I’ve been mentoring and doing workshops in several acceleration, pre-acceleration programs and universities and I’ve seen a fair share of early stage startups in the CEE region at various events I attend. I’ve also been myself in two acceleration processes with my own startup.
Looking at what happens in this early stage programs, I see a lot of work on building prototypes, working with the business model canvas, pitching and so on. I am big fan of lean startup and most of my workshops are focused on this build/measure/learn cycle with rapid prototyping.
But we all seem to ignore where the pain is. These startups rarely end up having any significant revenue. Founders seem afraid to ask for money. They would like to give their product for free, get more trial users, make the product as good as possible before asking for money.
And part of this may be because they feel ashamed with a buggy, ugly, incomplete software. But after talking to many founders I realized that they are actually afraid to sell and this is the one thing we’re not teaching them in accelerators.
Yes, I know, there are many mentors with a sales background that work with teams and give advice. But what is missing is a clear curriculum where they can learn how to sell. How to do cold e-mails and cold phone calls. How to “sell” a meeting. Who to handle rejections. How not to go crazy hearing 100 rejections a day. What kind of open questions to ask in those meetings. What to do with those answers. The importance of a follow up. How to “sell” a second meeting after the first one. Using various tools to monitor and manage this whole process.
We need to start teaching tech founders how to sell and we need to make them damn good. We need to borrow techniques from the best areas of commerce where outstanding sales people are being trained. After all, we got to lean startup after we’ve seen how the manufacturing industry got to be efficient. And we know that training tech founders on non-tech concepts works because we’re doing a good job with customer discovery, Business Model Canvas, pitching and so on. We can do it with sales as well and give them the best practices and necessary training to make them sell a car to a car salesman. I’m not kidding. Before startups, my entrepreneurial endeavor was a car dealership. I had some of the best sales training sessions available and got to train many sales people I was hiring. That was a crucial part of the business.
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And no, you cannot just hire sales people at the early stage of a startup. Steve Blank explains it clearly that it’s up to the founders to create, refine and define the sales pipeline. Only when it’s time to scale, you hire sales people that just execute a proven strategy.
We need to remove this fear of doing sales and if we succeed, my opinion is that we’ll end up with much more startups with revenue and founders well trained to grow their projects into successful businesses.