Startup Founders: Start Selling Customers!

I don’t think I’m alone in my position as a technology geek type when I say that I really don’t like selling (or the general process of sales).  I’d much rather be developing a product, working on marketing or something else – sales is hard.  There are some people that really enjoy it and are really good at it, but I never thought of myself as one of those people.  When I launched my first startup, I changed my position on this– and you should too.  Don’t think of it as sales, think of it as collaborative client feedback.  If you treat it this way, not only will you enjoy it more, you’ll be better at it too, because you’re playing to your strengths.  Forget the original ABC of sales:  “Always Be Closing” mantra.  Replace it with  Always Be Collaborating.  You might actually then like it.

Regardless of how you think about it, If you’re a startup, one of the single biggest influencers of your future success is predicated on how good the founding team is at selling.  I would argue that each of the founders should be selling in some capacity.  There are several good reasons for this.

Why Every Startup Founder Should Be Selling Customers
  1. You Need The Cash:  This is so obvious as to not require elaboration.  Cash is critical.  There is no better form of “funding” for your startup than the customer’s cash.

  1. You Need The Momentum:  Though related to the above, the value of sales goes beyond just the cash (revenue) it generates.  Once the revenue starts trickling in, all sorts of magical things start to happen.  You start learning about what your marketing message should be.  You figure out what people will actually pay for (or pay more for).  You finally finish all those irritating pieces of the software (like billing/invoicing) that were just not that fun.  Trying to run a startup without revenue is like trying to run a hydro power plant without any moving water.  It’s just impossible to do.  You need the momentum!

  1. You Need The Feedback:  When people start paying you, they start expecting things.  Your ability to identify these expectations and meet them will largely define whether your offering succeeds.  (And yes ,you can get feedback from beta users, free users, friends and family, etc. – but none of it is like the demanding feedback you get from people that are giving you money).  

  1. You Need The Adrenaline:  Unless you’ve actually experienced the euphoria that comes from the first credit card billed or the first check deposited from a customer, you won’t be able to appreciate how exciting it is.  It’s a great feeling for you, your co-founders (and the team, if you have one).  It energizes.  It validates what you’ve been doing.  As a morale building event, it is very hard to match.

So, my advice is to start getting good at sales. Now.  Sales doesn’t have to be this manipulative process that you detest.  It can be a collaborative problem-solving process that benefits both parties (I learned a while back that the best salespeople actually think of sales this way).  Read “You have got to love selling” by Jack Krupansky for more thoughts on this topic.

I’ve written a couple of popular articles myself on the topic of startup selling.  Feel free to browse around the site.

Meanwhile, what are your thoughts on the importance of founders being able to sell?  Am I overplaying this?  It is enough to have founders that can just build, finance, strategize, market or do other stuff?  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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