Sales Theory for Technical Founders

Sales is hard, period.

While we know that digital is the future of business and developers and engineers will remain in high demand, what is often understated is the need for quality sales talent in the technology industry. Founders of early stage startups know this to be true because, as Peter Thiel says, “look around, if you don’t see any salesmen, the salesman is you.”

The majority of tech founders take on a sales role themselves, and the biggest mistake they can make is not giving the process the respect it deserves. Gone are the days of the used car salesman who pushed lemons to unsuspecting customers; armed with Carfax reports, black book values and a thorough backlog of Google ratings for the dealer, you cannot “pull a fast one” if you tried.

The game used to be controlling information of the product and presenting it as better than competitors. It is now a process of curating relevance amid a sea of information and tailoring to your specific prospect’s needs. Prospects walk in knowing your competitors, their prices and that everybody “stands by their service”. In the new world where mechanical processes are being automated at an alarming rate, one of the last human value-added jobs left is sales.

For founders, you are in a fight and need revenue quickly, the quickest way to achieve it is to personally take on a full-time sales role. While you will necessarily fail and embarrass yourself many times, understand that getting results in sales is a learned process. Based on experience, I recommend reading the following three books in order, and then completing the prescribed exercise before every meeting you take to rapidly aid your progression into a competent salesman.

Many of this will seem painfully simple to a smart engineer type like you, but just understand, most of what works in life is simple but not easy. This is literally a matter of life or death, for your business.

  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion: Robert Cialdini

The absolute base level beginning of sales theory is to understand what universally causes humans to be susceptible to influence based on our genetic predispositions. Specifically, there are six universal principles that will lead someone to act on your recommendations. I will not list them here as this is a book everybody should read cover to cover. Berkshire Hathaway VP and all around very smart guy Charlie Munger considered this book essential reading for everyone, gave a wonderful speech at Stanfordbased on its research, and even awarded the author Robert Cialdini with a share of Berkshire Hathaway A stock for the “great service he has done for humanity”. That unit’s current value is $290,450.

  • Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff

Oren Klaff is a highly accomplished Investment Banker who attributes his great success to his ability to successfully pitch investors a deal by cutting through the noise and getting their attention. The human brain is evolved over millions of years such that we do not engage the smart and actively thinking part of our brain (neocortex) until after we have satisfied more base level, reactive parts of our brain (midbrain and crocodile brain). The crocodile brain, as he refers to it, needs to be satisfied before any higher-level thinking occurs (fight or flight – do I trust this person?). Followed by the mid brain social functions (do I like this person? Are they credible?). Finally, a person may be ready to engage in the “nuts and bolts” of your pitch, but most likely that is take home work for due diligence.

Many salesmen skip the steps and thus their well thought out plans and data are rejected by the defensive crocodile brain of their prospect. Read this book to understand the layers you have to advance through in order to even have your pitch heard, and you will greatly increase your chances of a positive outcome.

  • The Challenger Sale by Matthew Dixon, Brent Adamson

Many people think that being friendly, polite and willing to “bend over backwards” is the key to winning customers. This is undoubtedly true, but very misconstrued out in the marketplace. You will find out in the world that many people can like you as a person and see all the logical benefits of what you are pitching but that will not be enough to act. This book will teach you that to win someone to your idea or product you have to challenge their current thinking in a shocking manner.

We see this in everyday life, for a host of reasons people procrastinate or simply don’t do what they know they should. This book by no means advocates being annoying or pushy, but rather teaches those who are naturally polite and non-confrontational how to deliver their message in a way that promotes action.


As mentioned, this is painfully simple, but sometimes simple just works. I write three headings on a piece of paper and fill them out before every meeting I go to. They are structured so that you are following a narrative that is pleasing to the person that you are talking to and making sure your key points get across by solidifying them in your mind. The three headings are as follows:

Warm it up: You want to establish rapport as quickly as possible. Do you know the same people? Do you have common interest? In many cases you are making an educated guess about what this person’s personality is like and what you two can relate on. Stay in this mode as long as they want to, until they bring up your pitch. You have now earned their attention.

Present Problem: What is wrong currently with what they are doing? You need to create tension here. You are there for a purpose which is to make them understand the severity of not acting on this problem. If you don’t have an answer here, you don’t have a pitch.

Offer solution: Present succinctly how you will take care of the problem with confidence. Establish expertise and show that you are capable of solving their problem through experience. If you can’t do this, again, you don’t have a pitch.

After you understand the base theory of the sales process and have a good habit of creating a narrative that people can follow easily, the rest is attitude. Rejection is painful and it gets to everybody. Knowing that everybody goes through this (and that your competitors are probably quitting when the going gets too tough) helps push you through some lean months.

All of your business dreams are on the other side of a tough early sales process, I hope to see you there soon.

Attitude Bonus: See these influencers for motivation and discipline training

Instagram: @edmylett, @grantcardone, @garyvaynerchuk

Podcast: The MFCEO project with Andy Frisella (warning: language!)

Books: Zig Ziglar or Tony Robbins

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