The Startup Founder Sales Series: An Introduction

October 19, 2020 Mark Birch

Mark Birch AWS Startup Advocate

Mark Birch, AWS Principal Startup Advocate

Greetings! My name is Mark Birch and I am a Principal Startup Advocate with AWS based in Singapore. In this role, I meet with founders across Asia-Pacific to help them understand how startups have successfully launched and scaled their businesses on AWS. This gives me a unique opportunity to speak with founders about the innovative solutions they are building, the challenges they face along the way, and how they are meeting those challenges head on.

Because I work at AWS, many of the questions I receive from founders have to do with technology. They want to learn which AWS services they should use, how to optimize their cloud spend, or how to find ways to build and iterate faster using our developer tools. With the pace of innovation within AWS, there is always some new service or program to share.

There is also another set of questions I often get that have to do with scaling the business. I noticed this several years ago as an angel investor and startup advisor in NYC. When meeting with founders, the most common challenge they were facing had nothing to do with building product or scaling technology. The questions were always about how to sell.

Many founders rarely consider the distribution part when building their startup. Founder often come from a technology or product development background. Though they may say otherwise, building product is the easy part for them because they already have the experience and skills.

When it comes time to reach out to potential customers though, founders run into all sorts of problems. It was during these moments that founders would reach out to me for advice. I became the go-to resource for tech startup founders in NYC on all things sales and even served as a part-time head of sales for a handful of them.

Many people assume sales is the ability to “talk good” and make friendly conversation. Like a magic trick, the salesperson miraculously closes the deal. Others have the vision of a “boiler room” with rows and rows of salespeople glued to their phone making endless cold calls. Still others believe if you act all tough and business like, you will be taken seriously and customers will just fold and hand over money.

None of these are even remotely close to the reality of startup sales today. From an outsider point of view, it can be hard though to figure out the skills and processes used to be successful at selling. Sales skills do not seem as tangible as learning a programming language or building a wireframe. Even if it is not obvious however, there are absolutely discrete sales skills that can be defined, taught, practiced, and improved upon.

That is what this series on Founder Sales is all about. Providing you, the startup founder, with the core skills and processes needed to sell before you bring on your first sales person. Even if you have a sales team in place, this series will provide a language and an understanding of how sales works so that you can be more knowledgeable when working with the sales team.

This series walks you through the twelve core steps of business-to-business (B2B) sales from prospecting to closing. Those topics include:

  • Mindset: Confidence & Resilience – You started a company, so sales is not such a scary leap. You can do this and we explain how to have the right mindset to be confident.
  • Understanding Customer Motivation – Understanding why prospects want to buy and their motivation is critical to influencing them to listen to your story.
  • Identifying Target Markets – Knowing which industries your solution will have the most impact in allows you to prioritize and scale your prospecting efforts.
  • Building the Right Messaging – We introduce tools like the Motivation Matrix and personalization to craft sales messaging that results in more deals.
  • How to Build Lead Lists – Now that you know the industries and personas to reach out to, now you need to build lists of specific companies and contacts to contact.
  • Prospecting Mechanics – We dive into how to use various outreach channels like phone calls, email, and social media in order to maximize prospecting efficiency.
  • Qualifying for the Right Customers – Not all leads are created equal, so learn to spend your limited time on the prospects that are most likely to buy.
  • More Effective Sales Meetings – Time and bad meetings are the enemies of deals, so we provide some mechanisms for better meetings and setting impactful next steps.
  • Finding Your Internal Champion – Identifying your internal champions is critical to getting your deal supported and approved by the real decision makers.
  • Navigating the Internal Sale – Many deals are lost because of internal politics & processes, so identify and avoid these traps in order to not get surprised.
  • Contract and Legal Traps to Avoid – An overview of key contract and legal terms to know so that you do not agree to something that hurts your startup later on.
  • Negotiate & Close the Deal – When the deal is on the line, we offer some tactics to ensure you do not give away too much to close the deal.

There is one last topic that is a bit outside the sales focus above, but will be one of the most critical functions if your startup is to grow and scale. That topic is the customer flywheel, a concept that we here are Amazon know quite a bit about. Think of this as the conclusion to this series and the bridge to topics touching on customer success, revenue operations, and operational scaling.

Now that you know the content we plan to cover, the plan is to release a new post on a weekly basis. We will dive deep into each of these topics so that you have both the tactics and the strategy that supports the tactics. If you follow all of the lessons in this series, you will begin to find you are able to confidently close deals before bringing on your first sales person. You might even be inclined change your title from Startup Founder to Founder Salesperson.

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