Do startups need different types of salespeople for different phases of development?


Ville Heikkinen (second from right), our new regional guest blogger from Butterfly Ventures, got the inspiration for this piece from Northern Glow–conference’s sales training session arranged in Oulu on August 27th.​ Photo: Tero Suutari, BusinessOulu

Developing a startup to scalable business is all about sales – even more than real estate business is about location. You have to sell your idea or MVP to potential customers to find a product-market-fit, sell your product to early adopters to validate your business model and executing your go-to-market plan is all about sales.

In the process of building a scalable business you have to do things that don’t scale. As Paul Graham points out:

“The most common unscalable thing founders have to do at the start is to recruit users manually. Nearly all startups have to. You can’t wait for users to come to you. You have to go out and get them.”

Is founder always the best salesperson?

I have found out three founder types that has to work hard in developing their sales skills. Most common of these founder types in Finland is R&D professional. Still we hear some arguments about making the product so great that it sells itself, but luckily less of these self-selling products are made day-by-day.

Founders who are specialists in some area – such as for instance doctors, lawyers or auditors – may feel selling ashamed and somehow reducing their credibility as specialists. Third founder type that has to focus on developing sales skills is marketing and media personality who may consider the deal closed when they get the first attention of a potential customer.

Luckily, effective sales can be learned and you don’t have to be born as a natural salesman. Even big and somewhat rigid organizations like Finnish universities begin to have some focus on teaching sales skills, in addition to marketing, and events like Salesvation focus solely on teaching better sales skills and increasing the appreciation of sales work.

In developing the scalable business you need different kind of salesmen in different phases of the development. Wild “cowboy salesmen” are needed at least in the beginning when recruiting the first customers and partners.

As you go further, more organized sales process and management and with that “big company salesmen” are needed. And at the end of the day some kind of balance between these two in order stay agile while scaling up.

What are your experiences in building up a scalable business?


Is it all about the sales? Photo: Tero Suutari, BusinessOulu

This is a post written by our new regional guest blogger from Oulu, Ville Heikkinen. As a partner at Butterfly Ventures, an early stage focused start-up development and venture fund management company, Heikkinen works in the frontline of Finland’s startup ecosystem.