The sales skills startup founders need

business growth growth journey leadership learning & development sales Dec 17, 2022

In the early days of your startup, you are running the show. You are EVERYTHING including the most critical role for growth and success: sales. 

Some founders thrive in this role. They are born for sales, perhaps even came from a sales background before founding their startups. 

While others dread the thought of sales and begrudgingly handle sales efforts as a necessity to, well, stay in business!

Wherever you stand, the reality is the same: Startup founders need sales skills to grow their businesses. 

Whether you have experience in sales and welcome the opportunity to sell and promote your startup or you’d rather sit behind a screen all day, your role in the early days of your startup is the same: Sell to new customers and keep your startup on an upward trajectory. 

But what sales skills are needed to succeed?

Commit to learning, honing or improving these sales skills to become a successful, selling founder

Founders who are successful in sales and facilitate continued growth for their startups develop these important sales skills:

  • They do not try to sell a product or service. Successful, selling founders realize that they are actually selling themselves, their (and their company’s) story and a vision for both their and YOUR copmany. By doing so, customers view the founders as experts in their fields, rather than as “salespeople.” This is an important shift in the prospect/salesperson dynamic. 
  • They knew the “language” of the industry or vertical they were selling. There is a comfort level for the customer when a salesperson understands the challenges and needs of their sector.
  • They facilitated the customer through the buying process. There is so much information available now, customers need help throughout the process. They want you to hold their hand and by doing so throughout the sales process, the customer is more confident in your ability to deliver once they sign the dotted line. 
  • They were not afraid to ask for the sale. In their mind they were not selling, they were solving customer problems. Change your mindset and your customer is more likely to come along for the ride. 

Old sales stereotypes are no longer applicable

Not too long ago, successful salespeople (founders and otherwise) were largely outgoing, high-energy individuals who could make 125+ cold calls per day, recite their product features and benefits and focused solely on making money. 

The days of this type of sales are gone. Dead. See you later. 

Those early customer relationships should prove to be your longest, most successful relationships. They’ll set the mold for how you approach and what you expect from future customers. And how you treat those customers (during sales and beyond) will set the tone for how you are perceived in the market. 

That means abandoning the “close at all costs,” shady sales mentality. 

Today’s successful, selling founders need to focus on IQ, problem-solving skills and the ability to process information. 

Of course you want to grow your startup. That’s why you’re here! But it’s not your sole motivator. Customers already have access to all the features and benefits on your website—they don’t need you to recite them. They need you to be a trusted advisor instead. 

Founders that successfully sell their products and services are in fact successful because of their knowledge, their ability to absorb high levels of information and their dedication to helping customers with a product or service.

Being a successful, selling founder isn’t complicated

It really isn’t! If you’re nervous about selling for your startup, or you aren’t sure where you should be focusing your attention, here are the areas you should prioritize:

  1. Become a subject matter expert about your product, service, or solution. You must understand what challenges your customers face and how your solution solves them. This knowledge will help you sell and grow, and will also help you refine and improve your product or service. 
  2. Learn your vertical and the industry that you are targeting. If you are calling lawyers, for example, be sure that you understand their world.
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for the deal. You are not selling or asking for a donation. You are solving a problem, and the right customers will pay for that service.

Whether you’re comfortable selling or can’t wait until you can hire someone else, this blueprint will help you be successful. In an industry where change is inevitable and those who are willing to put in the necessary work will always be rewarded, taking the steps to be a winning, selling founder is not only necessary but worth it. For more on leveraging storytelling as a competitive differentiator, check out this episode of Hardwired for Growth with Jo Johnson.