The Best CEOs are the Best Salespeople

July 27, 2022

Any good CEO must be an effective salesperson. To achieve success, a CEO must be excellent at selling to three groups: potential customers, potential employees, and potential investors. A founder’s success is very much dependent on their ability to effectively connect with and tell their story to these three groups.

For B2B companies, the founders of a startup must be personally involved in all three types of sales at the beginning. In all of these interactions, the founder has to tell a compelling story about themself and their product which can inspire people to take a risk and trust in their vision. Investing in, working for, and working with a startup always feels like a risky proposition, so audiences must be logically and emotionally convinced of a massive value proposition to take the leap. While all three three of these types of “sales” are critical, I’m going to focus on a CEO’s role in selling to customers.

To achieve the level of growth necessary for enticing investors and necessitating new employees, a startup must first achieve revenue traction.Therefore, burgeoning CEOs need to (1) become very effective salespeople, and then  (2) learn how to successfully delegate the sales process to others.

Most founders I talk to would love to skip part one of this equation, and think that part two will be easy. Ignore or minimize either of these steps to your peril!

Founders are often strong salespeople from the beginning because of their passion for and intimate knowledge of the product – but really good ones layer in structures to ensure they track and measure the whole sales process. There are a lot of strategies you’re probably already using, like qualifying prospects and categorizing objections, that could be more efficient if done in a more deliberate, organized way. But if you just wanted to be a successful salesperson, you wouldn’t have started a company. So we need to get beyond founder-led sales!

If only it actually worked to just hire some random SDR firm, give them the product specs, and start the flywheel! Most founders understand that they need to delegate sales but find it’s much harder than they expected. They hire and fire salespeople. They spend months and months trying to close large contracts. They strain from the weight of being on every sales call and not having the time to devote to other parts of the business. But every startup that successfully grows has to figure out how to build an actually scalable, repeatable sales process.

While I can’t give you five easy steps to creating a repeatable sales process, I can give you five not-necessarily-easy steps to get you started:

  1. Invest the time and focus to build out an effective sales playbook. Start with outlining a sales script based on your interactions with prospects.
  2. The language you use to explain your product is the building block for all your other efforts. Take the time to refine and sharpen how you communicate the value you create.
  3. Cold call scripts should definitely be a part of this, and will help any SDRs you decide to work with.
  4. Take a long look at your metrics (see this resource on analyzing SaaS metrics) to ensure your pricing, cost of customer acquisition, and potential sales hire costs make sense.
  5. Learn about different types of salespeople to figure out what you need and can afford.
  6. Do you need an SDR to be making calls and emails to book meetings that you then work to close? Do you need someone with more experience to take charge of the whole sales process, like an account manager?
  7. Don’t just rely on your gut to hire the right salespeople. Develop an interview process that you use uniformly across all candidates.
  8. Here’s one interview tip on types of questions to ask
  9. Someone who’s been very successful in your industry but hasn’t worked for a startup is likely to be a very expensive and ineffective candidate
  10. Don’t hesitate to change what you’re doing if it isn’t working. This could mean firing salespeople who aren’t delivering. This could mean changing the way you position your product. This could mean changing your pricing structure. Don’t be afraid to make major changes if you want to see major results.