Mavericks and Journeyman

Maverick (film)

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I love startups. Just love ‘em. I can’t explain why – 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 did spend a 3+ year stint at BEA Systems in between all the startups to “catch my breath”, but 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 had hundreds of conversations with colleagues and fellow sales people about Hunters and Farmers and in fact blogged about it last year. My point then, and I still believe this is that the traditional thought of a hunter mentality being good for a startup and farmer being good for an established company is flawed. A much better designation would be Maverick and Journeymen, which was blogged about last year as well by Mark Suster. I’m writing to lobby that we replace the Hunter/Farmer terms with Maverick/Journeymen. I’m already doing so.

So, when you are starting up your next company and looking for the right sales talent, what should you look for?

  • Team oriented – focused more on the overall success than personal gain. This is about as FAR from your typical sales person mentality that you’ll find.
  • Inquisitive – knows that the process he’s been provided with will most likely FAIL. Needs to learn how/why and help the company create pivot points that make sense.
  • Short memory – Needs to know that individual successes are 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)
  • Think longer term – 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. 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, believe me. 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. After reading Mark’s post and reflecting on it quite a bit, I realize that I’m a Maverick. I’m NOT a fan of salesforce, although I am extremely organized. I think it’s critically important to get to a repeatable (and measurable) process at a startup, but I’ll try 100 different ways to get there. I don’t like being told “this can’t be done”. I’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 qualities (thinking out of the box, ability to pivot, team oriented vs. individual contributor, excellent listener, flexible, creative) establish success and failure in a startup SO MUCH BETTER than the traditional Hunter and Farmer terms. In fact, if I had to describe myself as one or the other (although I have qualities of both), I would say I’m more of a farmer…. a Maverick Farmer :-).  So, there you have it. I’m not going to use Hunter and Farmer anymore in describing sales folks at early stage startups – I will use Maverick and Journeyman. I hope I see the term Maverick in a new job req for that next hot startup!!

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