There are a lot of myths about sales (especially among tech founders) that will get in your way of building a strong, sustainable business. For example, many people think the ability to sell is an innate talent, not a learned skill. Another misconception is that a good salesperson must be an inherently social, “life of the party” personality . Not only are beliefs like this 100% false, but they also undermine the single most important tool a founder can possess in her or his startup arsenal: Persuasion.
There are 3 core truths you need to accept before you can become a deal closing machine…
FIRST – Every highly effective “salesperson” knows that the goal of sales is not actually to sell. The word “sales” is a misleading term because it focuses on the ends instead of the means, which could seem like an inconsequential detail to non-salespeople but it’s a critical mistake that will cost you. Like a full-contact sport, this game is about state of mind & athletic longevity, so it’s crucial you enter the playing field with the right foundation. Sales isn’t some evil trickery to persuade people to buy something that won’t help them or won’t deliver on it’s promise. Really, the goal of sales is to be an invaluable asset to a valuable network, which means helping your targets achieve their goals, not yours. By doing this, you then will better understand their needs and build a lifelong network along the way…both of which may help you “sell” now or later, among other benefits. The point here is – Sales is not about you, it’s about them. The selfish state of mind might win the game, but it doesn’t win the series – and the long haul is what counts here. So train your mind to think of sales not as “selling now”, but as “helping others continuously achieve their goals”.
SECOND – I haven’t met a wildly successful CEO who wasn’t a great salesperson. During my career, I have interviewed more than 250 technology CEO’s & Founders, and the ones who built game-changing companies were, without fail, persuasive people. This of course isn’t a new concept…with few exceptions, most people who succeed in business are great at selling their products, their visions, and themselves. Whether this makes you uncomfortable or not, you need to accept that as a founder, a large part of your job is to be a salesperson. You will be spending a good deal of time trying to convince investors to bankroll your growth, customers to buy your product, talented candidates to join your team, partners to perceive value in distribution deals, press outlets to cover your success, lawyers & service firms to discount fees, acquisitive targets to shell out the big bucks…and that was just the tip of the iceberg. So get rid of the notion that your VP of Sales will handle this…it’s actually YOUR job first & foremost if you want to build a successful company.
THIRD – As alluded to above, sales is a skill. While some people may have traits that more naturally lend themselves to sales, most highly effective salespeople learn the skills over time and are not born with some freakish ability. I used to have a mild social anxiety, didn’t know the first thing about persuasion, and was further hampered by a tendency to insert-foot-in-mouth-here. Yet I still learned to sell my ideas, products, and vision, and have solely closed hundreds of deals amounting to millions in net revenue for my various companies. Did it scare the cr#@ out of me in the beginning? HELL YES! But I knew it was essential to my ability as a founder, and the same is true of you. So get over the whole “I’m not very social” or “it’s just not who I am” roadblock. This is a learned skill, and you can absolutely do it.
Go to Article 3: The Pen is Mightier Than the Code: Getting Your Way…with Words!
Christen O’Brien is a co-founder & Managing Partner at 500 Startups, an early-stage venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley with 800+ portfolio companies around the world. She built the Business Development group which has created much of 500’s corporate, community, marketing, and educational initiatives on a global scale. Previously, Christen founded a content company, led fundraising, sales, marketing, and business development across multiple industries, and also served as a volunteer in the Peace Corps. She lives in San Francisco with her husband Paul and their Great Dane, Virginia Woof. You can contact her via email (christenmarieob at gmail) or via LinkedIn or About.Me.