Mastering Founder-Sales: 10 Lessons from 150+ Early-Stage Start-Ups

Let’s start with a definition. What is “founder-sales?” 

Founder-sales happens when the founder is the one responsible for selling his/her products to prospects, and heading the GTM motion for the company. 

Why is founder-sales important?

By default, founders are always selling:

  • Selling to investors on why they should provide them with capital. 
  • Selling their journey to the press. 
  • Selling their early hires on why they should join them. 
  • Selling to their first customers. 

By speaking to an audience, the founder is able to accomplish two different things: building the company’s brand and becoming a “CSO,” aka a Chief Storytelling Officer. A master storyteller that through their words is able to connect with the audience on a deep emotional level.

Related: Founders: Before You Hire a Sales Team, Consider These Options

Having been a founder myself and also having worked with more than 150 early-stage technical founders, I want to share with you the five things to master and the five things to avoid when starting to sell. 

The 5 sales essentials early-stage tech founders need to master

1. Hone your elevator pitch

The fastest way to win an audience is by having a clear, concise, value-packed elevator pitch outlining the problem and the solution. 

The idea here is that no matter the level of industry expertise, anyone who hears this will get a basic understanding of what you do. This will allow you to weed out people that are interested as they will want to learn more, from the ones that are not.

2. Keep doing outreach

Consistently doing outreach will save you from time and resources wasted when it comes to selling. Here you will learn who your ICP is, you will get clear on their pain points, and that will allow you to refine your messaging, which will lead to more qualified conversations.

Read: Step By Step Guide to Creating Your Ideal Customer Profile 

3. Create a playbook, and iterate

Your sales playbook does not need to be perfect; even a bad process is better than no process. You need to create a method for yourself that will allow you to move prospects down the sales funnel. Doing this over and over will allow you to intuitively understand what is working.

4. Following up

You need to always know what next steps are after every interaction, and you need to be communicating those to your prospects. 

This will allow you to stay in control, show up as a guide, and move the conversation forward. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Read: Sales Follow Up Email Templates (⭐Sales Hacker Top 50 article ⭐)

5. Build a consistent brand

A brand is a consistent experience that customers have when they interact with you. As the founder you are the ideal chief storytelling officer, sharing stories that allow you to connect with your audience in a deep emotional way.

The 5 most common mistakes for founders to avoid:

1. The “If I build it, they will come” mindset

There is an idea that all founders need to do is build a perfect MVP and that selling will take care of itself. That could not be further away from the truth. 

Start-ups primarily fail because of lack of product-market fit and running out of cash. Actively selling helps you avoid both.

Read: The Foolproof Formula for Finding Product-Market Fit 

2. Not documenting and building processes

The instinct of an early founder is to figure things out on the way. Do that, but document the steps you take. That will allow you to understand what is working vs what is not, and iterate along the way.

3. Not charging your customers

If your sales process includes going through a pilot, make sure you are charging for that. It’s not about the money. Chances of your prospects engaging and giving you valuable feedback increase exponentially if they have skin in the game.

4. Hiring too soon

This goes back to finding product-market fit and not running out of cash. 

Related: Using Sales Conversations to Find Product-Market-Fit

If you are not sure whether you have something the market wants, you should not be hiring talent to help you figure that out. Sellers do not have the knowledge, nor are they compensated enough to take that on. You, the founder, need to roll up your sleeves and figure that out. After you have a basic process in place, bring in a team to help you expand.

5. Waiting for your product to be perfect

Do not wait for the perfect MVP with all the features ready to go out and test the market. 

A clunky product is all you need to test the appetite for your product and how you compare to your competitors. Building and testing is the recipe for success. 

Remember, no one at this stage knows the product as well as you do or is as passionate about your mission as you are. Do not let fear hold you back! The only way to fail is by not trying. 

Are you an early-stage founder? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Edited by Kendra Fortmeyer @ Sales Hacker 2022

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