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Sales 101: Create a successful sales process at your startup

Sales are the ultimate test of the performance of your product development process, your design, your marketing and your leadership. Selling is the culmination of all other company activities.

What is leadership’s role in sales?

As the leader of a startup, you should

  • Be involved in the sales effort to evaluate how your company and your product perform in front of the customer.
  • Routinely make time in their schedules to engage with potential customers.
  • Make time to ensure that all employees know they are expected to support the sales process.

In sales, relationships matter

An important expression to keep in mind is, “people buy from people.” This refers to the fact that organizations don’t make decisions—individuals do. Building relationships with potential customers is therefore an essential step in commercializing new technology.
To gain the trust of potential customers, you need to invest the resources necessary to ensure that your technology will stand up to the scrutiny of a potential buyer.
You must also be fully engaged with the sales process. Many entrepreneurs might think that “I am so busy developing my product and raising money from investors that I really don’t have time for relationship-building.” Yet failure to establish relationships with potential customers is the number one reason why most new ventures fail.

Fundamentally, selling is about building confidence in your company and your product’s ability to do what you claim.

You build this type of trust the same way you build trust with colleagues, friends or even a potential spouse. The main difference is that in business, we attempt to do this systematically, in ways that breed effectiveness and efficiency. This is illustrated by the American Society of Training and Development‘s (ASTD) definition of professional selling:
“The holistic business system required to effectively develop, manage, enable, and execute a mutually beneficial, interpersonal exchange of goods and/or services for equitable value.”

A few comments about the ASTD’s definition of professional selling:

From an academic standpoint, selling is part of marketing: the process of bringing goods and services to your customers.

Everyone is involved in the sales process

Selling can also be seen as something that takes place not just when goods and/or services change hands but also when someone promotes a new idea (that is, internally in the organization or by a politician). In this sense, everyone is involved in selling to some degree, regardless of their profession or place in society.
You use a process very similar to selling when you try to get your kids to go to bed, when you try to get your colleagues to go along with a particular problem-solving approach, and when you try to persuade a potential employee to take a position at your company.

To sell successfully, you must demonstrate benefits to your customer

This broader concept of sales suggests that it makes use of fundamental skills that are called upon in many aspects of adult life and work. It follows that most people would benefit a great deal from mastering the art of sales if they are to succeed in life.
The skills involved in successful selling revolve around the idea that what you are proposing is“mutually beneficial,” meaning that whether you are promoting an idea or selling a product—no customer will deal with you unless they feel that they benefit too, in some way.

Think of sales as a process

Thinking of selling as a process is essential to the idea that there is systematic work involved in helping your target customer reach a conclusion about whether a proposition is mutually beneficial or not. Good salespeople are very efficient at this, and tend to be well aware of what different stakeholders find valuable.
Establishing and communicating the various win-win positions are crucial when managing sales processes with multiple stakeholders on the buying side. Achieving win-win positions for all stakeholders is what triggers a sale and allows a business relationship to form.
For the sales process to work, it is important for you, as the leader of your company, to be directly involved in all sales activities from the outset. This will help you develop an informed understanding of how potential customers relate to your offering and what kind of resources are needed to manage the sales process through to close.
Also, the insights garnered through direct customer interaction are critical to understanding how you can build and shape your sales organization, including what kind of skills you should look for in your sales staff and what the appropriate targets for your sales quota might be.

Become great at sales. Check out our free Selling for Entrepreneurs online course. It provides over two hours of expert sales instruction designed for startup founders who want to lead sales and accelerate company growth.


Heiman, S. & Sanchez, D. (1998). The New Strategic Selling. New York: Warner Books, Inc.