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Challenges seed funded businesses face when making first sales hire

By Oli Clarkson. Oli is a Senior Consultant within the commercial team at Zeren. His core focus is on senior level go-to-market hires across EMEA.

Finding your first commercial hire for a B2B SaaS business during the early stages of growth can be a difficult task. These individuals will play a crucial role in setting the tone for success and making a significant impact during a challenging yet exciting time in the company’s development. As a founder or member of the leadership team, it is important to carefully consider and select the right people for these positions.  


With the current climate increasing the barriers to hire, is it time to look at your hiring strategy with new eyes and consider a different approach to achieve growth goals in 2023, or is now more than ever time to play it safe?  


Hiring a sales candidate with experience in your technology domain can be highly valuable. The temptation to hire a “turnkey solution” is understandable, but founders should not automatically gravitate towards this option without carefully considering the potential risks and drawbacks. While hiring someone with a proven track record in your field may seem like the “safe” option, it is important to thoroughly evaluate all candidates and decide based on their overall fit for the role and the company’s needs. 


I often see highly effective B2B SaaS salespeople overlooked simply because they lack product-specific sales experience. In my opinion, candidates with strong value-based selling fundamentals and a proven track record in areas such as account mapping, territory planning, stakeholder management, forecasting, and deal management are more than capable of quickly ramping up and mastering a new SaaS product. These individuals may be overlooked due to a narrow focus on product-specific experience, but they have the potential to make significant contributions to a company’s growth and success. 


When hiring for a B2B SaaS company, it is important to consider both the pros and cons of hiring candidates from within and outside of your product domain.


Pros of hiring from within your domain: 

  • Thought leadership: Candidates with previous experience in your field can act as strategic advisors on go-to-market (GTM) strategy, drawing on their previous successes and failures. 
  • Network: Candidates with existing relationships in your industry can quickly ramp up and leverage those connections. 
  • Brand ambassador: Candidates with deep knowledge of your product and industry can contribute to marketing strategy and attend events with authenticity. 
  • Time saver: Hiring experienced candidates can free up time for founders to focus on other aspects of the business. 
  • Future leader: Senior candidates with domain expertise could potentially develop into team leads or directors of sales as the company grows and needs to hire more staff. 


Cons of hiring from within your domain: 

  • Time to hire: The pool of qualified candidates is likely to be smaller and more niche, which could take longer to hire from. 
  • Competition: The scarcity of qualified candidates may lead to increased competition for top talent, requiring companies to differentiate themselves to attract the best candidates. 
  • Resistance to change: Candidates with prior experience in your field may have strong opinions on GTM that may not align with the company’s vision. This could lead to a “one size fits all” approach to strategy. 
  • Bottom line: Hiring experienced candidates is likely to be more costly, as they will likely command higher salaries and equity shares. 


Pros of hiring from outside your domain: 

  • Outside the box: Candidates with experience outside of your domain can bring fresh ideas, systems, and strategies to the table. 
  • Open minded: Candidates with no previous experience in your field may be more open to guidance and willing to work collaboratively on GTM strategy. 
  • Ambition: Candidates with a “point to prove” may be driven to innovate and excel in their new role. 
  • Affiliation: Candidates who feel invested in and supported by the company’s founders may have a greater sense of belonging and commitment to the business. 
  • Value: Candidates without domain expertise may be more cost-effective, as they will likely demand lower salaries. 


Cons of hiring from outside your domain: 

  • Time draw: Hiring candidates from outside your domain will require more resources and enablement from internal teams to get them up to speed.
  • No network: Candidates without existing industry connections may take longer to develop contacts and establish themselves in the field.
  • Flight risk: There is a higher risk of attrition if a candidate decides that the product or industry is not a good fit for them. 


In conclusion, hiring key personnel for a B2B SaaS business during the early stages of growth can be a challenging but crucial task. Hiring candidates with experience in your product domain can bring valuable expertise and connections but may be more costly and resistant to change. On the other hand, hiring from outside your domain can bring fresh perspectives and cost savings, but may require more time and resources to onboard. The best approach will depend on the company’s specific needs, goals, and time constraints on the search. 


If you would like to learn more about how I help B2B SaaS companies build great Sales & Commercial teams, or how Zeren supports clients through the critical early stages of growth, please get in touch. 


Zeren exists to empower the world’s change makers. We do this by building high-performing teams in the world’s most innovative businesses, to accelerate growth by connecting visionary leaders and ambitious talent.

We are a leading global Executive Search & Recruitment firm with teams and offices in San Francisco, Houston, New York, London, Berlin and Frankfurt.

We partner with high-growth, VC/PE-backed businesses and ambitious Corporate brands placing senior leaders, building exceptional teams, or providing critical interim and consulting talent.

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