Helping founders master sales, with Evisort CEO Jerry Ting

Chase Roberts
Vertex Ventures US
Published in
8 min readJun 10, 2024

Build it, and they will come — but only if you build a capable sales engine. Jerry Ting is co-founder and CEO of Evisort, a company he has scaled from zero to tens of millions of revenue. It’s easy to make unforced errors in the early days of selling, so Jerry and I discussed lessons for early-stage founders. You can watch the full interview here:

Jerry contrasts an “us” vs. “customer” mentality. If you only take away one thing from this post, remember that it’s not about you; it’s about the customer. Run your sales process with curiosity and hire salespeople who care deeply about solving their customers’ problems rather than showing off your amazing product. Lastly, avoid happy ears — a deal isn’t closed until it is.

Founder selling in the early days

It’s common for founders to become a startup’s first salesperson. Yet, I rarely see founders with previous sales experience. That’s okay! There is plenty of prior art, including the ideas below. Go-to-market (GTM) design requires systematic thinking, which is the default mode for many technical founders.

Founder selling is called doing your job. The #1 thing I can do is increase the business’s top line within the right margin profile for profitability because that funds the rest of the business. -Jerry Ting

Good founder selling starts with listening. Instead of pitching a bag of features, listen to what problems prospective buyers are trying to solve. Then, match your bag of features to those problems in a way that creates value for these potential customers. Founders tend to be so passionate about what they’re building that they default to “Look what I have” instead of “What are you trying to solve for?” Discovery is critical. It’s okay to start with a brief explanation of your product to set the context, but spend more time revealing the pain. If this is a big problem, why haven’t you solved it yet? Have you evaluated solutions previously? Why didn’t these options meet your needs?

A common mistake founders make in the early days is not taking the time to understand where the power actually lies at the customer, beyond the relatively superficial organizational chart. Identify the key stakeholders: the budget holder, executive decision maker, technical gatekeeper, and influencer/champion. Identifying these folks and their perspectives reveals if you have “happy ears” or if your prospective customer is actually engaged in a buying motion. To find the key stakeholders, state the business case — the business pain they’re desperate to solve and your product’s value proposition — back to your contacts and ask who else cares about solving these problems.

You should also reveal customers’ buying processes. Simply asking, “How do we on the same side of the table get funding for this?” can reveal the steps involved in adopting new products. You might discover that a divisional CFO who only meets once per quarter must review a business case with specific elements. Without explicitly revealing your customer’s buying process and evaluation criteria, you’ll risk indefinite delay.

One of Jerry’s early sales mentors said to him:

If there is no friction, there is no deal.

If everything is easy, you haven’t sold hard enough

If you’re not running into significant friction, it suggests you haven’t had hard conversations about change management, TCO, and build vs. buy. It’s possible that you haven’t revealed the dissenter or the person who doesn’t want you to succeed. These kinds of people are common! Sometimes, new software tools eliminate the need for existing functions or require organizations to adopt new processes that require internal training. On a positive note, an easy sales process might suggest you’re undercharging: You must find the Goldilocks zone that maximizes your value capture relative to the value you’re creating for your buyer without that buyer questioning whether this value trade is reasonable.

Finding sales repeatability

Don’t count on a newly hired sales leader to figure out the repeatable sales playbook. You, as a founder, have the maximum context: why this product exists, what makes it exceptional, competitive positioning, industry trends, knowledge of the underlying technology, product roadmap sequencing, and so forth. For founders without sales experience, partner with someone with this experience to learn the prior art — and, no, you shouldn’t reinvent well-understood sales tactics. This person can inform the structure of a world-class sales motion and collaborate with the founder to fill in the blanks.

As founders, aim to create systems. Map what’s in your head to the steps to closing a deal: What are the top 5 discovery questions? How should we do POCs in a way that validates the success criteria? For our first 10 deals, how did you negotiate and close the contract? Aim to make it as consistent and systems-based as possible. This gives you a chance to replicate the systems with someone else. Yes, it will be bumpy, and you’ll want to intercede, knowing you could do it better. Allow your salespeople to make mistakes; learning to jump in at the right time is an executive skill. The CEO’s goal should be to get out of every deal.

