Last week we were back in the studio with our good friend Pete Kazanjy of TalentBin to discuss the concept of “Founder Led Selling.” Pete was formerly the Founder of TalentBin, a category-defining talent search engine and recruiting CRM that sold to Monster in 2014. Since then he has been heavily involved in the software sales ecosystem coaching the next generation of founders. In our podcast, Pete discusses the high level concept of founder led selling and how to really understand the gap between having your MVP ready to go and hiring a salesperson to then sell it. This gap is obviously filled by the founder selling their product but Pete dives in on a specific structure that he created that any founder can use to their advantage. There is a gap between the product creation hypothesis phase, and the initial commercialization which should be bridged by founder led selling. To give the listeners some specifics on the conversation, we thought it would make sense to walk through three of the best founder sales tactics Pete mentioned on our show.
(1) Founders Should Have An Intense Focus On Customer Development. When most founders are starting out, Pete feels that they do not do enough customer development. This could logically be called prospect development given most companies have not closed customers but herein we will use customer development. Instead, there is this push from the team, the investors, and other parties to build to an MVP and launch. In most cases he finds founders who are not 100% in tune with the product-problem space, how the messaging should be framed with the customer, how to refine said messaging and nail it, and the “I will pay money in exchange for the product” elements of success. The end result of this is often times that entrepreneurs “bake” products that they think will solve a problem and then immediately hand the product over to VP of Sales who will try to sell to a market. We all know how this ends and Pete calls this “getting stuffed.” One of the best founder sales tactics Pete believes in is to “Get in the Van” and talk to as many people as possible so you don’t get stuffed.
(2) Without The Right Commercial Argument & Sales Messaging You Will Fail. Another founder sales tactic that Pete hones in on is to really get the right commercial argument in place so you can articulate the pain of the customers, then show them a solution, and finally explain the commercial value of using the product to ultimately get them to buy. Most founders take a day or so and craft their narrative and think they are done. This almost always fails. The founder should run iteration after iteration on this process after the first 10, 20, 30 prospects and customer discussions and keep building this out. Record your conversations and have them transcribed. Then discuss them and make them better. The more you do this, the more you will craft the right commercial arguments and sales messages. Building on the first bullet, customer development proposes to you the features you should build and the solution you should build and then your sales messaging and commercial argument will promote you on behalf of the product to the market.
(3) Ideal Customer Profile Mapping Solves A Lot Of Prospecting Pain. Rather than waste a ton of time running around talking to everyone, founders should really consider if the prospect has the pain point that you will solve and also have this pain in such high intensity and quantity that they will be willing to pay you for this solution. We’ve talked a ton about Ideal Customer Profile Mapping (ICP) and how to build out an ICP document on the Bowery Capital blog and podcast so we won’t dive into details here. Related to Pete and his last company though the key to founder sales tactics that work here is to be as detailed and narrow as possible at first and find the clues that will lead you to the right prospects. In TalentBin’s case (Pete’s last company) their key ICP learnings were that prospects needed to have at least 5 open software engineering hires as well as have in house recruiters otherwise a deal almost always would not get done.
Whatever your perspective is, these three founder sales tactics can help drive success for any early stage software company. For more information check out the podcast with Pete and thanks to Steven Zheng for contributing to the post and the podcast.