Very often, companies will decide on local hires on an ad hoc basis. They might employ the sales person that visited their booth at the last European Trade Show, or they follow some links that are given by current employees or former co-students etc.
In fact, hiring the first person in the US is a KEY STRATEGIC decision, which is also strongly related to the geographic location of the first office.
Usually, that first person will be responsible for Business Development (finding and closing the first reference accounts) or for sales in general. For these functions, it is almost NEVER the right choice to send someone from the European Headquarters, even if he/she has all the experience in the world with the product. If the company wants to have a European in the US to "mind the business", they should be President of the local corporation, or General Manager, but not responsible directly for either sales or marketing.
This being said, US sales executives are VERY good at selling themselves. Even the duds have been to countless seminars and training sessions to hone their resume writing and interviewing skills. The chances are high that the European company will end up with a third rate person, working at a first rate salary.
The next question is: Why would a first rate US sales or marketing executive join a completely unknown European outfit? If they do have appetite for risk, there are countless US startups that are clamoring for their talents…why compound that start-up risk by working with a company that is 3500 miles away and that clearly has no clue on how to sell successfully in the US?
By working through recruiters, by having US based investors, or Board members or other advisors, the company can start to mitigate these additional perceived risks and bring on board the right talent.