Launching Dedicated Sales Strategy Coaching at Embarc Collective
As Peter Thiel remarks in Zero to One, "poor sales rather than bad product is the most common cause of [startup] failure." At Embarc Collective, we know sound sales strategy is a critical component of startup success — whether a company is just beginning to map their customer personas or executing a repeatable sales process and generating sizable revenues.
That's why we are excited to welcome Lewis Burnham as a Sales Strategy Coach for our member companies at Embarc Collective. Lewis is an experienced B2B sales and sales leadership coach, with specialized expertise in the medical device and technology space. In addition to his role at Embarc Collective, Lewis is a Venture Fellow at IDEA Fund Partners and is pursuing an executive MBA at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.
What fostered your passion for sales and sales leadership?
I’ve always had a passion for leadership. It is something my parents instilled in us from a young age, so I’ve always known any path I took in my career would include leadership. Whether it be acting as a functional leader by position or leading from the middle, I’ve always had a passion for leadership. I discovered my passion for selling in the classroom as a teacher. The journey an educator takes with a student who is untrusting and sometimes unwilling to learn at first has direct parallels to selling. Building rapport, developing trust, presenting information in a digestible but impactful way, and eventually getting buy-in is a process that fascinated me from day one. When I left education for sales, I was concerned I would miss teaching, but I quickly realized selling is just educating. Educating prospects and educating clients on the solution you have that can solve their problem.
What advice do you have for a founder with limited sales experience?
Don’t shy away from founder-led sales. Jump right in, be coachable, and be willing to learn. During the days of an early venture, very few people understand the problem as well as the founder, and I would argue no one has as intimate of an understanding of the solution as the founder. That naturally makes the founder the most equipped to go out and speak to prospects about it. Additionally, when a founder has lived the sales motion and has a deep understanding of what is needed, what works and what doesn’t, they will be better prepared to build a successful sales team when it is time to scale.
What area of a startup's sales strategy is oftentimes overlooked?
I have found that startups often overlook the need to be very diligent in filling the top of their funnel with the right targets that match their ideal customer profile. Too often I see early-stage companies take the view that any prospect and any customer will do. Going through the full sales motion with a prospect that will ultimately be a bad fit as a customer wastes time and usually leads to churn. Volume in the pipeline is mission-critical, but it must be the right kind of volume. Take the time to develop and review your ideal customer profile and be diligent in qualifying prospects.
What is the biggest hurdle a startup has to overcome in the B2B sales environment?
Getting past gatekeepers and having the opportunity to sell to decision-makers. It is often difficult to identify and/or gain access to the people with the power to say YES. Sometimes it’s the CEO you need to get to, other times it’s the CFO, CTO, or head of procurement. Startups must be thoughtful about navigating their way to the right person; don’t lose a sale because you can’t get to the decision-maker.
Embarc Collective's new sales strategy coaching is available to our member companies. Consider applying for membership to Embarc Collective here.