Who should do the selling in a startup? Or “Is sales a team responsibility”?

In the early days (<10 customers) of a startup, the founder typically is expected to do most all of the selling to get the early adopters. This helps solve the problem of understanding the customer’s buying process which aids in hiring the right sales person for your startup.

If the startup is founded by several people together, I’d advocate a single person running and managing the entire sales process. While its true that in a startup everyone’s selling and every person is trying to help sales, there should be one person who dreams, sleeps and eats getting customers.

The main reason for having one person for the role is accountability. That person’s sole purpose of being is to get customers and track their progress towards that end. If you are a solo founder, I’d recommend you hiring technical consultants or contract people to develop and architect or build your product, but do the initial sales (or customer development) yourself.

So the question is who is that one person who should be responsible for selling when you have multiple co-founders?

Usually I hear a variation of “My co-founder likes to talk a lot, so he’s taken responsibility for sales”, or “My co-founder is a better developer than I am, so I took responsibility for getting customers”.

For most parts I think that is a sufficient enough filter. If you have an inclination towards selling or are not as good at some other function, you ought to be helping play a critical role and I cannot think of a more critical role than getting early customers.

Even if you are the deemed “sales person” in your startup, you will realize quickly that you need more than 1 person to help you sell.

Sales people are (initially) mistrusted by customers who believe the salesperson’s sole purpose is to a) sell them stuff they dont want to buy and b)lie to overstate the capabilities and value of a product.

So the best situation to be in is to split the roles into 2 – the deal maker and the solution architect. The deal maker is still responsible for the entire process end-to-end. They will have to bring in the solution architect as required to help with the product aspects of the sales process and be responsible for the technical feasibility.

When you are ready to hire your first sales person here are some tips on filtering sales resumes for the right hustlers, process jocks and relationship sales professionals.

4 thoughts on “Who should do the selling in a startup? Or “Is sales a team responsibility”?”

  1. Another great peice, as usual. One of the practical issues we have faced is – though we had a dedicated “resposible” person for sales (and work was divided in those lines), when there was a spurt in leads we received, other team members had to chip in to give demos or meet prospects in person (and we were not yet ready to increase out team size yet). Once a relationship with a prospect is established with a team member, we did not want to handover that to another team member till the sale is closed. This in effect made more than one person responsilble for sales.

  2. Mukund, I strongly feel that in a startup, its the individuals who are the product and not the “product” per se, since it probably doesn’t exist. Hence, its very critical for the founders to take the responsibility of selling, and most early customers would get swayed by your intelligence, brilliance and passion – the promise rather than whats already there today. It’s very important to keep that in mind while building the selling strategy.

    Also, while its good to break the roles up in front of the customer, I think everybody has the responsibility of “selling” – as the company grows, the founding team essentially becomes the selling or BD team – either to customers, or employees, or investors, so everybody should make sure they hone their skills well.

  3. Strategy for a startup, where almost all the founders are techies should be ‘less burn out’. Since all or most of them will have any sales experience. They get tired easily when they encounter rejection. http://www.stratageeks.com and http://www.sizmic.com is co-founding http://www.coursecue.com, (soon be revealed). And we have strategy to achieve sales with as little burn out as possible.

    I recommend the same, plan your sales in steps. Where your first step is the least burn out, may be phone calls..Your next move is little more, but with the lessons you already learned!

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