Should the “engineer” or the “salesperson” drive the first sale?

November 26, 2009 at 11:41 pm 2 comments

The answer is yes.  Both need to be involved.  In a young start up you may or may not have an experienced sales professional on your team.  Your team may be comprised only of technical experts.  Even in that situation, it’s important to assign roles – at least one person needs to take on the role of the sales person and they need to make the commitment to learn what that means.

To get anyone to buy from you you need to:

  • establish rapport
  • understand the customer’s point of view
  • craft a solution that solves the customer’s entire problem

It’s obvious that the technical people need to be involved in understanding the technical aspects of the customer’s problem and in crafting a solution.  While necessary, this is not sufficient for success.

To be successful, you need to understand the customer’s point of view and convince her that your solution is superior to any of her alternatives. Most technical founders are (often rightfully) so enthusiastic about their technology, their product and their expertise that they don’t listen well.  They may have been through a couple of business plan competitions, they may have been coached to pitch their idea to investors, and they are energetic and passionate in their presentation.  But, making your first sale takes more.  It takes listening.  It takes an exceptional entrepreneur to listen with empathy and pitch passionately at the same time, especially when you are first starting on your “sales career”.  That’s why having someone on the founding team be the “designated listener” is very useful.  That person’s job is to establish an authentic connection with the customer.

Unless you are very fortunate and have an exceptional sales professional on your founding team, someone should start learning the skills.  My current favorite book on selling technical solutions to corporations and government agencies is Jeff Thull’s Exceptional Selling.


Entry filed under: new venture, Sales Skills, startup.

Anyone remember vaporware? How many companies get venture funding?

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. paul  |  December 23, 2009 at 1:22 am

    interesting and accurate comments. since you are lecturing at the university perhaps you should suggest to that there should be a course or two dedicated to selling! I have asked my daughters faculty at Univ of MD school of business if there was any plan to teach sales concepts and shoulders shrugged. There are real and tangible skills people need to learn to be successful whether in direct sales or as entrepreneurs. what do you think

  • 2. Alex  |  October 8, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    I especially enjoyed exceptional selling. Thanks for the recommendation.


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