Products Do Not Sell Themselves

Your product doesn't sell itself—unless you're selling booze at the end of prohibition. These people in the picture above were waiting in front of the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis on April 6, 1933 for beer sales to become legal at midnight

Quite simply, products do not sell themselves.  Although Apple sold over 6 million of its latest model iPhone X over Black Friday weekend, this is the result of years of product development and very strategic branding.  Even after multiple iPhone models with each new model surpassing the previous model’s sales record, the company continues to support the product development efforts with an even greater emphasis on sales and marketing.

Industry leading tech companies have a relentless focus on their go-to-market strategy in an effort to become selling brands.  Why is then, that so many early stage companies which take these technology leaders as role models don’t have a purposeful sales strategy.  In a recent conversation with an startup selling cyber service to enterprises, everything sounded great for the first 30 minutes of our conversation.  We talked about the significant improvement this service represents, the innovation they have created giving them a head start and barriers to entry for potential competitors.  We then started talking about sales activities.  It quickly became clear that their talented team of five product people had one person who was also responsible for developing, pitching and attempting to close sales leads.  And, they were concerned about meeting sales targets for the new year.

Unfortunately, the example above in not the exception, but more likely the rule.  When faced with an early stage startup without a go-to-market strategy, the investor has two options.  First, is to not move forward with the discussion.  Or, when a startup has clear product-market fit, there can be an opportunity to guide the startup in the right direction by suggesting they take a closer look at their go-to-market strategy and bring on new team members with the skills required to build a sales function.

Why sales?

The true purpose of sales is to create new value for customers.  This is especially true for a startup or growth company that is addressing a new market or innovating on a complex problem.  That is why enterprise sales requires a well-thought-through process.  Strong enterprise sales is critical to capturing early market share and setting your company on a growth trajectory.

Once that Fortune 500/Global 2000 account has been won, how can you ensure you keep the customer, or upsell, cross sell or sell across divisions that can span geographies?  Doing that requires building a sales team.  It’s precisely when the product is gaining traction that building the sales team and processes is critical.  Slowing down at this point could expose the company to the competition.

While a strong product focus is essential to build an industry leading tech company, it only becomes valuable when complemented with a purposeful go-to-market strategy. Most engineers who often launch tech startups naturally tend to focus on product, however, in order to scale, it’s important to think about sales strategy and build the skills to complement their product expertise.  Having a well planned sales strategy will make your business more attractive for investors, but this is just a side benefit. Whether you decide to take outside funding or not, a clear go-to-market strategy will make you more likely to build the next tech industry leader.