When a company is establishing product market fit, the founder should be leading the sales efforts. They need to be as close to the market as possible in the early days, and there’s no better way to do so than being on the front lines. That said, there are countless obstacles founders can run into that cause deals to slip through their fingers.
Here are three common mistakes early-stage founders make and tips on how they can be avoided:
Mistake #1: Focusing on the Demo
Founders love to do a demo. Being proud of their product, they tend toward a “build it and they will come” mentality, assuming a buyer is going to buy on not much more than the demo alone.
But prospects don’t always care about seeing the demo, especially not right off the bat. They care about the result a product can deliver. This is where the founder led sales model shines, and why we invest in vertical SaaS. For one thing, founders have often been in the seat of the buyer. They understand their needs. That’s incredibly powerful and should be leveraged early and often. The discovery process shines light on this. Since the founder knows their common world, they intimately know the problems and the pains prospects experience, so much so they built a solution for it.
Discovery needs to drive toward explicit value, especially in the current market conditions, and get to the heart of things. So, how does the solution help a prospect make money, save money, reduce headcount, drive efficiency, and so on? Use the discovery to understand what they care about and tell stories about how their problems can be solved. Stories are the most powerful tool a founder has in the early days. Their story, their customers’ stories, their competitors’ stories…all these highlight what others experience while also building trust and credibility.
Once a founder knows what matters to their prospect, then it might make sense to offer a demo to demonstrate how a solution could be the right fit.
Mistake #2: Allowing the Prospect to Run the Process
Founders almost never drive a consistent sales process. What happens instead? They let the buyer drive the process, drive next steps, and even let them take the path of least resistance. Going back to the demo, founders often assume that if a prospect likes the product, then they are going to figure out how to buy it. If only that were the case!
There are varying degrees of maturity when it comes to buying software. Some prospects have a lot of experience in this process, some have never done it, and most are somewhere in between. Regardless of maturity, a prospect’s primary role isn’t buying software and most aren’t experts in navigating internal politics. Like it or not, that becomes the founder’s job.
Running a great process is a big differentiator in a sales cycle. Competing against more established players guarantees the presence of professional sellers who do know how to drive a sale to completion. That’s why it’s so critical for founders to understand what it takes to get a deal done. Questions include: What is the value that matters to individual players? How should it be presented? What do budget cycles typically look like? Who are budget holders vs. budget creators? What does a legal, procurement and security cycle look like?
The average buyer won’t know the answer to these questions. Founders can take charge by laying out a roadmap and helping prospects drive toward that end game – doing so greatly increases the chances of winning that deal. Think of it as “predict the future and twist the knife”. In other words, know what’s going to happen if they don’t do something, and have stories to back it up.
The tangible output of this is a sales process with clearly defined exit and entry criteria. At each stage, founders should know what’s needed to move out of that stage and how to get there.
Mistake #3: Letting Perception Drive Behavior
Founders seem to have a perception of what sales is supposed to look like. They either go hard against it or try to mimic it. Neither is a recipe for success. That perception is likely driven by their interaction with ineffective sellers. The best sellers are perceived as consultants who are experts at solving problems and building relationships.
Fortunately, this is a great place for a founder to be when selling, especially for those that grew up in the space, have been in the shoes of the buyer, and intimately knows that world. Good consultants put themselves in the shoes of the buyer, ask great questions and help to devise a solution. The same goes for relationship building. Nothing builds a relationship faster than a common understanding – that’s the magic of founder led sales. The founder can instantly speak their language, feel their pain and share their personal experiences.
Sales isn’t a pitch or a close – it’s a perfect blend of art and science that founders have a unique ability to blend because of their deep knowledge in their industry and product. They have empathy, can connect by sharing relatable stories, and can naturally dig deep into what their buyers care about. Mix that with a little bit of sales rigor and it’s a roadmap to establishing product market fit through founder led sales.