Sales hiring

Hire account executives (AEs) with experience selling in small companies who’ve had to manufacture their own demand. These AEs should source opportunities and work with you — as the CEO turned sales engineer — to create a repeatable sales motion. Jerry referenced advice from one of his early angel investors: your first AEs earn their W2 by closing deals and their equity by building the repeatable sales motion.

Start with frontline “player coaches” before hiring sales leadership. The latter will be more focused on implementing Salesforce, building dashboards, doing one-on-ones with their reps, designing systems, or whatever — when you actually need someone closing deals. Ideally, this is someone who can replace the CEO in every single deal. One metric to track is the number of meetings the sales leader took that week. If they’re looking at dashboards and thinking about RevOps, they are potentially better suited for the next company stage.

There are three things you should grade the sales leader on. First is sales attainment (duh). The second is how well they forecast. As CEO, you’re the chief resource allocator, which depends on knowing precisely how much revenue you expect to earn. Bad forecasts ruin resource allocation. The risk is that your player-coach turned sales manager has “happy ears,” believing a deal is there when it’s not. A sales manager should be skeptical by assuming a deal doesn’t exist until it’s signed:

  • Does the customer prospect have the right people involved?
  • Have they actually unlocked the budget?
  • Is the business pain real enough that they feel compelled to buy?
  • Have we done discovery correctly?

The AE job is hard. They must be optimistic since they’re constantly being told “no” and pushing through walls to get a deal done. The manager should bring the AE down to earth.

The third thing to grade a sales manager on is what they bring to the table regarding recruiting. This person must be a talent magnet whom people follow. Even if you don’t plan to hire immediately, you must believe this person has a bench of people who’ll follow them wherever they go. A good question during hiring is, “Who would follow you if you got this job?” They should have a list of names that immediately come to mind.

Speaking of hiring, hire your next salesperson when you have more pipeline coverage than the existing reps have the ability to manage comfortably. This allows you to transition one or two deals to the new AE so they can practice executing your sales process and get a win they’re proud of in the first few months. Successful AEs are motivated AEs, and you need your reps to remain motivated in the early days.

Once you’ve hired this person, don’t rely on closed revenue to drive your internal sales meetings. Instead, focus on the pipeline. Closed-won revenue is a lagging metric at the end of a funnel, and pipeline signals future revenue. Jerry recommends two other metrics: meetings per week and, of those meetings, the number that graduate into the next stage. Understanding conversion rates at stages ties back to being the chief resource allocator. If 50% of qualified opportunities consistently reach the evaluation stage, and 50% of those convert to a win, $1M of open pipeline should translate to $250k in expected revenue ($1M * 50% * 50% = $250k).

Hiring the first marketer

There are three marketing disciplines, and marketers are seldom good at all three:

  1. Demand Generation — Generates pipeline for your sales team.
  2. Product Marketing — Identifies the product positioning.
  3. Corporate Marketing — Leads branding, content development, public relations, and communications.

The wrong first marketing hire would be someone focused on branding and thought leadership. It depends on the company whether you should instead hire someone dedicated to demand generation for product marketing. If you’re building a product in a well-understood category, where the vocabulary for positioning solutions to problems in that category is well-understood, you probably don’t need a product marketer as the initial hire. Ideally, the CEO and founding team understand the customers’ problems deeply enough that the product marketing language can come from them. Prioritize the demand-generation hire who can produce more opportunities for your sales team. Remember that cycle time is a special power of startups that typically isn’t available to larger incumbents. You need multiple attempts with customers to run these cycles and learn faster than your competitors.

That said, don’t underweight product marketing. You must identify the language that catalyzes prospects to engage. Prospective buyers will dedicate seconds to reading your website, outbound emails, blog posts, etc., and then make a quick judgment to stick around. Each word or idea should motivate them to engage further. Find the language that frames the problem your product solves in words familiar to them. This is different than describing how a product works. Yes, this is important, but it’s not the reason to engage. Prospective buyers want to solve problems — not acquire a cool set of features. Jerry contrasts an “us” vs. “customer” mentality. It’s not about you; it’s about the customer.

Sales demos

It’s okay to deliver a demo early in the sales process, but treat it like an appetizer. An early demo ensures you and your customers are talking about the same problem-solution set. Depending on how well-understood the category is, the appetizer demo may not be necessary. Treat the “entree” demo as confirmatory. The full production demo should center around the customer’s problems with features shown in their context, which can only occur after thorough discovery.

Source: Midjourney