Whether or not technical founders like to admit it, sales is at the core of most businesses. You can go out and build the cleanest, most beautiful product in the world, but if you cannot sell it, no one will ever use/buy it. Young companies, in particular, spend a lot of their time selling.
As the founder, or even an early employee, of a startup, you are often required to do a lot of "odd jobs" that are not in any job description. Sales/Customer support is one of them. Paul Graham discusses this in his essay:
One is that a lot of startup founders are trained as engineers, and customer service is not part of the training of engineers. You're supposed to build things that are robust and elegant, not be slavishly attentive to individual users like some kind of salesperson. And no, you can't avoid doing sales by hiring someone to do it for you. You have to do sales yourself initially. Later you can hire a real salesperson to replace you.
Sales is really important - but how do you learn
to sell? Most of us have never sold anything before, let alone be the "head of sales" for our early company. Do you sign up for a "sales class?" Do you read articles? Do you attend conferences?
I'd say there are generally two ways to learn things like sales. Think of the world of sales like a big pool. Do you dive in head first or slowly inch in, one foot at a time?
Diving in - just pretty much ignore everything and make it up as you go along
Slowly Inch In - read, take classes, attend conferences
I favor the former. I learned to sell standing on my feet, and I could recommend it to anyone.
I am not sure if you know this, but in high school I started a company that sold produce. I was super naive when I did. I was not raised on a farm. I had zero experience handling tomatoes, let alone interfacing with thousands of customers. Yes this was weird and different.
I had never taken a sales class. I had never really sold anything before. But for nearly three years, I woke up (really early) every single Saturday and Sunday morning and stood at a Farmers' Market Booth selling produce, houseplants, and a variety of other things.
One of the key, under emphasized words in that last sentence is: "stood." That word is purposeful. I literally stood on my feet for 7 hours+ during each of those morning shifts.
And when I hired other people (10+) to manage my other booths, I had one clear rule: "Stand on your feet while you sell. No chairs." I was a fair manager, but this rule I was strict on.
Standing showed that we cared. It showed that we were eager to greet new customers.
It was a small thing, but it made all the difference, especially early on. We were one of the only booths at the market that did this. It differentiated us.
Ok so Farmers' Markets is one thing, but how the hell can I apply "standing when I sell" to my software business that I spend all day sitting working on?
"Selling on your feet" is really about being proactive. Reactive startups sit back, and wait for customers to come to them. This is both unrealistic and unsustainable.
Proactive startups, in comparison, make a purposeful effort to talk to customers. They are always standing. They not only reach out to, but also cultivate connections with their user base. They respond to every customer support message. They are always providing value to stakeholders. They are never slouching. They are excited to be building. They are optimistic.
They are always communicating.
Learning to become a strong communicator is one of the hardest challenges for many early founders. Putting the beauty that you see in your product into words/copy is incredibly challenging.
Sales is really just communication.
So here's what I'll tell you - dive into the pool. Jump head first. And never sit down.