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Why Real Salesmen Are Bad at Product Launch


I have long since recognized that there were two distinct types of salesmen.  (see http://www.telekta.com/blog/2009/03/production-vs-protype-sales/)  The person that has a business card that says Sales is usually the one that brings in all the money that keeps all the rest of us in paychecks.  New professionalism in startups, has now created some new vocabulary to describe the other types of sales people.  My expertise as a “prototype salesman” can now be described as Discovery and Vaidation Sales in the vocabulary of modern startup and product launch.  While ‘normal” sales is better described as Scaling Sales (also Efficiency and Extraction stage)

Startup Gurus for some time have been warning and now there is real hard statistical data now prove that “premature scaling” is the biggest cause of startup (or breakthrough product launch) failure.  Premature scaling happens when we make and execute sales plans before we have verified the basic sales/business recipe.  It is caused by hubris (irrational, overconfidence in the plan), panic for cash (need revenue to keep operational), and ego (impatient to take over the world) and it is deadly.

Great salesmen (of the Production or Scaling type) are great for many reasons: they overcome buyer side and seller side excuses, they have fine tuned empathy, and they are fearless to approach customers.  These same qualities, however, mean that great salesmen will almost never question the basic Market Fit (key product features, target customer segmentation, and positioning).  In fact, this is a “mental defect” that makes them great at selling at scale– Lost deals drive them to find even more customers and work even harder to break the barriers to the deal that “should be done” they know if their heart is waiting for them.

In Discovery and Validation sales (early stage / prototype), one is assuming (if you are experienced) that at least one major component of your market fit is defective and must be corrected.  Even if this different mission could be clear to your top end (scaling) salesmen, it may prove difficult to get them to overcome their natural assumption of market fit.  Additionally, most great salesmen are highly intuitive and will not think about market fit in a structured way, but will just “know something is wrong”.  (as an aside, as a sales manager, whenever I see s quota carrying salesmen worry about ppt slides or brochures, I know I have a market fit problem and a salesperson that is likely to fail)  These same Real Salesmen rely on confidence– if they spend too much time between winning business they often become incapable of restoring that confidence in the product/company/themselves when the product market fit is finally established.

Prototype salesmen are needed far less often and don’t really have job titles to help you identify them.  Look for the distracted salesmen or one overly focused on details.  Alternatively look for an engineer or product owner with good listening and customer facing skills.

Premature scaling is not just inefficient from a cost of manpower perspective, it requires a fundamentally different mindset.

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