16 Common Sales Mistakes Early-Stage Startups Often Make

4 min read · 7 years ago


Question: What’s one common sales mistake early-stage startups are guilty of making?

Ken Cauley
Advanced Media

Forgetting Nothing Comes Easily

“I found it extremely easy and overly temping to go fishing at the bottom of the barrel. I would spend a tremendous amount of time and energy working outside of our business plan trying to pick the low-hanging fruit. The thing was, this abundance of fruit wasn’t low-hanging. It was overly ripe, half eaten and lying on the floor. I had to learn the hard way that nothing worth having comes easily.”

Getting Nervous

“I see this all the time with coaching clients. They invest heavily in startups and then if the sales are not flowing around day 90, they start to cut prices, which destroys their entire funnel. You have to set a system and really push your marketing budget. Remember: Good marketing replaces the need for sales. Good branding replaces the need for marketing.”

Gary Nealon
The Rox Group

Undervaluing a Product or Service

“One of the biggest mistakes that I see most companies make when they first enter the marketplace is undervaluing their product or service. They try to gain market share by selling at below-market prices, rather than creating additional value. Start by creating a unique selling point or value proposition that allows you to sell at a higher price and separates you from the competition.”

Getting Desperate

“In the early months of a new business when sales are critical to keep your business afloat, I often see sales people/owners who become desperate, and it shines through in their sales process. You can feel it when a sales person is being genuine and looking out for your best interest, as well as the opposite. Don’t be the latter! ”

Justin Spring
BringShare, Inc.

Selling the Features, Not the Benefits

“When you live and breathe a startup, it is very difficult to pull yourself out of the details and look beyond the product to its benefits. A common mistake is to sell the features because they are your pride and joy when, actually, the customer needs to be sold on the benefits.”

Derek Capo
Next Step China

Pleasing Everyone

“Sometimes we try to please everyone. You as an entrepreneur have to know the clients you should hire and the ones to fire. The client who wastes too much of your time or resources won’t care if your business is shut down or that your bank account has a zero balance. Take care of those who provide you longevity in the business world. ”

Danny Wong
Blank Label

Overselling and Overhyping

“You really ruin your brand’s reputation from the onset if you oversell your product. This doesn’t mean you should undersell its value, though. Instead, you should be humble, admit there are mistakes and bugs and price accordingly. That way, your customers stay loyal, and they can see your product is worth the price paid and won’t hesitate to continue using it.”

Danny Boice

Rushing to Market

“One of the most common mistakes is going to market too early. You must have product/market fit before you start distribution and sales. Get your churn/retention rates in check, get your acquisition channels validated, and then – and only then – start investing further in user acquisition and sales.”

Andy Karuza

Forgetting Customer Needs

“A lot of early-stage startups are so eager to hit the ground running that they get caught up promoting the features of the product and don’t focus on finding a solution to their customers’ needs. People have a "me, me, me” mentality, so you have to speak in terms of their best interests and find a way to align the benefits of your product as a viable solution to help their problem. “

Trace Cohen

Not Embracing Potential Partners

"I hated being called a client or vendor. It’s not warm, friendly or inspiring to think that we work together and you still feel that way. I’ve learned that you need to embrace potential partners as you will be hopefully working together for a long time. And if you do work together, you better like each other, so work very hard at it and maybe hug them when you see them.”

Nick Soman

Being More Personal

“Early-stage startups are often too focused on pitching. Pitching has a time and place, but the best salespeople can connect on a more personal level. Try to create relationships with people instead of focusing on why they should use your product. It’s important to remember that no one owes you anything. Instead of pitching hard, listen to what your customers say, and try to help them.”

Brett Farmiloe

Blasting Customers With the Same Message

“Not all customers are created equal. Early-stage startups sometimes make the mistake of blasting all customers with the same message. The truth is that email subscribers fall into distinct categories: interested, engaged or lapsed customers. Each category and each customer needs a separate email communication to convert to sales. ”

Thomas Kjeldgaard

Not Clarifying What You Offer

“A lot of startups are not 100 percent clear when explaining their new products/businesses and exactly what problems or needs they solve. Sales is all about getting others to see a problem or a need and explaining how you solve that for them. Use everyday words to explain your product/business, and don’t use tech words such as "error,” “404,” etc.“

Raoul Davis
Ascendant Group

Thinking That Everyone Cares

"Very few people care about your business until you show that you care about them. Most business owners try to pedal their products early in conversations to whoever will listen. Instead, it is important to build rapport and understand what people are looking for. If you can identify their motivations and help them achieve them, they will be more likely to network with you.”

Dave Nevogt

Assuming You Understand What Customers Really Want

“So many startups assume that their customers want product A when it would be much better to build product B. These are very closely related of course, but the startup could learn so much by simply asking 10 customers to outline the exact product they would want to buy (without any leading questions). This is what the lean methodology outlines. It’s best to interview customers before you build.”

Rameet Chawla

Assuming a Product Will Sell Itself

“Many startup founders think that if they build something amazing, the users will just come. But that’s not the case. When a successful product seems to "come out of nowhere,” it’s because someone is driving it into the spotlight. If you have a great product, then that’s all the more reason to hire a great sales team.“

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.