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August, 2021

Founder-Led Sales: Build Motion, Then Team

Why startup founders should build their sales motion before they build their sales team.

We meet companies of all shapes and sizes that are looking to try Variance. While we’re very much built for organizations that have integrated (or are in the process of integrating) a product-led sale with a sales team, we have customers at various stages in that journey. Of these other types of companies, there’s one that particularly interests me: startups that are early in their life with founders still leading most or all of the sales.

We’ve taken to calling this stage “founder-led sales,” and it’s interesting to me because a) I’m a founder myself, b) we are in this stage (just hiring our first non-founding member of the sales team), and c) I think Variance can be a potent tool as a startup is exiting this early stage in their life.

Founder-Led Sales

Before diving into the role of Variance, let’s talk a little about startup stages. We are a fan of Wildcat Ventures’ Traction Gap Framework, which argues that there’s a lot more nuance in early-stage startup and product building than just minimum viable product (MVP). Specifically, the Traction Gap lays out three key stages that need to happen before a company truly scales:

  • Initial Product Release (IPR): “IPR is when a startup first makes its product available to the public. At this stage, the team is seeking customer validation metrics to demonstrate it is on the path to developing a MVP. This milestone signals entry into the Traction Gap.” 
  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP): “MVP is a debated term, but we define it as the most pared down version of a product that will be purchased or used by customers.” 
  • Minimum Viable Repeatability (MVR): “MVR is the smallest amount of repeatability a startup can execute to demonstrate its business model feasibility and reach what we call ‘market/product’ fit – without a market, there is no need for your product. You must be able to repeatedly, effectively, and efficiently reach and acquire customers and users. Repeatability is not just about sales. You must also demonstrate product release repeatability, implementation success repeatability (real customers using the product and getting real value), and some marketing and lead generation repeatability.” 

In these initial phases, particularly IPR and MVP, the founding team is completely central to the company’s sales. Part of the reason for that is that no one will be able to tell the story better than the founders, and the other is that founders must be on the front line with prospects and customers. As Mike Tyson once said, everyone has a plan until they have to ask a prospect for money.

The Shape of Data

In just the same way that it’s critical to be out there talking to prospects and customers to understand what the market needs, it’s also crucial to engage with the data they’re kicking off to understand what matters and what doesn’t. I like to think of this as getting to know the “shape” of your data, and I think one of the critical mistakes made in companies of all sizes is trying to abstract that data into charts, graphs, and dashboards before they’ve got a good feel for what it means and how it works. This is particularly damaging for software products, as your understanding of the data will have direct ramifications on your ability to build onboarding, grow customers, and do all the other tasks that are needed to reach repeatability.

A look at our own implementation of Variance, which has a number of Team Streams looking at key events across our customer base

A look at some of the shared streams we have in Variance

At the very beginning, this can look like a raw feed of data—with just one or two customers, it might be worth following along with every single event. As that starts to get too overwhelming, it’s about identifying the key events across a series of dimensions that matter most. Product analytics tools are great, but when you’ve got less than, say, fifty customers, a chart is a lot less helpful than a feed.

Building Your Sales Motion Before You Build Your Sales Team

If it were just about the analytics, we probably wouldn’t be here. The more significant opportunity for Variance is to start to spot the signals and processes that will ultimately make up your go-to-market motion. As we’ve outlined in the past, the best way to think about sales is as an event-driven discipline. A sales stage change is ultimately a milestone where a prospect or customer takes a specific set of actions. As a seller, whether your title is founder or account executive, your job is to usher a prospect or customer through those stages, reacting to the events as they happen.

Having this kind of data at your fingertips makes it possible to start to build your sales motion before you’ve even got a sales team. You can identify the key events, script key responses, and understand the events that drive customers to close within a few clicks in Variance. Then, as you start to scale your team, you can arm them with both your understanding and access to the data themselves, helping them to get their arms around what drives growth in just the way you have. 

In those early stages of a startup’s life, founders are the revenue engine. We want Variance to be the engine behind the engine.

August 3, 2021
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