"What are your thoughts on the wisdom of Independent Contractors on the sales side?" read the email today. Fred had asked a frequently posed question, an important one for startup CEOs to address.
Sales people are hired after marketing people. Because if they don't have a product to sell, they'll start selling anything on your desk, and the desk will go next. They have to sell, be active, get to customers or else they go crazy and drive the rest of the company nuts while waiting. They are very independent thinkers and report only to a VP of Sales who reports to the CEO. Marketing is an alien function, one to be tolerated at best, according to veteran sales professionals I have interviewed.
Many different channels of selling exist. Each calls for a different kind of sales person. Direct sales means you hire experienced sales people and build a powerful sales force. Ellison did that brilliantly at Oracle. Telesales (on the phone) calls for a very different kind of sales person, people brilliant at selling to strangers on the telephone. Not many can do that well.
In either case, direct or tele sales, startups can use independent sales people, typically more to supplement employees than instead of them. The semiconductor industry made that a way of life for startups. They do it with independent sales representative firms, each organized into a group of experts that dominate big accounts in a tight geographical region (e.g. General Motors or the U.S. Army).
The hard part is getting the independent reps or sales people to pay enough attention to the startup's products. Small sales generate small efforts on behalf of any new product. "It is hard to get enough 'unfair share of mind' from rep firms" said one CEO I talked to.
The good news is that if your product is hot and so is your company, the reps will sell with gusto, push hard and support you eagerly. Some CEOs have even used independent sales people to help get a seed round of funding. Successful sales people are often independent and have a lot of money to invest.
BOTTOM LINE: Do not rule out independent sales people for your startup. They have a role in some new enterprises. If you can get their attention, they can accelerate your sales plan and get you into key accounts.