Why many growth stage founders think they know more about sales then they actually do

Everyday I meet with founders from companies ranging from early growth stage to those that are 50 million in revenue. Every company has issues that they need to solve, mine included, and most know they need some help in moving through key growth stages. The distinction that makes the biggest difference in the majority of CEOs I meet with is understanding that sales is incredibly challenging and often requires expert assistance. This is difficult for young, first-time CEOs to grasp, but a leader’s awareness of how difficult building, optimizing and scaling a sales organization is can be a predictor of the company’s future growth.

Why is sales the one part of the business that so many people believe they inherently know what “good” looks like?

1. No point of reference.

We know math and science are hard, we know accounting is hard, we know programming is hard, we know operations and supply chain are hard, we know leadership is hard, we know marketing is hard…..why? Years of school and exposure to a topic helps us to understand the difficulty and level of commitment required to become an expert in the topic. However sales, the number one job out of school for new grads, is never taught or a focus in our learning, so we have no clue how hard it actually is. We have limited interactions with sales growing up and the media projects an oversimplified caricature that focuses on charisma more than the science of sales.

2. Most would not have a sales team if they didn’t have to.

Because of the stereotypes and misconceptions of what makes a successful sales organization, many founders dread building out and optimizing the sales process more than any other scaling problem they will face. I see many companies that have very little traction, sub-20 customers, looking to hire a sales leader to just get it off their plate as soon as possible. They think an experienced sales leader or even just a few sales guys can take the day to day of sales off their plate and fix everything. Then what happens???

The first hires stumble out of the gate or fail outright because they aren’t set for success. Why? Because the founder thought they would just figure it out and handed off the entire process. Scaling the customer acquisition process is a brutal process of trial and error, but as entrepreneurs that is what we signed up for. Embrace sales as a critical component and truly become a student of the process.

3. The perception that sales is more feel than process execution.

The media and our past perceptions make us think that sales is something that can only be done by the outgoing, charismatic schmoozer types who aren’t that bright, but can drink and play golf with the best of them.

Now….I’m not saying that isn’t part of it from time to time, but what you don’t see are the grueling strategy and problem solving sessions that happen behind the scenes. Working midsized and enterprise level organizations takes extreme intelligence, patience, and understanding of human psychology at the highest level. Real rockstar reps are the women and men that close the million dollar deals and they earn their stripes in the prep and execution of the strategy.

Sales is one of if not the most critical piece of scaling your company, and you cannot afford to trust your gut and hire someone who you think has a good grasp on sales and scaling. As a founder it is critical that you understand and become a student of sales so you can help in the departments growth just as you would any other department. You go to school to learn about every topic except sales, and most founders need some education on sales. They don’t need to be experts, but they do need to know what good looks like vs. their gut.

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