Gregg Schwartz is the Director of Sales at Strategic Sales & Marketing, an industry founding lead generation company started in 1989. Connect with him and SSM on LinkedIn and Twitter.


You’ve developed a great new technology. You’ve invested thousands of hours of work. Now comes the tough part: selling your product.

Many start-up CEOs don’t have sales teams to rely on, and they struggle with sales – but this doesn’t have to happen. One of the core truths about sales that start-ups need to understand is that the act of selling is not really about “sales.”

Stop thinking of it as “selling” and start thinking of it as “solving problems.” This is an attitude that start-ups can particularly relate to, because every start-up is based on solving a specific problem that hasn’t been solved before.  

Too often, people think of sales as something that gets “pushed” on people. The classic definitions of sales people are about “overcoming objections,” “closing the deal,” and “aggressively pushing through obstacles.” 

But the truth is, sales is not about convincing people to buy something that they otherwise wouldn’t want. Sales is not about forcing things on people, or manipulating people into making a purchase.

The process of sales, at its best, is about helping people. If you want to sell, you want to help. You’re trying to improve the customer’s condition. 

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Your job in selling your start-up’s products is to be a problem solver. This is especially true for B2B sales, where the products, services and solutions being sold are often highly complex and costly, and where business relationships depend on long-term communication and trust building. 

Here are a few examples of how start-ups can re-think their sales process to make sure you’re “helping” and “solving problems” with every customer you meet: 

Reconfigure your thought process and sales pitch to focus on “problem solving”

Before you start listing off your product’s features and specifications, you need to find out from the prospect what kinds of “pain issues” they have that your solution can solve. If you can’t find a problem that your product/service solves, it’s either not a good product, or your sales pitch needs rethinking to focus on solving specific problems that companies face.

By asking the prospect some questions, you may discover that, “Our solution is less expensive,” or “Our customer service is more responsive and effective,” or “Our solution makes life easier for the department that implements it.”

Whatever your “problem solving” sales pitch might be, make sure you can connect your product or solution directly to the urgent needs of your customer. Learn to speak their language and focus on their specific points of pain. 

Always look to add value

This is true before and after the sale. Check in with your customers on a regular basis and look for ways to keep supporting them, stay in touch with their evolving needs, and be ready to answer questions before problems arise.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was “If you are not talking with and to your customers, someone else is.” Customers know when you are only concerned with the sale; you stop calling them.

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All too often, sales people will e-mail and call the customer until closing the sale, and then once the deal is done, they hand off that deal to the service team and leave the picture. This is a missed opportunity.

Keep checking in with your customers, not to try to sell more, but to make sure that your solution is helping them. You should never be afraid to contact a customer. Even if it turns out that your solution is failing to meet their expectations, you need to hear this feedback so you can help improve the customer’s situation before it’s too late.

Empathize with your prospects

Prospects get called by sales people all the time, and they can tell the difference between a sincere “problem solver” and an impatient sales person who doesn’t really care about them or their problems.

Listen to your prospect, and solve their problems. The better you listen to what they REALLY need, NOT what you want to sell them, the better your sales relationships will be.

Deliver an appropriate solution

Prospects can tell when sales people are “just trying to sell them something,” even if it’s not the right fit for what the prospect needs. Don’t oversell or add on unnecessary features. Don’t try to fit a square peg into a round hole. Provide the solution that the prospect truly needs, based on their unique circumstances.

B2B sales is all about building trust and maintaining relationships for the long term. It does no good to inflate the size of a sale in the short term by selling unnecessary bells and whistles. If the prospect later finds out that you sold them options or features that they didn’t really need, you won’t see them again.

Start-ups are often motivated by a sense of idealism. You’re trying to do something better, faster, or more efficiently. You’re trying to create and innovate. You’re bringing something into the world that hasn’t been done before.

Bring this spirit of idealism into your sales conversations with customers. Even if they don’t have a formal background of working in sales, many start-up CEOs can be some of the most effective sales people the company will ever have – if they stay focused on solving the customer’s problem and fulfilling the customer’s needs.