Welcome back to the series! Or, if it’s your first time here, then we are happy to have you! I am sitting down again with Pat Conte, Startup Master himself, to give you insight into why startup sales teams fail. So, kick back and relax while we share some experiences with you that might save you some heartache down the road, but will at least give you food for thought.

Let’s begin with evangelists.

In the industry, there is a whole idea of a company having an evangelist. This can be a Chief Evangelist, Technical Evangelist, etc. This has been a glamour position in the tech industry since the 1990s, a positional innovation started by (surprise!) Apple.  The Tech Evangelist’s job is to be a subject matter expert. People want to listen to evangelists because they are interested in their subject. Evangelists typically don’t have to seek people out to listen to them. People will come to them.

Now that you are familiar with evangelists, what does this have to do with sales teams failing? To answer that, let’s get right into reason #1 why sales teams fail. 

Reason #1: Many Startup companies believe their salespeople need to be evangelists, but this is not true. In an early-stage company, customers don’t always know what the problem is or that there is a solution to this problem. 

For example, for our company, many companies believe there is only one way to perform optimization – by throwing many engineers at their cloud applications to tune them constantly manually. We know this is not the case because software and inbound traffic change too quickly.

Reason #2: You need missionaries. For companies that are leading edge in the market, you can’t use evangelists. Missionaries have to sell your product. 

In business and real life, missionaries are fearless because they are not there for anything but the mission itself. If they take it on, it’s because they are confident they are doing something for their customers that solve a fundamental technology problem that no one else can solve. They are there to rescue their customers from their technical problems, even if their customers don’t fully understand the problem.

It takes a specific type of sales team to work well in an environment like this. 

Reason #3: Companies don’t understand the difference between evangelists and missionaries. Let’s illustrate why this difference is so key to success.

A lousy evangelist is not going to get the money. This is the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario for a missionary in real life is they will fail – in times long ago, that might mean they got killed and eaten! (stay with us on this metaphor).  As a result, missionaries in whatever field they are in are fearless.  They are there for the mission and to help those they are going to. 

In the tech business, especially with startups, the sales team has to have this same fearlessness. Their job is to find people to help with innovative technology. Even those unaware of the problem or our solution. Companies that build their team with this type of missionary selling model will be more effective and successful in the early days than companies that try to fill their teams with big company-type salespeople, whose objective is the sale and the commissions that come with it.  To them, the sale is the objective, not finding people that need the innovation. This kind of approach yields mercenaries, not missionaries. 

It may seem a fine distinction, but in the field, the differences will be apparent.  Startup, missionary salespeople will not be knocked off stride by a few “no’s” or customers that don’t get the solution; they will keep going since they are there for the mission.  

We see this when people change companies in the same industry from one competitor to another. They go back to the customer and say, “Hey, remember what I told you last week about that product being the best, well forget that – THIS is the best one.”  Customers can’t help but be confused:  “now this is the one?”

Reason #4: Many sales teams are taught the sale is the objective, instead of believing they are bringing something better to their customers to tailor to the new problems customers face. The truth is the sale is the result, not the objective.

This is how Opsani models its sales team. Most customers don’t even know you can use autonomy and AI to solve the problems of tuning cloud applications continuously. We have proven this can be done, but the critical thing is to get customers to understand we have a solution for them. 

Reason #5: Companies don’t have missionaries to take their message out to the customers. In real life, missionaries are told, “you need to scout this out and do this mission; it’s going to be dangerous.”The same thing applies to Startupland. This is going to be difficult. It has to be what you want to do, or it will be too hard. 

Reason #6: Sales teams don’t truly believe in the solution. The first time the sales team encounters a customer who says no or doesn’t understand the solution, the sales team will be defeated. On the contrary, If they believe in the solution, it will not impact them.

A missionary sales team does the best with very early-stage and innovative technologies. This is how you start to build a strong foundation for a sales team in the tech space.  If you want to discuss this further, message Pat on LinkedIn or drop a comment back on this blog.  See you next time!