The Founder’s Paradox: How to Sell When You Have No Salespeople

founders paradox no salespeople

“Hi there, this is Fred from X!7ZO…” So glad I answered the phone because I cannot wait to be sold to, thought no one ever. But when you walk into a store, browse a website, or call up a company looking for a service, this is exactly what happens — you just hope you can find the info you need and avoid a sales pitch.

Why are we still doing this to each other? I say, stop selling.

Traditional selling (by which I mean company representatives whose financial compensation directly correlates with how much they sell) puts everyone in an awkward position. Let me explain.

Salespeople get infected by the money bug. Instead of being able to identify the best possible value exchange for the customer they are working with, they are drawn into a morality play. Either make the sale that most benefits the seller — not the customer — or lose out on financial compensation. The focus is on getting paid, not serving.

This compromises customers too. The old-school sales structure makes it harder to get to the truth — to discover whether there is a good match for what the customer needs. This also leads to skepticism. And this skepticism begets the demise of any honest mutual benefit in the company/customer relationship.

It seems there is often an assumption that customers are too unsophisticated to understand that the sales process is a two-party process. That somehow, the buyer is not aware enough to realize selling and buying is a value exchange between what should be equals.

But buyers do know the game and quickly learn what pressure points to push, where to escalate, and when to feign the walkaway. It is a theatrical production no one really enjoys performing or watching. Customers have more knowledge now than ever before — but sellers are still behaving as if they are the only ones in the know.

Think about this universal truth: Customers want to buy because they have a challenge they want to solve.

Really think about that for a second. Because when you start from the place that customers want to buy, it becomes clear what you need to do as a seller. You reorient your thinking from how to tell a good story to how to create a product that is needed and loved — an exceptional Complete Product Experience.

If you have built something of value, explain it with clarity and integrity. You allow customers space to grow their confidence that your solution actually works — the answer is clear. And the answer is not “hire a sales team.”

Starting from this place of “customers want to buy” requires a mind shift. You refocus from selling to supporting buying. We have done this at Aha! from the beginning. We had conviction that our customers wanted to buy just like we wanted to buy. We want transparent access to information and people who can help us along the way. That is why we have never had a sales team. (Although, believe me, plenty of people have suggested that we should. And I am sure I will get a few more emails about it after this is published.)

We did not focus on selling. We focused on building something people would want to buy.

We focused on transparency. We also made it really easy for them to learn how it can help them by getting out of the way. We focused on removing friction from the buying process — offering a free 30-day trial of the application and live product demos.

And since our customers are mostly product managers, we hired experts with deep product management expertise to support those customers. Then we set a goal to answer questions ridiculously fast. We share our collective product management knowledge and resources freely.

Yes, we sell without salespeople. And customers have bought a lot of Aha! without ever talking to a single salesperson. Our focus on making it easy for customers to buy makes our team happy and it makes customers happy too. Aha! is now one of the fastest-growing software companies in the U.S. and wildly profitable as well.

Here are just a few examples of the types of messages that we receive every day from customers:

“I have had a few interactions with your team and they respond INCREDIBLY fast.”

“So far our experience with Aha! is great — we are loving it!!!”

“Thank you again for such an amazing experience.”

But of course, it is not all sunshine and rainbows and happy, thankful customers. Because we value kindness as a company and we value our team, we have eliminated “yes” as the only answer to every potential customer question. We have a set of principles that power the company and how we serve customers. Saying no at times allows us to be true to ourselves and honor everyone involved.

Sometimes we are not a fit for what the customer is trying to achieve. We understand that and kindly explain why Aha! might not be the right solution for them.

Sometimes we encounter weary would-be customers who are conditioned by past experiences to treat software vendors with cruelty or contempt. We understand that and kindly explain that Aha! might not be the right solution for them too.

Sometimes our values do not align with a customer’s way of operating. That is okay, even important — it is not possible to serve everyone exceptionally well.

Do you see the difference? Being honest and transparent with customers is mutually beneficial. Holding back information and posturing with customers is mutually destructive.

Now, before you write to tell me that I have it all wrong, know that I am not saying salespeople are inherently dishonest or destructive. Many people get great satisfaction from contributing to the company’s growth and helping a customer find what they need. And the fact that they get paid a lot to do it thrills them. I am just saying that I think there is a better way than traditional, commission-based selling.

Start with a product that customers actually want to buy. Share information freely. Hire people who are uniquely skilled in how to connect with and serve those customers. Remove friction from the process and provide uber-responsive support. Be transparent, kind, and true.

This is how you sell with no salespeople.

Read more of The Founder’s Paradox.

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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