Startup Selling: 5 Sales Management Tips for the Technical Founder
Mark Suster authors “Both Sides of the Table” and is one smart dude. He’s posted a number of articles are selling for start-ups that are worth a read, but in each of his posts, I think he’s left out a few critical parts of the puzzle – how to execute on his advice.
Many start-ups (the Silicon Valley kind) are founded by engineers or product managers that have never sold a product or service. This leaves a gaping hole in the execution plan between developing a ground-breaking new product and generating market traction.
Mark advocates hiring evangelical salespeople over traditional salespeople. I agree, enthusiasm will win the day with a new product in a new market. But… As a company, you need to learn the sales and decision process for your product in your industry. As a company founder, this means playing the role of sales manager. You may not like it, but you must learn to be good at it. A couple of tips on this:
- Do a “Daily Practice” with your sales reps. Have them post a Top 3 objective list for the next day so there is a clear path to accomplishing the core items that will push your company forward.
- Weekly Sales Pipeline meetings with each rep. Trust, but verify. Keep them to 30 minutes and run through all of the active sales opportunities in reverse order of where they are in the sales process. For example, the pipeline might have 3 in Contract stage, 5 in Decision stage, 10 in Demo stage, and 25 in Initial Contact stage. Focus on the three in Contract stage first, then move to the 5 in Decision Stage. You won’t get through every opportunity in 30 minutes. The goal is to talk through what must happen next to achieve an advance in the sales process and how that prospect moved through the pipeline to that stage in the first place. This will generate enormous organizational learning.
- Attend at least one (1) sales call per day. Ideally you should be involved with more than one, but do at least one per day. This both pushes you squarely into the sales process with the customers AND shows the sales team that you’re not just some engineer that doesn’t care about sales or thinks sales is some kind of voodoo magic in which enough phone calls = sales.
- Schedule a “Sales Day” for your company. This is a day when everyone in the company pitches in on sales calls. Have your engineers shadow your sales reps for a call or two. You’ll be shocked to hear feedback from both sides. Invariably, the sales reps are incorrectly explaining how a specific part of the product works and the engineers will leave shaking their heads with a new appreciation of what it’s like being on the front line with customers selling a new product with bugs and twitches and general gnarly-ness.
- Have your reps record and then critique their call. This puts the onus of improvement on them, and people are classically harder on themselves than others would be.
(Shameless plug alert: many of these topics are covered in – “Start-up Selling – How to sell if you really, really have to and don’t know how.”)
Here are a few of Mark’s posts on selling and startups: