Joe Johnson, Ph.D.
Entrepreneur. Investor. Startup Expert.

When choosing your startup team, you need to be selective. These people will be largely responsible for the future of your business. They’ll be contributing ideas, supporting your endeavors, and helping to carve a niche for your product or service in the marketplace. Often, when choosing team members, sales and marketing professionals are overlooked. This omission can have seriously detrimental effects on a company, over both the short and long terms.

Whom Do You Need on Your Startup Team?

When a company is just beginning, it’s common for founders and co-founders to do most the work themselves. This makes perfect sense when hiring funds aren’t available. At some point, however, it’ll become necessary to hire experts in particular fields to ensure that your startup has professional coverage of all essential tasks. Some founders realize early on that they need to bring someone onboard with a specific skill set. In fact, they may solicit prospective co-founders with exactly that in mind, so as to ensure that they have the expert knowledge in-house to be optimally competitive in the industry. Doing so can help to increase a particular project’s likelihood of success, so long as the co-founders have complementary personalities and areas of expertise.

The simplest means of determining the necessary components of your startup team is to identify the activities which must be completed in order to be successful. These activities should be clear from your business plan or business model canvas. The latter makes it exceedingly simple to identify those different activities – it’s one of the boxes!

When mulling those necessary activities, consider your value proposition and business idea. If you’re introducing a fitness wearable, for example, that’s accompanied by an app, you’ll require both engineers and programmers, as well as designers. Some of those individuals may be key partners in helping bring your wearable to market. They may be freelancers or a company from which you purchase chips. Crucial activities – those that set your product apart in the marketplace – should probably be kept in-house. In the case of the fitness wearable, the programmers and web developers, as well as the actual designer of the wearable are essential team members to have onboard. They’re the ones who will help you continue the innovation necessary to maintain market share and grow your business.

Another way of determining whom you should have on board is to consider the roles of those already on your team. An ideal team should have someone who understands the problem you’re trying to solve and the factors behind it, someone who can build the solution to that problem, and someone who can reach out to those affected by the problem and engage them.

Knowing when to add team members can be tricky. Some team members will join without payment for a stake in the company. Others will want a paycheck. Having someone on your team with startup experience – or consulting with someone who has worked with a startup – can provide you with valuable insight. Often, investors prefer to seek out startup teams with experience in the industry and with running a new company. If no one on your team has this sort of background, it’s wise to have a board member or a trusted advisor who does. That individual can help you to decide when the time is right to grow the team.

Where Do Sales and Marketing Fit In?

There’s a reason that “sales and marketing” are so often considered as one phrase. While both components are important individually, they work best when incorporated into a jointly functioning model.

Sales is necessary for determining a product’s potential viability and profitability. Marketing is how those sales are made. Having a marketing strategy is essential both for identifying your target market and for devising the appropriate channels in which to pitch your product.

Whether you’re pitching investors or running a lean test, some sort of marketing plan must be in place. Marketing isn’t just advertising – it also encompasses industry and audience research, both of which are necessary to be competitive in the marketplace. Neglecting marketing is not only a rookie mistake, but a big red flag to investors saying that you don’t know how to sell your product. Regardless of how innovative your product may be or how many worldly ills it might solve, if you can’t make a sale, it won’t matter.

Does a marketer need to be the first person you hire? Not necessarily, but throughout the development phase, you should consult with someone knowledgeable about the industry who can provide target audience information to help you measure the effectiveness and market-readiness of your product and message.

How you “package” a product in terms of messaging can make or-break its future performance. Focusing solely on features and expecting potential customers to connect the dots is a recipe for disaster. A thorough understanding both of your product’s unique value proposition and of how its benefits will affect your target audience is required in order to craft a message that’ll create desire and compel people to learn more and eventually make the purchase. How can this be accomplished without having someone focused on marketing? It can’t.

In addition to your marketing department, you may require a dedicated sales team. In the beginning, you and your co-founders may comprise the entire sales team and that’s fine. You are, after all, the ones with the most in-depth knowledge of your product or service. However, to ensure that you’re speaking with the right people and effectively highlighting the appropriate benefits, collaboration with a marketing specialist is necessary. This is even useful for small-scale tests to help initially determine your offering’s viability.

To answer the titular question regarding the relative importance of sales and marketing to a new startup, they’re vital. Input from the sales and marketing team (or person, as very often you start with just one individual) can help to guide innovation and ensure that the product you make or service you offer is one that people want.

Startups have a lot of work ahead of them. Most co-founders put in long hours before a single dollar is made. At the same time, however, the notion of selling and profitability must be considered throughout the process. If you aren’t sure how you’re going to make money from your product, there’s a problem. Don’t find out too late that nobody is willing to shell out cash for your product or service. Ensure that you and your team are consistently testing the marketing and getting real customer feedback to learn about customer needs and to help your team determine the best way to meet those needs.

When money’s tight, marketing often gets cut. This is counterintuitive. It’s possible to run a lean ship and still maintain healthy marketing activity – and doing so is absolutely vital to profitability. Whether your startup is brand-new and the sales and marketing concept has yet to be broached or you already have a prototype completed, make sure that you’re consulting with a skilled marketer in your industry or have one onboard in order to maximize your likelihood of success.

About the Author

Dr. Joe Johnson is an entrepreneur, investor, and startup expert. He is the founder and principal of GoodField Investments and the GoodField Foundation (

Joe has a PhD in Entrepreneurial Leadership and an MBA. He is the author of the upcoming book on The Science of Why Most Entrepreneurs Fail and Some Succeed.

Most importantly, he is the incredibly blessed husband of one amazing wife and father of six wonderful children, and resides in Bradenton, Florida. For more information on Dr. Johnson and his work, go to