To B2B Sales

Everything a Founder/CEO needs to know about building and managing a B2B sales team.


Selling The founder/CEO should generally be a company’s best salesperson. In this section, we show you what it takes to do that.

Seven things Founders need to know Copy link

Here are the seven things that you, as founder/CEO, need to know about sales. We’ll drill into each of them in this section:

  1. Learn by doing: get out there and sell
  2. Customers buy solutions to problems
  3. Sales is 57% listening
  4. The best sellers are curious about everything
  5. Ask open-ended questions
  6. Manage the sales process as a quid pro quo
  7. Don’t talk about competitors unless directly asked

Get out there and sell Copy link

The first thing to know about sales is that you need to push yourself to go out and sell. It may not come naturally but you need to do it. With practice, you'll likely end up very good at it. It will keep you close to the market and your customers – and investors will expect it.

A few key things to know:

  • Your comfort zone will expand. Doing something repeatedly makes it feel more natural over time
  • View each interaction as a learning moment and hone your skills. You will get better and better with practice
  • See what works for you. Different styles and sales techniques work for different people. Discover what works best for you, your customers and your business
  • Selling lays the foundation for hiring your first VP of sales: The more you've sold yourself, the better you will understand the job you need your VP of sales to do
  • It helps to improve your fundraising: Investors expect you to start with founder-led sales, and they will want to hear rich, first-hand stories about what you've learned about the market by doing it


Five reasons why selling is the key skill founders need to learn Copy link

Insights from Balderton Partner Suranga Chandratillake, providing his perspective on why selling is one of the key skills founders need to learn.


Customers buy solutions to problems Copy link

The traditional way of saying this: Copy link

  • “Customers buy quarter-inch holes, not quarter-inch bits.” – Theodore Levitt

The modern way of saying this: Copy link

Either way, the point is clear: Copy link

  • Customers buy products (and services) to solve problems
  • Your product and services are therefore always a means to an end

While marketing emphasis may be on either the end or the means, as a function of the company's situation and strategy. In sales, it is universally good advice to focus on the customer’s problem. Talk about their problem and how you solve it, not all the wonderful features in your product that may or may not be relevant to them.

Sales is 57% listening Copy link

The average B2B seller talks too much. Some 65% to 75% of the time. According to Gong research, the golden talk-to-listen ratio is 43/57. This means most sellers are listening as little as 25% of the time when they should be listening 57%.

The best sellers are great listeners

  • They ask clear and purposeful questions
  • They listen to the answers (and don’t interrupt customer responses)
  • They ask thoughtful follow-up questions

Conversation Intelligence tools like Gong and Chorus can provide talk/listen ratios among many other important features (e.g., coaching, activity, keywords, analytics), meaning you no longer have to guess how often you and your sellers are listening.

The average B2B seller talks too much: 65-75% of the time. Copy link
Per Gong research - the golden talk/listen ratio is 43/57 Copy link
"You have two ears and one mouth, use them in proportion." Copy link
Ancient sales adage (which pushes to 33/66, but a little attempted over-compensation never hurt) Copy link

The best sellers are curious Copy link

The best sellers are curious about everything: the customer, the problem they're trying to solve, and the processes their customers are following to make their buying decision.

Be curious about the customer

  • At a business level – e.g. their career history, role, duties, relationships, alliances, challenges, and opportunities
  • At an individual level – e.g. their interests, desires, motivations, and goals

Be curious about the problem

  • What is the problem at hand?
  • What is the impact of solving it?
  • How have they previously tried to solve it?

Be curious about the process

  • What other solutions are they considering?
  • How did they hear about you?
  • Why are they considering you?
  • What’s their selection process?
  • What’s their evaluation criteria?
  • Where did this criteria come from?
  • How does their scoring work?
  • Whose budget is paying for this?
  • Who needs to sign what documents?
  • Will they be working on the last day of the quarter?
  • Have they previously run a purchasing process at this company? With a deal of this size?
  • Might any recent changes affect the purchase process?
  • Who might object to signing this order?
  • What is the business impact of delay?
  • How is your firm doing in the process?
  • If they don’t pick you, why would that be?
  • We’re your top choice, great! Why?

Ask open-ended questions Copy link

The best sellers ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions generally reveal far more information than closed-ended ones and produce a conversation as opposed to an interrogation.

Close-ended Examples

  • Are you evaluating other vendors? (Yes)
  • Have you established evaluation criteria? (Yes)
  • Does this problem have any downstream impact? (Yes)

Open-ended Equivalents

  • Tell me about the other vendors you're evaluating?
  • I'm curious. How did you arrive at these criteria?
  • Tell me how this problem impacts others in the organisation?

Train yourself to ask open-ended questions Copy link

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The give-to-get sales process Copy link

Manage the sales process as a quid pro quo Copy link

At the end of the sales process, the prospect may or may not buy your software. Either way, your company’s investment of time and resources is both real and material.

  • A sales opportunity typically costs $2K to $4K in enterprise
  • A typical custom demo can run $5K to $10K of solution consultant (SC) time; a highly customised demo is closer to $20K to $40K

As a result, you need to maintain a balance of power in the relationship. Yes, the customer is considering buying your software but you are investing real time and money to support their process.

Get in the habit of asking for give-to-gets - i.e. "if I give you x, can I get y?"

  • If we build the customised demo, will you ensure that the CFO attends?
  • If we run a two-hour Q&A, will you set up a meeting with the CDO afterwards?
  • If we get you the draft contract by Tuesday, can you commit to getting it reviewed by Friday?

At the right time, this also includes asking for the order:

  • So, if we do this final step, will we get the order?
  • Why or why not?

Talking about the competition Copy link

Don't talk about the competition unless asked Copy link

Your company may (and usually should) invest a lot of time in understanding competitive offerings. But you need to be careful about how and if you share that knowledge as it comes with risks. You could:

  • Accidentally introduce a competitor into a deal (“what was that name again?”)
  • Appear competitor-focused, not customer-focused (“all they talked about was us; all you talked about was them.”)
  • Seem afraid (“maybe the other company is the real leader?”)
  • Stop getting invited on sales calls

Three rules of speaking about the competition Copy link

  1. Generally don’t do it – raise a mental yellow flag for every second you spend discussing them
  2. Be sure everything you say is true and defensible – credibility is critical
  3. Only say the name of a competitor when it’s been said to you first – avoid accidental introductions

Talking competition: methinks thou doth protest too much. Copy link

In this post, Dave Kellogg looks at discussing the competition in investor, partner, and analyst meetings

Read the Article

To learn more about selling Copy link