blog post, and for his feedback & support.

Netta is the founder and CEO of Blue Seedling. She loves third wave coffee, thin crust pizza, and B2B marketing.

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