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Sales Tip for Start-up Founders: Have a Sales Out Early-stage founders need to be actively selling. But the dual founder/sales role means that the buck stops with you.

The prospective client knows that you call the shots. You can commit and say YES, and there may be situations where they want to do that. And there may be situations where you don't. Or shouldn't. Or don't know. Maybe the deal is squirrely. Or haven't fully figured out the terms, the numbers, the obligations. Or you're not sure this is a good initial customer.

Whatever the reason, you don't want to make the call at that precise moment or under those conditions. As the founder, give yourself an out in these sales moments.

Have an escape hatch that gives you the ability to avoid making a bad deal in the pressure of the moment. It's smart strategy.

Sales reps have to get approval from their VP. The guy on the showroom floor has to talk with his manager. The real estate agent has to check with the seller. You're the boss, but there will be times when you need a bad cop to go with your good cop.

The out can be simple as:

- "This all sounds good, but I first need to check with the implementation team."

- "Personally, the deal terms look good but I am going to need to run this by my board/VC/accountant."

- "I think we're in agreement and I'm excited about this partnership, but one of my idiosyncrasies is that I like to give myself a day. I'm assuming you're okay with that, and we can finalize the details tomorrow. "

This isn't to say you should delay making a sale. But as a founder, you may need to buy time before making a complex sale. Plan for it.

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Note: I'm writing a new book on sales for founders, so I welcome feedback and questions.


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    Great tip, Brendan. Complex deals certainly do need some rethinking before committing to make the big decision.

    Also recently, I came across a tool called Gong that focuses on providing “deal intelligence” that could analyze the complexity and the risks involved in the deal. Just wanted to know your thoughts on remote sales tools such as this.

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      Thanks, Sarah.

      I don’t know Gog specifically (RingDNA is another) but I don’t know how much utility they deliver to start-ups and smaller companies, but I guess they would be usual once a company starts to scale. (For start-ups, I am a strong believer in the ‘do things that don’t scale’ philosophy… http://paulgraham.com/ds.html)

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      This is a great point. At Flexiple (a freelance marketplace), we definitely do this:

      • “We have to check this with the finance team”
      • “I will have to get back to you after talking to the talent onboarding team”

      Also, I understand that you are suggesting this from a perspective of having time to mull over the decision. But this also extends to other types of calls.

      To explain, as a founder, you are often expected to know every inch of your startup. Often, that’s not possible. So instead of saying you don’t know, suggesting that you have an entire team that looks into that very specific question asked by the client is very helpful.