STOP Asking Sales Reps to Work For Free

This is a post I originally wrote on LinkedIn where it has receiver over 1k views, 100 likes, and 16 shares. It really struck a nerve with my network (most of whom are professional salespeople by trade).  Hope you enjoy it!


This is a bit of a rant, I admit. But if you’re a startup founder or the head of sales for a small company, you need to hear this

I work with small businesses of all varieties, and I consult a lot of startups. It’s so much fun for me! 
Quite often I hear companies that are “cash strapped” and “can’t afford” to hire a sales rep try to hire someone on a “pay for performance” basis.

The following is based on a real conversation between one such cash strapped company and an ambitious sales rep. Names and places have been removed to protect the innocent.

If you’ve worked in the small biz/startup world, this probably looks familiar. And it hurts BOTH PARTIES!
The ambitious sales rep really does want a chance to sell a fantastic product. The awesome startup really does believe in its product.

So where do we go from here?

My advice to the ambitious sales rep:

  1. Build a ramp.
    If you want to risk everything and sell the next Shamwow full time, have some money in the bank.
    Here’s a good rule of thumb: Save up enough that you can survive twice as long as the supposed average sales cycle. It always takes longer than you think to win clients. 
  2. Commit or quit
    You cannot dip your toe in the pool of pay-for-performance sales. Because as soon as someone offers you even $1 up front to sell for them (a.k.a. salary), it well become more attractive than $0 up front.
    If you’re going to get in the water, don’t take forever wading in to your knees, then your hips… Just jump right in.
    You’ll have a much greater chance at success, and probably an equal or lesser chance at failure.

My advice to the awesome startup or small business:

  1. Don’t ask for more than you’re willing to pay for
    If you want to pay a sales person a commission for selling your product, don’t try and get them to figure out how to sell your product. 
    If you can’t afford to a pay a sales person to figure out how to sell your product, figure it out yourself. 
  2. Hire a pro temporarily
    This is basically what I do for my clients. They need someone to help them uncover the best sales tools and techniques for their business, but they don’t need that person on staff permanently.
    If you can’t afford a full-time VP or Director of Sales, hire one temporarily through a quality consultant. 
    If you can’t afford even a part-time consultant, and you can’t figure out how to sell your product yourself…you may just be in the wrong business.

Best of luck to all of you trying to cut of a little slice of the big sales pie for yourselves! Be sure to comment below or reach out to me directly if you want to discuss this further!

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