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The MacGyver Sales Rep Myth

I grew up in the 90’s and caught the tail end of the MacGyver show just as it was wrapping up its final season. In one episode I still remember, MacGyver made a functioning airplane from random parts in an old garage. I loved it.

If you haven’t seen the show, Angus MacGyver was a fictitious secret agent who carried out missions for a fake government organization. But he wasn’t just any old secret agent – he was a science genius. He could make a bomb out of a basketball if the situation required it.


I’ve worked with a lot of startups who ask their team members to “wear a lot of hats,” and perhaps none more so than the early sales rep.

It isn’t even something most startups know they’re doing.

They see a sales rep’s job as basically anything under the sales and marketing umbrella. But they’re actually trying to force their sales rep into a nearly impossible situation where only MacGyver could succeed.


Here are the most common roles that startup sales reps are asked to fill (all at once):

  1. VP of Sales
    Create the overall sales strategy including identifying new markets to go after.
    Work with the product team to determine pricing.
    Work with the marketing team to determine their market position.
  2. Director of Sales
    Direct the day-to-day sales activity of the organization with a focus on profitability and growth.
    Assess the tools used to perform daily sales activities.
  3. Sales Manager
    Motivate the sales team to achieve their potential and maximize every minute of the day.
    Track KPIs and keep upper management apprised of all results and any problems.
  4. Sales Representative
    Carry out daily sales activities including

    1. Prospecting
    2. Managing deals
    3. Following up
    4. Closing deals.

MacGyver could do it. So why can’t the 24-year-old college graduate with a degree in business and a year of software sales?

Because MacGyver isn’t real.


If you’re asking your sales rep to be MacGyver, they probably can’t. It’s a rare person who has the vision to design a sales strategy, the technical knowhow to design a sales process, the self awareness to stay motivated, and the execution skills to make sales happen.

If they can do it, you’re probably not paying them enough. Unless you’ve given them a serious piece of the equity pie (or they’re related to you), they likely will find a lower stress role at a larger company with deeper pockets and walk away.

Immediate takeaway:

You need to understand the strain you’re putting on your salespeople and be sure you don’t force them into taking an offer they can’t refuse elsewhere.


Sit down with your sales rep(s) and ask them the following:

  1. Which activities do you most enjoy performing?
  2. Which activities do you feel you are best at?
  3. Which activities do you wish you could hand off to someone else?

Once you get their answers, sincerely try to help them.

  1. If they’re great with execution but not strategy, set up regular strategy meetings where they can ask questions and get your input.
  2. If they’re great at closing deals but don’t like cold calling, consider hiring an intern to cold call or finding a way to generate more inbound leads.

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