When a startup CEO is willing (and able) to lead by example and take the lead on a company’s sales directives, everything else tends to fall into place. Here’s how a founder-led sales strategy can work wonders for your B2B startup’s upward growth trajectory.
What Is a Founder-Led Sales Strategy?
Founder-led is the term used to describe a sales strategy where the founder of a startup is responsible for qualifying leads, reaching out to them, pitching the product or service, and completing the sale.
This approach works because of the inimitable combination of passion, knowledge and confidence a founder brings to the sales table. Even without sales experience, a founder of a B2B startup is the best person to sell their idea. They know the product better than anyone else and have a good idea of the pain points they’re trying to solve.
Bringing in a sales team too early can stall startup growth by creating friction in a still-developing sales pipeline. A founder-led sales strategy fully develops that pipeline and creates a strong sales process to build on.
Benefits of a Founder-Led Sales Strategy
There are many benefits of a founder-led sales strategy, which is why many B2B startups implement this approach (even if they don’t realize it at first). A founder-led sales strategy offers:
Loud and clear feedback – While some founders explore feedback via data sheets at their desks, a CEO out in the sales field gets a unique opportunity to receive one-on-one feedback from those willing to hear them out.
Founders should use this time to learn more about the key problem they’re trying to solve and whether their target audience is interested in a solution. But, of course, there’s no substitute for hands-on experience. A CEO who learns through on-the-spot feedback today can create detailed and authentic sales training manuals for tomorrow.
Initial revenue – Revenue may seem an obvious benefit of sales, but it’s still worth noting. A founder-led sales strategy drives a startup’s first sales. It takes the average business two to three years to become profitable. So while you should celebrate those first sales, they don’t signal success just yet.
A CEO wearing all the hats in a company can be a recipe for micromanagement. However, it can also be beneficial in a startup’s early days. A founder making sales and having a front-row seat to the books can help them make better-informed and faster decisions about growth.
Product refinement – There’s no better time to iron out the kinks in a product or service than during the first few months of operations. It’s nearly impossible to bring a perfect product to market on the first try, which is why those initial sales calls are so helpful for a founder willing to listen to feedback objectively.
By taking time to tweak aspects of the product to meet the needs of potential customers better, you’re laying the groundwork for improved customer service, satisfaction, and retention.
Market insight – You may already know your target audience as the architect of your startup’s service or product. You were thinking of them during the entire development stage. But sometimes, a CEO out in the sales field realizes they missed a few demographic categories when determining their target market.
One-on-one conversations can help a CEO refine their target audience description and improve closing rates.
How to Approach a Founder-Led Sales Strategy
Ready to get started with a founder-led sales strategy? Here’s a concise and candid step-by-step guide for reference.
Create a specific customer avatar. Go as narrow as possible. Consider industries, sub-industries, locations, company size, production models, mission statements, and the brand of coffee in the breakroom.
Create a small target list. We’re getting specific because we want to start small. A startup’s initial sales goal should be quality over quantity. A “spray and pray” approach to sales in the startup phase guarantees a low closing rate.
Develop a show. How can you communicate your product or service’s solution engagingly to potential customers? Find it and develop it.
Start prospecting. Qualification is an important part of prospecting. A sign you’re qualifying correctly is you say no more than yes when exploring a potential prospect.
Build a sales process. Every process starts with uncovering pain points. Next, demonstrate the solution and propose a business relationship. Finally, negotiate as needed and close the deal.
Being a successful salesperson requires a tremendous skill set. It’s OK if you’re still developing yours as a CEO.
However, remember, no one else can bring the same authenticity and passion to a sales call as you can, so your chances of success are likely higher than a trained sales team member who wasn’t part of the product’s developmental stage.
Tips for Success
While implementing a founder-led sales strategy is beneficial, it’s not always as easy as it looks. Remember the following:
Learn the science of sales. Knowing what potential customers think and feel throughout the B2B buying process can significantly affect closing rates. Plenty of information and data is available to compile a Psychology 101 mini-course. For example, this buyer psychology study offers insight into what influences how prospects react to cold pitches.
Embrace tools. A leader-led sales approach is beneficial but often filled with mundane tasks. Instead, automate as much of your sales and other day-to-day processes with a customized software stack made from productivity apps and streamline your workflows.
Communicate quickly. Email is king when it comes to the sales process. Whether it’s an answered cold pitch or a signed contract, keeping prospects waiting in your inbox is never ideal. Using a Gmail client can help you stay on top of your inbox so you don’t miss a beat.
Leader-led sales strategies offer a variety of benefits. But this approach is not without the potential for plights. Be on the lookout for these potential pitfalls:
Over-customizing – Founders desperate to make their first sale may fall victim to over-customizing their product or service. But tailoring to every customer slows production and leaves less time to focus on steady growth over one-off sales—instead, balance listening to customer feedback and implementing every suggestion or request.
Over-sharing – Some sales meetings are doomed from the start. When your prospective customer is only interested in hearing how you developed a product rather than what it can do for them, they’re likely only there for the insights and not the sale. Avoid going overboard and educating someone who could become your future competition.
Regarding B2B startups, it’s impossible to delegate initial sales. A leader-led sales strategy is the best approach when a company is small. By spending time in the field, a CEO can finetune their product and process to serve as an unwavering foundation for their future sales team to build upon.