Each month, we host a MasterClass, hosted by members of the AfterWork community. Recently, we were fortunate to have David Wei, co-founder and CPO at Brosa, an impressively fast-growing, VC backed, D2C furniture company, take the mic. Before this adventure, David lead sales teams at Rocket Internet companies and Groupon. In this piece, David shared his tips, tricks and tools for mastering Founder-Led sales.
For early stage startups, founder-led sales is an inescapable reality. Rather classify it as a chore, the most successful founders embrace this role and recognise the enormous benefits it can bring to both their company and themselves as founders. From a company perspective, the conviction a founder brings goes a long way in securing early wins and unlocking critical contracts. Then from a personal perspective, sales is a meta skill that can help a founder better understand their product and competitive landscape; while teaching lessons of tenacity and courage at the same time.
Common Misconceptions about Founder-Led Sales
Before we dive into tips and tricks, let’s unpack some common myths associated with founder-led sales in the realm of B2B.
- All too often, people believe that there is just one B2B sales process to follow. However, there are many variables that mean the sales process should flex and change accordingly. First, there is the type of target business, what you’re selling and who the decision makes are. These variables determine the best way to ‘go in cold’, the sales cycle length, the sales funnel and the pitch. It’s a constant process of listening, learning and iterating. Plotting the variables, mapping your hypothesis for the best ways in and conducting a series of experiments will help you get further, faster.
- Another misconception is that sales is “all process”. As much as a healthy process can help drive efficiency and adoption; it also takes a backseat to genuine warmth and human relationships. Like any endeavour, people just want to be heard, understood and seen. As a sales expert, your job is to unlock that and gain their trust. With a solid relationship as the foundation, your job will become easier by an order of magnitude; as selling begins to feel like a natural conversation.
- The final misconception is sales being blanketed as a ‘pushy’ endeavour; especially for those who haven’t done sales before. However, in reality, it’s a great way to connect with your target audience, experience firsthand insight and deep end empathy towards your customers. These are invaluable assets, not to be sniffed at!
Top 5 Fundamentals to Practice
Here are some of the golden rules that have helped both me and my teams build a strong and replicable sales engine.
ONE: Principles of the Cold Call
- Talk to the decision maker.
- Persist and know your worth.
- Make it not cold by getting a referral.
- Plant the seeds for the future meeting but play it cool.
The key to the cold call is to make it as warm as possible. Always try to get a referral and remember that pitching by email is a shortcut to the trash can. If you must, you can include a crafty, personalised hook to whet their appetite.
When reaching out to targets, make sure you are speaking to the decision maker. It’s a waste of all parties' time to speak to anyone else; no matter how friendly or encouraging they are. In every conversation, remember, you are doing the client a favour! You have a product that will genuinely help them and add tremendous value to their business. Hint to a future meeting, but make them see that you are run off your feet and they are lucky to find time with you.
Finally, practice, practice, practice! The more conversations, calls and pitches you make - the more confident, charismatic and compelling you will become. Make a commitment to doing it; and try reversing the metric to keep your spirits up. For example, say to yourself “My goal is to get 30 people saying ‘No’ today over the phone.
TWO: Principles of setting up a meeting
- The goal of the first call is to assure a meeting
- Switch the pitch and make them sweat!
- Make sure that the decision makers (could be multiple) are there
Sales is much like dating; you don't want to sound desperate. Instead, a healthy amount of scarcity can go a long way in boosting your appeal. If you take this one step further, playing hard to get can really work in your favour. For example, flipping the pitch is a tactic that makes potential clients hungry to work with you. Imagine responding to your target, “OK, it does seem like you are eligible or a fit for us”. Finally, make sure all the key decision makers will all be at your meeting. This is a mark of respect for everyone involved. No-one wants to pitch, or be pitched to, twice.
THREE: Principles of Pitching
- Ask open questions.
- Tailor your pitch/demo based on the answers to the questions.
- Tell a story.
- Ask questions that plant a ‘yes’.
- Ask questions that get them talking about the benefits they WILL reap
- Ask for the deal.
As we’ve touched on, sales is fundamentally a human endeavour. It may be your pitch, but it’s time to get them talking about what keeps them up at night and what their vision of success looks like. One shortcut to building trust is telling stories and sharing your own experiences that reveal your human side. Once they’ve opened up, invite them to imagine a rosy future that you help create for them. What does your product enable them to do? What big dream can they dare to conjure? Make it real for them by asking questions like “If we brought you clients into your restaurant, would your staff be able to provide them a good service so that they come back?”.
FOUR: Principles of Negotiating
- Frame the pricing model cleverly at beginning
- Don’t drastically reduce prices in an instant (it’s not a good look and raises credibility questions)
- Flip the pitch.
Sweat your pricing structure before you even begin pitching. Find an intelligent way to heighten the perceived value of what you’re selling and imbue a sense of true partnership. This is the difference between a straightforward commission model, and a model that represents your own skin in the game and a deep interest in their ongoing success. Additionally, don’t dramatically slash prices to make a client happy. Showing flexibility is a good thing, being a pushover creates doubts in a clients’ mind. Finally, as the meeting marches on, try flipping the pitch once more. Ask questions like “If I can get you a 2.25% discount OK’d with my CFO, are you able to sign our Order Form today?”
FIVE: Principles of Closing
- Make it not a big deal to close.
- Framing it with less friction
- Always Be Closing
- Bring it back to scarcity, you are doing them a favour!
- Once you close, ask for referrals
In this part of the meeting, try playing the role of “master-closer” who is so used to closing deals that it’s no major event or cause for celebration. This is a way to provide assurance to the client that you are the expert here. Throughout this phase, also make sure to use terminology that brings out less friction. For example, call it an order form instead of a sales contract, refer to their ‘investment’ instead of the cost and don't make the 'closing' sound like a huge thing; it’s just part of your regular day. As you continue, keep reminding them that you are experts in the hot seat - making them feel good about their choice is a big part of your job. Finally, ask them if there is anyone else that could benefit from the tremendous value you bring. It’s a welcome reminder of just how much benefit you will be bringing their business.
Advice in a Nutshell...
The best day to start talking to clients is today. Don't outsource this to a 'sales expert' - do it yourself in the early days, create the playbook, then hire to leverage and scale. Remember, you are a busy founder, your time is valuable; and you are bringing these companies something that will genuinely help them. It’s not selling, it’s service.