Being a successful founder requires an impressive set of skills.
While there are many skills integral to your success, chief among them (much to the chagrin of many founders) is selling. While learning to sell may seem to be a daunting task (especially when you already have so much on your plate), it’s an essential ingredient for sustainable growth.
Which is precisely why on February 24th, 2021, we made it the focus of our very first Growth Snack – a new series of sessions we are hosting for curious start-up founders along with support from our friends at Platform Calgary.
If you were unable to attend the event live, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s our recap highlighting the major takeaways from our first Growth Snacks event: “Why Founders Must Sell (And why outsourcing sales is tricky).”
Everything is sales…
There’s just no getting around it. As a founder, you must be able to sell. In fact, chances are you’ve already been doing more “selling” than you realize. Convincing someone to join you in your new venture as a co-founder or team member? That’s sales. Pitching to investors why your company is a good bet to invest in? Sales. Getting into a great accelerator program to gain the guidance and mentorship you need to take things to the next level? Sales again. Even convincing your partner that being an entrepreneur isn’t a crazy career can be an act of selling too.
In short, many of the things you’ll need to be able to do well as a member of the founding team require you to be strong at influencing and persuading others – a.k.a. “sales”.
Sales can be a fast way to learn …
Sales is also an excellent vehicle for fast-tracking your learning.
Every time you pick up a phone and talk to prospects and customers, you will likely learn something new:
- Hear what’s going on in the market. Good selling is often about good converations. So when you’re selling, you’re likely having some great conversations, chatting about what’s on their mind, what is getting their focus right now, maybe even what your competitors are up to.
- Get real-time feedback. When you ask the right questions, you can get some great answers. Sales conversations help you learn how your product meets their needs, where the gaps are, and how it stacks up to others. You can “see” (on Zoom!) how they react to product demo, or your pricing.
- Learn their language. A key challenge for both sales and marketing is getting the lingo right. Great sales conversations give you the opportunity to listen, and really “hear” the words they use to describe their problem, how they see the value, where they see your product fitting in as a solution – all great intel you can use to develop better messaging, sales tools and marketing campaigns.
And so much more! So whether you’re doing customer discovery, trying to learn more about where the opportunity lies, or you’re in market and trying to land some customers, sales gives you an unparalled opportunity to quickly learn.
But, can’t we find someone else to do it?
You may be thinking to yourself, “that’s all well and good, but I’m just not a sales person….can’t I hire someone else to take sales off my plate?”
The short answer is “probably not” – and there are some very real downsides to outsourcing your sales.
First and foremost, by outsourcing your sales, you are outsourcing your learning. We highlighted above how sales can be a great way to rapidly learn. And if you’re an early-stage company, chances are you haven’t figured everything out yet. You might still be nailing your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), your value prop or what has to be included in your MVP (minimum viable product). To de-risk your venture, and keep things “lean”, you need to figure things out ASAP. Sure, you can hiring a sales person to go out there on the frontlines to do the selling for you – but that won’t be fast. And they might be missing what we call “situational fluency” – that knowledge about the market, the problem you solve, and your product vision that you’ve gleaned since long before you even started your venture. As a result, “outsourcing” your learning might be slower than you expect.
Plus, it’s not cheap. Hiring an outside company to do your selling for you can be costly. (As in, really costly.) There can be high upfront costs to get them onboarded, and they rarely offer outcomes-based pricing – where you pay when you’re successful. Often, outsourced sales firms want to get paid for booking demos and appointments – which is great. But only if those demos and appointments are with your ICPs – otherwise there’s lots of activity but precious few outcomes.
And last, to be a sustainable company (and be able to attract investment), you must have control and ownership of your “growth engine”. Investors want to know that you have capacity and expertise to drive revenue growth. If that capacity only exists outside your organization, you may be far less appealing to outside investors.
So what’s a founder to do?
Okay, we know now that sales is a foundational skill for founders and that outsourcing sales is tricky.
Start by resetting your expectations.
Selling is a skill not a personality trait. Few of us are born to be great at sales. Like many things, we need to learn how to do it, hone our skills through consistent practice and get outside coaching and support if we need it.
Put first things first.
In the early days, your main focus should be getting to Customer #1. Too often entrepreneurs are consumed with building a fully-featured product, assembling a team, building a full website… before they fully understand if there’s an opportunity worth chasing.
Next, dig in.
Have you heard about “the 50/50 traction rule” – namely, that founders should spend 50% of their time building an awesome product, but the other 50% of their time figuring out how to get that awesome product in the hands of (hopefully paying) customers.
We consistently see founders just not investing (yes, “investing”) enough time on sales – figuring out the best sales approach for their product and markets, testing what works and what doesn’t, then ramping up with a proven recipe.
The more you sell, the better you’ll get at it. But you’ve got to dig in and invest enough of your time to get results.
Hungry for More?
Our next Growth Snack is on March 25th .
This time around, we’ll talk about “ICPs” – what they are, how they are different from “personas” and why you (probably) need to get more focused.