There’s been a lot of online chatter lately about how to create your first sales team for your startup, including feasible compensation strategies. I hope you haven’t put off having your first selling conversations until you secure funding to hire your first VP of Sales.
If so, you are already behind the 8-ball.
Your first selling conversations start with customer discovery, and encompass those pitches to investors as well.
If you are the CEO, you sell. If you are building it, you are responsible for selling it.
The problems start when the CEOs of startups (and some mature service companies) put the sales function back into the same status quo silo in which it has always existed. Selling – especially those valuable first selling conversations – are felt to be someone else’s responsibility. You didn’t go to engineering or architecture school to sell. You went to school to create and to “do.”
So you leave the most critical transactional, and translational, aspect of your venture up to Them: those sales types.
There are Sales Types and there are Sales Types. The problem continues when you leave the selection of those sales types up to the investors of your early stage startup. Investors and advisors just may bring in the folks who sell like it’s 1990 to get those periodic spikes in sales when it’s time to apply for another round of funding. They just may bring in the sales trainers who have their tried-and-true one-size-fits-all used by millions canned spiel. Do you want to leave those first selling conversations in their hands?
They may over-structure your organization long before you really need a sales force.
Startups are not miniature versions of large companies. Why make your startup vulnerable by refusing to take the helm as the first Chief Business Development officer? If the buck stops with you, then get down to work generating the buck. It starts by being in control of those first selling conversations.
Take the time to learn how to articulate – in words everyone seated around the business table can understand – the value that your product, service or platform brings to investors and early adopters. If you can’t articulate this value proposition to your early stage partners, how are you (or investors) going to be able to articulate it to the first VP of Sales? That, perhaps, is one of your most crucial first selling conversations.
If the first VP of Sales is unable to meet your strategic, but poorly stated, financial expectations, you may be out $200,000 and one VP of Sales within 12 months. You may become a lot wiser as well, but why learn in this manner?
It’s exciting to set up a sales force for your startup. It’s thrilling to gain a funding round and hire staff and create the look and feel of an established and thriving company. Go-to-market, launch time may project your startup into a trajectory where quotas cannot be met because target markets are insufficiently defined.
Yes, there may be millions of folks out there who could use your product, service, or platform. No, these people aren’t buying when you ask them to.
How many customers did you, Ms. CEO, speak to before you decided to throw your sales force at the problem of revenue generation? Did you avoid those all-important first selling conversations? Were you waiting for your sales force to tell you that your venture doesn’t quite fit into the marketplace? That is not the way to gather customer discovery feedback. That’s customer service and market research, not selling. You may be too far down the product development road at that point to make those critical pivots that would have allowed your product, service or platform to become a viable and preferred choice for customers.
Your first selling conversations start with you. Have these early on, and often. Those startups that thrive and lead the field are the startups where the CEO isn’t too far away from the customer interface.
Make the decision to become that type of CEO-Leader.
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo back into small and mid-sized businesses, particularly in the manufacturing sector. She builds vibrant revenue-producing business strategies for technical start-ups seeking investors and early customers.