The Less Glamorous Sibling of Founder-Led Sales
The topic of founder-led sales has been getting a lot of attention lately for early stage startups, particularly in SaaS. For example:
Founder-led sales is important, undoubtedly. With YC Demo Day approaching, it’s understandable that a lot of pre-PMF YC founders want a cheat sheet.
The problem with embracing the recommendations in the thread is that it’s all founder-led sales, no founder-led marketing.
I’ve seen this play out before, and I think it’s sub-optimal: seed-stage SaaS founders get super excited about sales and try to close every prospect they can find. It turns out that even highly technical, introverted founders can be passionate and effective salespeople.
What’s the problem? There are two.
First, energetic founders who are hungry to close all prospects will close customers who are poor fits. This might help goose the traction slide for a Demo Day pitch. But it can have major costs: unhappy customers & early churn; engineering resources spread thin across heterogenous customers; a culture that has early signs of over-promising & under-delivering.
Second, a focus on Always Be Closing at the seed-stage means missing out on gaining valuable insights. A founder only thinking about founder-led sales can easily miss out on fully understanding a prospect’s needs. What alternative solutions is a prospect considering? It often requires skillful questioning & listening to get this type of market intelligence.
Actually, there’s a third potential problem to myopically focusing on founder-led sales. Take the idea of employing aggressive sales tactics such as trying to drum up FOMO (recommended in the Twitter thread above). This can easily backfire, resulting in fewer closed deals. One of the great surprises for many founders about selling in early-stage software is that the most effective salespeople do more listening than talking.
The SaaS founders who go the furthest over the long-term, I’ve found, are the ones who are intensely curious about understanding customer needs. They are more obsessed with how to solve customer problems than how to Always Be Closing. They are practicing founder-led marketing in addition to founder-led sales.
It’s true that there’s no way to validate a customer need like getting a paying customer. But for a pre-PMF startup, pushing aggressively to close every prospect creates many missed opportunities.
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