It sounds impressive to tell your colleagues: “my sales team is focused on growing this target market.” Wow. Your startup, or your established company, must be “there” if you have hired a sales team to take your business to the next level. You want people to perceive you, and your company, as being successful and poised for growth.
You hope they don’t guess at what’s really the root cause of hiring your sales team: you, as the CEO, are uncomfortable selling.
You are not alone. There are quite a few CEOs of technical startups, and established companies in the process of retooling and recalibrating, who don’t feel comfortable selling to early adopters, let alone to the mass market. However, if you do not assume this responsibility for your organization, you will never move your revenue stream up the slippery slope, across Geoffrey Moore’s chasm, into the stability offered by having a large customer base of mainstream customers. You won’t even get to hire a sales team.
There’s no way to get “there” from “here” unless you take the helm of the sales initiative yourself, and be positioned to re-assume that seminal position from time to time after your sales force gains marketplace traction. You are your own sales team.
Folks with technical backgrounds, such as engineers and IT professionals, have neither been taught nor asked to sell during their education or once in the job market. They, too, want a sales team to sell for them. Yet revenue generation is part of everyone’s job function whether stated or not, especially in the post-2008 global economy. If you build it, you sell it, long after your company is off and running and you have more strategic responsibilities.
If you are not hands-on, and involved selling to early customers and adopters, you may not hear the voice of the customer and experience the context of customer discovery decision-making. You may not anticipate why early triers are hesitant to try. You may assume that your existing customer base will be a “given” as you roll out your new product line. You may think that everyone who signs up for your “freebie” platform or service will convert once there is a price tag associated with it. Your newly hired sales team doesn’t know about customer discovery as the platform for product development.
If you are not hands-on in selling to early customers and adopters, you may not be listening to conversations which assist you in creating and articulating relevant value propositions resulting in won contracts. If you are not embedded in all aspects of early sales initiatives, you may not be able to communicate to your VP of Sales the true value that your venture or new capability brings to customers’ business tables.
Your discomfort in taking responsibility for selling leads you to indiscriminate practices when hiring your first VP of Sales. You hire family members, sales rock stars you heard about from an investor who are used to earning high commissions with legacy companies. You take other people’s word for it rather than participating hands-on in the recruiting and hiring process. Since you haven’t experienced the sales process first-hand, you aren’t familiar with the types of questions you should be asking that process.
Selling, and all aspects of the activities which drive revenue through your company, are firmly your responsibility, not a sales team function. Selling is not a hot-potato which you hand-off to someone else. There is no one else, other than you, who is as intimately familiar with the technicalities, complexities, and value of your startup, or your service firm’s new capability, than you are.
Today’s globally competitive economy calls for CEOs who are on-call to deliver and reinforce the value of their offering. The Figurehead-Delegator CEO has been retired.
If you are not comfortable selling, what are the next steps you need to take to address the situation?
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools.