As a startup founder, you’re likely the most valuable salesperson in your organization. Whatever way you divide the roles within your core group of employees, the difference between startups that succeed and fail is often the presence of a founder who can quickly acquire and retain a core base of customers.
You know your value proposition and the customer pain your product solves. You’re also more passionate about your product than anyone else. In a sales capacity, you’ll have the opportunity to be on the front lines, listening to the enthusiasm and objections of prospects. That experience will be invaluable in perfecting your product-market fit and learning to scale both yourself and your business.
Drawing from my own experience, here are some tactics I’ve used to refine my sales pitch to win more early stage deals.
1. Focus on the customer, not the pitch. When funding hinges, at least partially, on an effective pitch and presentation, founders can get stuck on auto-pilot, pitching when they need to be listening.
When you’re talking to customers, don’t pretend you’re on Shark Tank. The part of your pitch that is going to win you customers is not the shiny patent-pending technology and industry trends that excite investors. Let customers do most of the talking, listen carefully to their pain points and focus your responses on how your product will help them.
Once you have buy-in, stop selling. Don’t try to dazzle prospects with big plans for your product roadmap or features you think are great. They may never use them, anyway. Sell them what you have, that they want. You’ll have plenty of opportunities later to show them all the other great things you’re doing.
2. Schedule regular calls with early stage customers. One of the biggest mistakes founders make is not listening to the customers they already have. The best way to find out how to sell to your next wave of prospects is to talk to current customers.
During the first few weeks, find out which features of your offering excite them most. Have them recap the reasons they chose you in the first place. You can then use those reasons to win new customers.
Of course, you are likely to also hear complaints. That helps you take your product from something you thought would be a good fit with your customers, to something that actually is. That will help you get a true product-market fit much faster.
There’s another benefit you’ll derive from speaking with your customers. If you make those customers happy, you’ll get something even more valuable than their ideas - customer advocates. Some will even offer to become references that help you get more customers.
3. Listen to recordings of sales calls. Recording your own sales conversations is the best way to really hone in on what is, and isn’t, working. I often record sales calls for later analysis. Sometimes, I send the recordings to my sales team so they can learn from, and critique, my sales process.
Start by listening to a handful of sales conversations that went well. Find similarities in pitches that led to closed business. Did asking certain questions engage prospects? How did you successfully handle sales objections? Did you answer questions directly and fully?
Then spend at least as much time listening to calls that did not go so well. Did you spend too much time talking and not enough time listening? Were you unable to navigate a particular sales objection? As long as you are recording your conversations, even lost deals offer opportunities for optimization. As you onboard more sales reps, identifying best practices will help your entire sales team sell more successfully.
Entrepreneurs are naturally results-oriented. The moment a sales call ends, it’s easy to just focus on the result. Did I close the deal or not? Naturally, you’re eager to move on to everything else you must do to run your business. But to ensure repeatable success, you have to slow down and identify why some deals close and others don’t.
Related: 10 Ways to Better Manage Sales Leads