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At Silicon Valley Startups, Sales Must Come First

Christopher Tuttle

Silicon Sales

While I was a student at Stanford, I got the chance to attend a seminar featuring Kathryn Gould, prominent entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Speaking about her time in the 1980s at the then-startup, Oracle, Gould said something that stuck out to me.

At the time, she said, “All that mattered to Larry [Ellison – co-founder and former CEO of Oracle] was engineering and sales.”

In fact, sales were so important that Gould, the VP of marketing, had a sales quota. “That’s where I really learned to sell,” she added. “All you engineers — if you’re going to do startups, make sure you really know how to sell.

CEOs are great salespeople

Gould’s comments about what made companies successful caught me off guard. As a college kid enamored by Silicon Valley startups, I thought success came from bean bag chairs, office perks and the might of the world’s smartest engineers. Startup culture and talented coders are, no doubt, central to the success of the Valley. However, Gould’s words helped me realize I misunderstood a basic facet of entrepreneurship.

Then the question was asked: “What do you look for in a CEO?”

“I look for a CEO who’s a great leader,” Gould answered, “and who’s also the best salesman in the company; that if you get this CEO in front of a customer, they’re going to buy this stuff.”

Everyone needs sales skills

Gould went on to note that the skill of selling isn’t exclusive to sales jobs. “I have had great salesmen who were engineers or marketing people,” Gould stated. “It doesn’t matter where they came from, but they have to be great salesmen, not just to the customer, but to recruit people to the company, to get venture capitalists to invest. It’s really crucial.”

In a recent article published by Entrepreneur, Matt Turck, managing director of FirstMark Capital, echoed Gould’s thoughts. “Whether you are interacting with customers, fundraising or recruiting, you are always selling.”

If successful entrepreneurs know how to sell, then it makes sense that successful companies need people who know how to sell. In the aforementioned article, Lars Dalgaard, partner at Andreessen Horowitz, encouraged entrepreneurs to invest in quality salespeople.

“In addition to bringing the actual bacon — in the form of paying customers that make everything work,” he said, “salespeople are the one group constantly in front of the very people you’re selling to. They can visualize the market like no one else, help build the go-to-market strategy and give you intimate customer and competitive insights for the overall company strategy.”

Combining entrepreneurship with sales

The evening after listening to Gould, I did an online search to learn more about B2B tech sales and I looked for opportunities to work in the space. My path eventually led me to what I think is the most ideal setting for learning about entrepreneurship and sales — XANT, the industry leader in sales acceleration technology, as well as the home of many of the industry’s most prominent sales leaders. As part of the Momentum Strategy Team, we help companies grow their revenues through a combination of cutting-edge technology and business strategy from our top sales leaders.

Gould’s words are reinforced in my mind each time we go out and work with a client’s sales team. Salespeople are not only the frontline of the company, but they’re linked to every aspect of the organization. They need to understand marketing in order to know where and how they get their leads. They need to know the product in order to understand how it will benefit the customer. And they must understand what it takes to provide the best service for a customer, ensuring the deal is not only closed, but successfully delivered.

Knowing how to sell is as important today as it’s ever been. In a space dominated by product engineering, it’s imperative for Silicon Valley startup founders to remember: you are always selling.

Momentum is XANT’s premier services offering, reserved for organizations who require the highest level of focus on business outcomes. Momentum works with sales leadership to design and deliver Sales Transformation programs, including people, processes & systems.

Visit the Momentum page to learn how this team can help your sales organization. 

Sales consulting

Image credit: Patrick Nouhailler