Want To Build a Startup — Then Learn To Sell First

I see this particular scene play out time and time again in the startup world. Would be founders and their teams are busy scrambling on everything from product/market fit to defining features to raising the first seed round. Top line or sales which nowadays gets classified as the glorious word “traction” takes a second seat to everything else going on. Many times the reason is that the runway still has plenty of length left to go and we can spend the next 6 months really honing in on what our product should actually be. “It has to be right or I won’t launch it!” is the mantra of the startup day. Other times, it’s going to take a backseat because nobody really wants to “own” the process — that they feel that they are above it or we’ll hire somebody to do it for us.

I’m now going to make a statement that’s going to piss a lot of people off in the startup sandbox:

Every single person in your startup organization should have clearly demonstrated the fact that they can support themselves on being able to sell.

That’s right folks — you’ve paid your bills on earning commission sales or freelanced for an extended period of time

I don’t care what role that you play in the company — -from accountant to developer to customer success — you need to have both the burning desire to make and close deals. Many people that have worked at mid to large size firms have no real conception on how to make a sale or how hard a sale can be to make. Their paycheck has been deposited in their checking account week after week. They’ve now found the burning desire to go out on their own and change the world but really have no idea of how it all works.

These are the benefits of working strictly in sales/freelancing for a period of time prior to joining a startup.

  1. Lead Qualification — You’ll quickly learn what deals to fold and what deals to hold with prospective clients and be able to ascertain which ones will close sooner or later. This will also greatly improve your time management skills. Can’t close anything — don’t eat — -really simple.
  2. Pricing Structure — You will learn being the battlefield with your direct competition how your product needs to be positioned in order to move. You will clearly be able to explain to your client what your are the best value for their problem even though you are not the cheapest. Very few firms have lasted for any length of time trying to be the cheapest provider on the street. You’ll also develop an innate ability to handle the dicey end of the business RFP’s, bids, etc by being able to do the necessary intelligence upfront to increase the percentages of closing the deal.
  3. Value Proposition — You need to learn how to think “out of the box” now in order to come up with a solution to overcome that client objection. You can’t tell the client that it will be solved in version 2.0 six moths down the road. You need to make it work now.
  4. Promotion — You will learn the quick, cheap , and dirty methods in order to get your message out whether it’s Craigslist, Google AdWords, etc. You need to avail yourself of the no cost/low cost methods that will make the phone ring. You also get a strong handle for what the CAC is going to be for your startup moving forward. Plus, it’s real live user feedback that a company can take action on.

5. Cost Control — By definition, you will relentlessly control your costs and unnecessary expenses will directly effect your paycheck. Your mind will become trained to what is the best solution for the money in all areas from payroll to office space to hardware. You will learn how to effectively negotiate these important deals to save money upfront. It’s coming out your pocket — that’s a powerful motivator.

It doesn’t matter how great your idea is or what major problem that it can solve if you can’t generate enough sales from it. Top line is the most important number out there — -don’t let anybody fool you — — it covers a multitude of sins. Your entire team needs to be laser focused on this on key metric at all times no matter what.

If your backs against the wall — you will figure out how to make it work to provide an income for yourself. That my friend, is the real essence of running a business — not endless Trello boards and wipe board sketches on insignificant revisions that aren’t going to make a difference. And trust me, that’s a skill set that every potential investor in your company will love to see.

Bottom line — learn how to sell before you go out on your own — -you can thank me later.