Why Founder-Led Sales Is Important Pre Product Market Fit 🏅

If you’ve sat through enough webinars during the pandemic, there is one question that always comes up whenever the zero to one journey is being discussed for startups. And more often than not, founders ask this question, “When do I hire my first sales person.” The answer is usually subjective. But the truth is, you already have your first salesperson. She’s looking back at you in the mirror.

These questions remind me of a very candid chat I had with Srikrishnan Ganesan, Co-founder and CEO of Rocketlane, where he explained how founders need to be the startup’s very first salesperson.

Founder-led sales is the cornerstone for almost every B2B startup. Not just because they drive the initial growth, but also because they accelerate learning. You have to talk to customers constantly, and their response helps you understand what works and what doesn’t.

There is no better feedback for an organization than what’s happening on the front lines. At times, The larger the corporations get, the further management gets away from the trenches. Great leaders put themselves on the front line.

Efficacy of founder-led sales at the very early stage is one of the biggest predictors of success, in our opinion. Part of it is learning the hard way — by doing. Things like sales funnels, leads, etc. are great to theorise, but what works in DevTools B2B differs from Salestech B2B differs from MedTech B2B. In our honest opinion, founders have to learn things by doing them. Founders being empathetic, listening, collaborating, and building relationships — makes a huge difference in the early stages of the company’s growth. And hence, founder-led sales is far more meaningful than having a Sales Director or VP Sales as the go-to person for everything around sales — especially in the pre PMF stages.

Founders who have done this and thus are savvy, are not just great at driving sales — but are great at identifying the right ‘product-value guidance’ their future sales team might need. This will help the team to move quickly and develop strong selling skills faster. It’s almost a virtuous cycle. One of the most important skills in B2B sales is to sell the value quickly and take care of the details afterwards. It’s much easier to sell than to sell ‘value’.

Think about it, if you are selling value, you are explaining why the deal matters. If you are selling value, then you are doing so with an argument.

How to get started with founder led sales 🏋🏻‍♀️

In the initial few days, be prepared to spend your days (and nights) teaching yourself sales by actually doing it. Set up one-on-one meetings with your prospects and go deep into the process. That’s how people learn — from meeting real people through one-on-one, one-on-three, one-on-four, and one-on-more.

You will have to sit with your prospective clients and really work through every step in the buyer journey (i.e. what the customer’s problem is, the solution, the pain points, the positive and negative case for buying, your solutions, differentiation, and how you position yourself). Then you just walk them through the sales funnel.

The PMF you need before you get to the Product Market Fit

Product readiness

  1. Does the product create significant value for the end user?

Market readiness

Do we know the Buyer persona? (Is it the CXO OR Head of X OR someone further down the org structure)
Do we know how much people will pay for your solution?
Are we creating a new market or substituting the incumbents?
Maximum pain point (sweet spot): Which geography? What industry vertical? What stage of the company?Do the clients have a budget for what you are selling (what P&L does it fall into? — S&M? HR?)
Feedback loops

Are the existing customers bugging you for feature requests/ feedback?
Do you have a process in place to extract the feedback?
Are we tracking Inbound vs Outbound leads and scoring them?

Set Goals 🎯

Checking a caption style

Your number one goal is to get a product out that solves a problem. Work with design partners to tweak the features and prove that your product delivers value.
Your goal number two is to identify which cohort of customers are reacting positively to the product.
Your goal number three is to increase your ToFu (top of the funnel) by reaching out to the right persona identified in the second goal.
I am sure most founders are pretty clear of the first point when they start. The second and the third point is where feedback is needed because that drives two critical needles for the founder — revenue and product roadmap. The worst thing one can do while reaching out to prospects is not tracking and tagging the background of the companies. Time is of the essence!

At the initial stages, this should always be in an A/B testing format where you are experimenting with a target group across cohorts: early-stage, series A/B/C, enterprise. And across personas: Founders, Head of X, CXOs, others. Measuring responses and tracking conversion rates from these places would help identify better which target group is responding faster to demo requests, is willing to pay, and is actively seeking to grow with your product.