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Founder-led sales

Why founder-led sales is fundamental to your startup’s success

Bogdan Iordache 04 Jun 2024 | 4 min. read

Sales are scary for tech founders – or at least, not the most natural thing to do for somebody who’s trained to build technology, not rapport with other fellow humans. 

Technology is black and white, logical, and deterministic. People are the opposite, and that’s not comforting. 

However, learning to do sales has proven to be much easier than learning to build technology. Technical founders have proven to be much more successful than their business peers, discovering paths and rules for building the sales muscle.

But why master it? Why not just outsource it? Hire a sales expert? Why is it more efficient to learn something rather than get the “expert help” from the outside? 

I have come to believe that doing sales as a founder is of utmost importance – it’s almost impossible to make a startup succeed if you’re not a core part of the sales process, and ideally, lead it. 

That is because founder-led sales are not only about sales but a mix of sales and customer discovery. 

Sales means direct, unfiltered contact with your customer. Being part of the sales process helps you understand why and how the customer uses your product, what gets him excited, why he is holding back, his decision process, budget constraints, alternatives he’s considering, and much more. 

In the process of figuring out how to convince the customer, you get to try out different product positionings, differentiators, and pricing strategies. This helps you better define and prioritize your roadmap, and accelerates your path to reaching the mythical “product-market fit”. 

Without direct customer feedback, your thinking and strategy are not grounded in reality. 

Founder-led sales are the way. 

This primarily applies to B2B startups, but B2C startups should double their analytical product understanding with interviews of leads and customers, to double their quantitative perspective with a qualitative one. 

As an engineer turned founder and later investor, I have been part of this process quite a few times. 

If you’re wondering how to make this work, here are a few lessons and recommendations I hope can help you push forward and make sales your next weapon: 

1) Lead the sales process – this allows you to stir your company in the right direction based on sales feedback. 

And if you don’t, for good reasons, you still need to be an integral part of the process. Join all the calls with qualified customers, pitch the product, and hear their unfiltered feedback. 

If you are not a core part of this process, can you truly be a good founder?

2) Sales is a process – define it and prepare it thorougly. 

The structure of a sales process is almost always the same. You define an ideal customer profile, your product value, and a multi-step process to convince your ideal customer of your product value. 

These steps include lead generation, qualification, discovery etc. Yes, the criteria for qualification will be different from one business to the other, but the process is vastly the same. 

However, structure is critical. You cannot learn or improve it if there’s no structure to improve it.

3) Don’t jump to conclusions – customer circumstances are complex, and to draw the right conclusions, you need to talk with multiple potential customers.  

For each customer profile, or value proposition you are pitching, set yourself a target of discussing with a minimum of 5, ideally 10, potential customers. 

If you are testing multiple value propositions, you will probably try to sell your product to tens of customers before reaching a meaningful conclusion, updating your plans, and starting again. 

4) Sale and learn with intent – focus on your plan and iterate on your terms  

To learn and improve what you’re doing, you need to test the same value hypothesis with the same ICP, record the results, and draw conclusions. 

Sometimes it may be even more complex – you may run in parallel multiple sales and discovery processes, each with its pair of ICP and product value. 

If you’re zigzagging and engaging with random customers, you might end up wasting precious time with no clear conclusion. Yes, responding to customers who have shown interest but are not on your list makes sense – but include them in your process, so you learn on your terms. 

Be intentional, and you will identify patterns more effectively.

5) If you need help – get support for sales tactics, not customer discovery. 

If you have never done sales, working with an experienced sales leader to define the process, the ICP(s), sales materials, etc. will help tremendously. 

But don’t delegate sales entirely. 

You need the experience of discussing directly with your customer and aligning their problems with your vision of the solution. Sales leaders, while they understand how to run the sales process, cannot run the discovery process. That is your unique contribution, as a founder, to your startup. 

And what about that super-experienced sales leader who wants to “open his Rolodex” for the first sales? Maybe he’ll convince a few friends to buy your product, but apart from some money, you’ll learn nothing and will not be able to replicate those sales. 

Founder-led sales is equally about doing sales, and about finding through sales the best place in the market for your product. 

Don’t waste this opportunity. 

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