What does sales do, really?

Photo by Medienstürmer on Unsplash
  1. Why you might still need sales and what sales does
  2. Some concerns around sales

1/ Why you don’t need sales

Reason #1: Self serve at its best is powerful enough

A self serve product that works and allows for seamless sign ups (without talking to anyone) is wonderful. This is the ideal in “PLG” (product led growth) companies — where the product starts being used by a few, those users are evangelists, then more employees within the company use the product and purchase more licenses [0]. Or the product is dominant (e.g., Google Ads), and customers use it regardless of whether there’s a sales team.

Reason #2: Smaller companies (startups, SMBs) might not need sales contact

You might not need a sales team if your target customers are developers, freelancers, and SMBs comfortable with directly signing up to use a product without talking to sales. For example, selling on an app/plugin marketplace.

2/ Why you might need sales

PLG is fantastic. But here are five reasons why you might need sales.

Reason #1: Getting “flagship/beachhead” customers

In the process of finding product market fit, the founding team sells to “flagship” customers, who as first users, are an inspiration for others in that target segment. It requires sales motions of listening to painpoints and collaborating to develop a solution.

Reason #2: Selling to larger customers

There’s no specific number to define “larger”, but generally it is any business with multiple cross functions in the buying decision (so ~hundreds-thousands of employees). A buying decision to stay or churn becomes more complex. More here on finding the decision maker.

Reason #3 Competitors have sales teams pitching to customers in your target segment

I am against over-focusing on competitors (more here). However, if customers in your target segment are used to engaging sales teams, it affects their expectations. This intersects with #2, where larger customers are used to engaging sales.

Reason #4 You’re in a regulated space and/or your product touches sensitive systems (security, compliance)

If your product touches security, regulation/compliance, it likely requires sales discussions to co-solution and onboard.

Reason #5 Your product suite is becoming more complex

Sometimes, products grow in breath and complexity. In those cases, solution architects (part of sales) help customers build the technical solution for their vision.

3/ Some concerns around sales

Valid concerns about sales

Quick note to address the concerns

Integrity starts top down. Leadership sets the tone through words, incentives, and hiring. How excellent performance is praised, measured, rewarded, and where leaders are hired from influences sales culture [1].

Concluding thoughts

So back to the original question — why is there a need to sell? Does the product not sell itself? A product selling itself is an excellent goal. However, if your company has ambitions to reach larger customers with a wider product suite, then there is a need to sell directly to customers. What does sales do? Sell to those customers.

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Celine Wee

Celine Wee

Musings are my own: a collection of learnings from Payments, Go To Market, Web3, Biz Ops across Stripe, Coinbase, Twitter.