The CEO of any company is expected to sell at all times. The primary objective of any business is sales. You begin by selling to yourself, then you sell your co-founders. Later, you’ll sell your first client and you’ll continue until you retire. The job of any CEO is sales.
This primer will help you understand your role and sell better.
First, Sell Yourself
The most effective sales technique out there is conviction and true belief. Nothing is more powerful than a person who has more confidence in his vision for the future than anyone else in the room. As a startup CEO, you must convince yourself of new ideas and a future vision. Current circumstances and the degree of difficulty it will take to make these idea a reality must not get in the way of selling yourself. The bottom line is, if you can’t sell yourself on your vision, you won’t be able to sell anyone else.
Learn to sell yourself first before going out to sell others.
Then, Sell Your Co-Founders
There’s no way around it; startups are difficult. They require long hours, tight budgets, short deadlines, and mountains of stress. Your chances of success are better if you find people who balance your weaknesses and who will help you build your company from day one. Even when you do find the right co-founder, you will probably have to sell them on your idea. For the most part, this is a two-step process.
- Step 1: Sell them on your vision
- Step 2: Manage all their objections
If you’ve already sold yourself on your vision, you probably have enough energy to sell them too. The more challenging task is overcoming all their objections (which I explain how to do here). You need to answer their questions eloquently and intelligently so they seriously consider the venture. Spend some time thinking up answers to all the questions that will come up. Here’s a short list to get you started:
- What about competitors?
- Is it worth leaving my current job/school/etc.?
- How will we pay for this?
- Who is going to sell it?
- How will we divide up ownership?
- How long will it take before we start getting paid?
This is just the beginning of what should be a long list of questions. Keep thinking about the challenges you are going to face and have quality answers ready.
As you begin to reduce their objections, it can be helpful to propose a smaller or short-term commitment. You could simply start working on a part-time open source project for a month or two and see how it goes. This allows you to work together before committing to co-founding a company together. The key point is to make smaller steps until your potential co-founders have enough confidence to commit 100 percent.
Sell to Your First Customers
One of the key sales skills every CEO needs is the ability to close crucial deals. In the early days of a startup, this means closing your first 10 or 100 customers. Later, as the company grows, this means closing key accounts and helping your sales team with the toughest prospects. You must be willing to go out there and pitch your product, ask for the sale, and bring in money from early customers.
It doesn’t matter if your product is not yet fully ready. Ask for money as early as possible and see real reactions to get a sense for the market. Chase deals and don’t be afraid to fail. People who only like to work on things that will make them look good are bad startup CEO material.
You’ll never get it all done. If you read this and think, “This seems like a lot of work but surely once we made it, I’ll be able to stop selling and just lean back and enjoy life," you're wrong.
As long as you're the CEO, one of your key jobs will involve sales. If you don’t like it, think about switching professions.
Steli Efti is the CEO of Close.io, sales software that helps SaaS companies close more deals and make more sales. He has worked with over 150 venture backed startups helping them scale their sales models.
Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.