How to build a go-to-market team for your startup
Which roles to hire, what they do and when to hire them
In this post I walk through a framework for building a go-to-market team for your startup—from scratch—covering which roles to hire, when to hire them and what their key responsibilities are.
Having gone through this journey at multiple startups, I’ve developed the following guiding principles, upon which the framework is based:
Sales is a distribution channel—for a product that solves a customer problem. If you don’t have a couple dozen initial customers with the same use case and pain points, don’t hire a sales team.
Marketing amplifies sales—don’t hire a marketing team before your sales team is predictably closing deals at a small scale or you’ll just piss a load of money down the drain.
Minimize role specialization—early stage business don’t require a lot of specialized roles because most of the gains come from doing the broad strokes things that do not require deep expertise. Each new role also adds cost and complexity and limits your ability to adapt to changing needs.
Manage new functions directly—you need to understand how a new function works in the context of your company in order to figure out what type of person to run it. This is why your first 3 salespeople and first 3 marketers should report to the CEO.
There are 3 stages to building out a go-to-market team:
Founder-led sales—the founding team relies on personal networks and word-of-mouth to acquire and onboard the first couple dozen customers, and identify the core use cases and pain points that its customers share.
Sales-as-distribution—the company adds a sales team to prospect for more customers that have the core use case and pain points, to retain the existing customers and to create a basic sales process.
Marketing-amplifies-sales—the company adds a marketing team to generate a predictable flow of leads for sales, remove friction for buyers and improve overall revenue predictability.
In the Founder-led sales phase, the team typically looks like this:
The founding CEO usually brings in the initial customers directly and doubles up as head of product. The rest of the product team helps out with onboarding and support.
The head of engineering runs the team that builds the product and gets involved with more complex troubleshooting.
The finance and HR functions are outsourced to an accounting firm or back-office provider.
The first hires in the Sales-as-distribution phase are: