This post is about sales for founders—how this core function should be perceived and lived by the founder of any company. I’ll offer practical tips and tricks extracted from interviewing more than 600 funders of tech companies. In the Sales Mindset for Founders blog post I shared a few mental models for you to keep in mind. Here I’ll explain why you should be the first sales rep in your organization.
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Through our practice we’ve interviewed more than 600 tech founders and here’s what we found out. Founders fall in two groups in relation to their attitude towards sales. Group one is actively involved in the sales and business development processеs: they attend conferences and events; they might even personally handle the most critical accounts acting as account managers. Group two comprises people with the technical brilliance to start a product, and then rely fully on someone else to make the selling for them.
What many of the founders in both groups share is the we’re going to build it and they’re going to come mentality.
We also found out that oftentimes product development continues to be driven by the founder’s gut feeling long after this feeling has been acquired and needs to be revisited and backed up with research. This happens with founders coming from other companies with a knowledge about the market which guides them initially, when they start building the product. But relying on gut feeling vs. testing the market and collecting feedback from its potential users can pose problems for their companies.
How do we approach these challenges?
Your “Why” is at the core of everything you do
Having identified your “Why” is at the core of everything you’re going to do, especially your sales pitch. It will help you to articulate what you are selling.
It’s also important to understand that sales are about abundance; about a win-win situation. If you have built something that solves a real problem, then your product creates abundance by increasing the wealth of your client and yours too.
Be the first to sell in your company
We recommend to founders that they close 5 to 10 deals by themselves. Going through this process will help to deeply understand the needs, problems and fears of the users who will pay for their product.
No matter if they are referral leads, you met them randomly at a conference, or you just found them on LinkedIn, and you dropped them a message. The goal is to understand who your customer is, what is her pain and how your product solves it.
From there onwards speaking with your clients at least twice a year to uncover – why they chose you, why are they still working with you, what was the pain they thought your solution would solve versus what’s the pain that it is solving. The next step, of course, would be to learn how to hire, lead, and manage a sales team. Generally, it all happens through the first hire, who could potentially take the role of a Sales Manager in the future.
Often your company will grow faster than your ability to transfer the knowledge you have accumulated as a founder and first salesperson to your employees. That is unless you have clear sales processes in place before you start hiring. Know your processes inside out before you start hiring, so you can manage and scale them.
A real case example
A client of ours is selling since he started his company. He’s covering the US market selling to various types of companies including the government. He’s been salesman number one in the company from the very start. This allowed him to learn what his clients needed and being able to respond to their needs was the core factor that helped him scale his sales process. Afterward, of course, he hired sales representatives, and he managed to scale his whole organization.
A fun fact: he made his first sale before his company had a product, which helped them adjust their offering to the real users’ needs.
Steps to follow
If you are a startup founder
- Have at least five call with existing clients this month
- Reach out to 10 people that you’ve selected through LinkedIn
If you’re a manager in an established company
- Have at least five calls with existing clients this month together with your sales reps
And while working on these steps read this blog post on how to build your sales process.