Why startup salespeople are different

The Sales Confidence Skills Series is a range of articles based on insights from the 2nd Sales Confidence live event we staged in November 2017. We were privileged to hear 4 of the most relevant sales leaders in London tell us their secrets. Even if you couldn’t make it, we aim to share the inspiration and education with you.

Tom Castley

Our 3rd speaker was Tom Castley. Tom is Regional VP for Account Management EMEA at Apptio, currently major disruptors in the enterprise software market. He’s also led sales at Xactly Corp and Oracle. Tom has never been shy about expressing his opinions of what works and doesn’t work in business. That’s why we love hearing him speak at our events. In this talk, Tom shared with us ‘7 things I’ve learned in sales.’

The funny thing is, what I’m going to tell you about now wasn’t actually one of Tom’s 7 things. This article relates to an introductory line from the start of Tom’s speech. Often little things can say so much.

‘I’m assuming you all come from what I call the evangelical startup, education-based sales. You’re disruptors, rather than just an organisation that does something quicker or cheaper.’

‘If you’re at the beginning of your sales career or going down that journey, great. It’s the most academically challenging sales environment to be in, because you’re selling to people who don’t know what you’re talking about, they certainly have no budget for it, and you need to inspire them to take action.’

The negative is, of course, once you’ve worked for one of those, you’ll never go back to working at 150% growth company, because it’s just boring order-taking!’

If Tom is right, and I believe he is, what is it that makes us startup salespeople different? Here are 3 ideas.

1 – They relish the challenge

More than any sector of salespeople, startup salespeople have to be up for the challenge. When you join a startup, you’re being asked to go to the market with something they’ve never seen before. You’re showing the world a product that is designed to disrupt, to change the way things are done. The world might find it confusing, unworkable, even threatening, but your job is to change those views. You’re not selling your company, you’re selling your solution. As Tom said, it’s an intellectual challenge.

Selling at a startup unleashes the hustler in you, the drive to do whatever it takes to succeed. The fate of the business depends on your performance. Without you, there is no business, just an idea. It’s more than just a pay packet or a stepping stone to a bigger job. The challenge is what drives you and defines you.

2 – They believe

Selling at a startup is a test of faith. You have to have faith in your product, your company, your customers and yourself.

Startup salespeople will meet with blank stares a lot of the time, and rejection more than most. After all, no one knows who you are. You’re not big and dependable. They don’t know that they need you, not yet anyway.

You need to get up every time you’re knocked down, and you can’t do that without belief.  That’s how you like it.

Belief is something we talk about a lot at Sales Confidence, as confidence stems from belief. At our last event, Simon Kelly, who ran sales at LinkedIn among other companies, talked at length about this.

‘At LinkedIn, the first year we were pounding the streets, and we were kind of laughed at. But we believed in the product.’

3 – They’re invested emotionally

With respect to salespeople working for long-established companies that are No1 in their market, startup salespeople have more of an emotional investment in what they do.

When you sell for a startup, you see first-hand the blood, sweat and tears that go into making something work. The CEO isn’t a distant figure in a boardroom, probably on a different continent. You actually know the guys and girls that had the idea, that were there from day one. It’s their whole lives, and it soon becomes yours.

You take successes and failures personally. You become the evangelist you never knew you could be.

Are you different?

Those are 3 ways I believe startup salespeople are different. What do you think? What, in your eyes, sets startup salespeople apart from the herd? Leave us a comment to let us know.

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