Five Ways Founders Misread Sales Conversations

As someone who works closely with founders through my operator-immersive venture capital firm, I appreciate their ambitions, their passion and their grit immeasurably. What’s more, I’m a raving fan of founder-led selling, especially up to the first $10 million in revenue. But, my proximity to founders means I also have a front-row seat to some of the blind spots they tend to have, along with common mistakes they make. It’s only human, but these misunderstandings, especially about sales, can still hurt their business. To that end, here’s a look at some of the top ways founders misread sales conversations – so you can avoid doing the same.

1. They think a brain dump means a sales call went well. 

Seasoned sales professionals have repeatable, scalable processes they follow, which include a series of important conversations they’ll have with prospects. One of the first calls is the discovery call, during which the salesperson should talk as little as possible while getting as much information as they can from the buyer.

This often leads to a brain dump, which can be really useful for extracting critical takeaways you can then validate and use in progressive conversations. Still, founders will often think that getting the buyer to share this much information is a win and indicates interest. Managing the brain dump is a critical skill that can be used to qualify interest, but on its own it could be a false signal.

2. Founders assume that a buyer who asks for pricing information is far along the funnel.

It’s understandable why founders get excited when potential buyers ask for pricing details, but this is hardly a sign that they’re in a late stage of the funnel. A lot of the time, people want to know pricing because they’re just starting to shop around or, frankly, curious.

If you are asked for pricing information, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should give it out. If the person requesting it isn’t actually at a pricing stage of a sales conversation, seeing numbers too early can backfire. It can scare someone off before they’ve had the chance to understand the value you provide. Misunderstanding a request for pricing is something that immature salespeople or founders often do. Resist the urge to see it as more than it is, and follow your planned sales path.

3. They believe that a lack of conflict is a positive sign.

While most people likely identify as conflict-averse, there’s a time and a place when heated conversations can be necessary – if not beneficial. The sales process is one of them. Unfortunately, many founders get confused by prospects who are extremely agreeable. They assume if their interactions are all pleasant, and free of conflict, that they’re moving toward a deal.

The truth? Zero conflict can be a negative sign. It actually indicates that a buyer doesn’t care much about what you’re selling. If they did, they’d want to know more information, ask hard questions and even try to negotiate. If they see your value, they’ll be willing to get a little scrappy and go toe-to-toe with you about pricing or features or things that matter to them.

4. Founders think that a yes from one person means a deal is done.

There are clear roles in every buying committee, like champions, decision makers, budget holders and budget creators. It’s in a salesperson’s best interest to understand the dynamic between the people in these positions. To start, each has different goals and needs, so each requires a different message and approach.

All too often, an internal champion will take calls from a founder and seem highly enthusiastic about their solution. They might even say it’s a resounding yes from them, which then leads many founders to believe they have the deal locked down. Not so. Many champions are also gatekeepers – maybe not intentionally, but there’s a limit to their influence. Just because one person gives you a yes does not mean your work is done.

This is why I recommend asking what it’s like to buy software at a buyer’s organization early in your discovery calls. You might just unearth the chain of command that every purchase has to go through, or at the very least some anecdote about how long it took the last vendor to make a sale. Getting this knowledge early in the process can prevent you from spinning your wheels and forecasting something that really bucks up your pipeline.

5. They underestimate value and overestimate demos.

Finally, founders often put the emphasis in the wrong place during sales conversations. Their product is their baby, so they think that demoing it to a prospect gets them almost to the finish line of a deal. If the buyer sees what they’ve created, they’ll surely sign on the dotted line.

The problem is that most buyers actually care far more about truly understanding the value of what you’re selling than they do about tinkering around a demo. To account for this, focus first on validating their problem, the cost of the problem, the solution and the value of a solution. If you can agree on that, then you can present a very pointed demo that specifically covers all of these bases and puts value front and center.

What most of these points come down to is that founders have a tendency to misread interest as a buying signal. Interest can come in many forms, and it can be completely, utterly benign. It’s far better to invest in understanding the processes that seasoned sellers follow, why they do so and how you can emulate their proven methods. If you do, you’ll reduce your chances of misinterpreting critical conversations and improve your efficacy in founder-led selling overall. It’s not easy, but it can be done – and the best person to do it is you.