Sales 101 for Startups – 3 Rules to Success

August 12, 2010 - Get free updates of new posts here

Someone a few weeks back mentioned I was good at sales. I don’t know about you but I almost take that as an insult. I still picture sales people as being insincere, slimy and well-dressed. I hope I don’t do any of those well.

via flickr

I personally don’t care for people who give advice without some street cred so let me drop my short sales history:

– Transtec, Bay Area based computer consulting company. Taught me the that niche markets make selling much easier.
– Macy’s bed sheets and linens department. Commission based sales against old ladies. Taught me about how waiters are really sales people with aprons.
OfficeMax, Learned upsells by going for the insurance (where I got a commission). Leading MaxInsurance sales person while I was there. BigTime 🙂
– IBM job interview, learned about who comes first which is the customer.
– CommunityNext, grew community conference to over 100K in profit in 1 year. Taught me about loving your customer.
Gambit, virtual currency monetization. Personally grew the sales revenue to 8 figures. Learned about affiliates, tracking and ROI based sales.

You can learn to sell anything, but…

Here are my 3 starter rules to be a sales badass.

Rule #1: Sales is not selling, it’s understanding.

I know that sounds weird. The best sales people are educators and love what they are offering. If you don’t like what you are selling or aren’t interested, quit and go find it. It’s a bit SHOCKING to find out the best sales people in companies get paid WAY MORE than the TOP engineer.

Commission has its moments when times are good. Sales to me is not about convincing someone to buy something, it’s about helping them make the best decision for their needs. If it’s your product, then so be it but if not then help them find the right one. That will always win out long-term. One of my KEY indicators of any sales success is repeat buying or loyalty. More on this later.

Rule #2: You can’t be a pussy.

I have noticed most startup sales people are weak in Silicon Valley. You spend countless nights, weekends and hours building an amazing thing only to be timid of telling people about it. One of my favorite sales people interview strategies is to not respond to their first email. Then I see how long and who actually follows up. How far will you go to make it succeed?

Rule #3: You must track it or it didn’t happen.

I’ll show you the forms to use that Nicholas Holland created that increased my sales conversions. Two of the key things of sales are accountability and metrics. Just knowing someone is checking your #s, even when you’re the boss, makes you so much better of a sales person.

Do you want me to write more about sales?

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18 responses to “Sales 101 for Startups – 3 Rules to Success

  1. Dru Wynings Reply

    A key differentiator to be good at sales is to simply ask the right questions. Most salesman don’t ask any at all—they just try to force feed their product offering.

    Not responding to a first email is a good trick. Someone saying “no” is infinitely better than them ignoring your emails, because you’ve got the conversation started.

    I also find that people rarely include a good call to action. Make it simple for the person to move the process forward.

  2. juan Reply

    great post noah! as usual :). btw…

    “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption to our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider to our business. He is part of it. We are not doing a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us opportunity to do so.”
    Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

  3. Mark Reply

    Last week I interviewed a guy for a sales position and he had on dollar sign cuff links. As we were walking back to our conference room he asked me about my shoes and what brand they were. I almost turned him around and said we were done. Sad thing…A recruiter and our CEO had already interviewed him and were impressed. Ugghh… I’m in sales and it’s people like this guy that keep the slime ball image going. Great list Noah and I would like to see your forms. Don’t forget cold calling as a tool. Everybody hates it but it works like none other!

  4. Noah Kagan Reply


    We hired someone for sales that I personally thought was dishonest and not someone I wanted to work with. We hired since we needed a body and his resume / back-ground check were impressive.

    In short:
    – If your gut says no then trust it
    – References = shit. Need to talk to people who bought from him
    – Talk to people he doesn’t list as references who may have worked with him

    Bottom line with sales you have to buy from someone you like. The nice thing about sales is accountability, if they don’t sell they don’t stay.

  5. Steven Moody Reply

    Great post from the mindset of “reluctant salesperson.” I too am amazed by how much selling is without passion. More than most jobs, I think, sales requires an unwavering belief in the product, or a great ability to fake it.

  6. Tim Reply

    “Bottom line with sales you have to buy from someone you like. The nice thing about sales is accountability, if they don’t sell they don’t stay.”

    – –

    True, indeed. Features and benefits will get you in the door but your relationship and rapport will get you the deal. And on the note about accountability, sales is as black and white as it gets: am I hitting my number or not? Numbers speak the loudest. Great post.

  7. Dave Reply

    When I was 20 I got a job selling real estate, not because I though I would make alot of money, or because I wanted anything to do with the industry, but because I never wanted to be scared to make a pitch. As an aspiring entrepreneur I new the most important thing I could learn to do was sell….And it has proved to be true….great post Noah

  8. John Reply

    Great stuff! Rule #1 is absolutely true. I started a company and people started making orders just because they believe what I did and what I was trying to do. Creating your market isn’t trying to communicate with people who are trying to convince what you are doing, effective marketing is communicating with people who are understand you and in most cases are already educated on what you are providing.

  9. Matt Henn Reply

    Sales stuff is good because no matter whether we are a computer geek, an engineer, or a salesperson we’re indefinitely having to sell ourselves. So sales and communication ideas are always good… in my book.

    Thanks dogg

  10. Prince Reply

    Slimy,Insincere and Well-dressed ! That very phrase Spells it ALL. It paints the picture of a Well-Dressed BEGGAR in my mind. One who want to deceive you into buying something that you NEVER CARE to HAVE. I once was; and it sucks! Until you realize its the other way round; just as you have put it. Its about helping other people; and adding valuing to their lives.

    If your product is not serving them; be sincere enough to direct them to your competitor; if they have what the potential customer want. Convincing people to buy what they will NEVER USE; is UNETHICAL and being sleazy!

    You’re right on point dude!

    PS: I read your earlier post on “The Sperry Shoes”. And yes, I understand that opportunity is long gone; but the next time you are offering your Buggie Jeans (if you still have some in your ward-drop); sent me the “Early-bird price email” !