The Do’s and Don’ts of Founder-led Sales Mina Benothman
If you caught our recent Speaker Series panel on enterprise sales, you’ll have learned that almost every early-stage devtool startup inevitably goes through a period of founder-led sales. It’s also a topic that many technical first-time founders come to us for help with. For someone with no go-to-market experience, sales, unlike marketing, is difficult to know where to start, how to improve, and when to transition.
Founder-led Sales Has Its Benefits
As a founder, you may not know anything about closing deals but what you do know is the product, and you hopefully know it better than anyone else in the org. If you’re building a product for developers, then you should already have an idea of what their pain points are and how your product can help solve their problems.
You should get comfortable with talking to your prospective customers anyway because it can help you measure your product-market fit and validate your value proposition. If anything, HashiCorp co-founder Armon Dadgar warns that bringing in sales people too early, before you know who your customer is or what your fully-baked product should be, is going to hurt your team and your business.
Companies like Slack, Dropbox, and Atlassian will try to convince you that you can build a unicorn company without sales reps but “if you build it, they will come” only drives so much adoption. Especially when you have a self-serve component that’s doing well, you might think you may never need a sales function but if you want to scale revenue, you’re going to need direct sales.
When founders do start getting in front of prospective customers, they often make the mistake of treating those sales conversations as product feedback. If you build every feature requested in the hopes of closing a deal, sure, your close rate will be high, but an overly-customized product isn’t and shouldn’t be what you’re selling.
On the other hand, if you approach sales with a “spray and pray” mentality, you’re going to be cluttering your pipeline with the wrong prospects, your close rate will be low and you’ll be wasting everyone’s time. For more on how to identify and capture the right prospects, check out the Morando Method and this post on Fishing in the Right Pond.
There’s a plethora of tips and templates already out there for sales people on setting up processes and metrics, that apply just as well to founders. In addition to familiarizing yourself with the basics, keep in mind these considerations given the size and stage of your organization:
- Persona discovery and positioning/messaging exercises are going to inform your decision making, help you sell faster, and make the transition away from founder-led sales easier, so do them first.
- If you’re a really small team, your work most likely won’t end with simply closing the deal so brush up on your onboarding and customer support/success skills.
- When you start to become a bottleneck, either in the sales process or to the rest of your team, it’s time to start transitioning away from founder-led sales.
- It’ll take you longer than you think to hire a sales person and if you get it wrong the first time, it can take you even longer. So get it right.
- For a complete guide on founder-led sales, learn more from Heavybit advisor Peter Kazanjy.