Sales for Founders Who Hate Selling

Alex Hormozi's 5 minute masterclass on sales and trust

3 min read

If you've been following Outseta, you probably know that as a company we're about as "anti-sales" as they come. One of my major motivations as a founder has always been to demonstrate that you can build a big company without being "salesy" or chasing people around in a manner in which most of us hate.

Our sales pitch page is probably the most direct manifestation of our unique approach to sales. It's built around a simple idea—treat potential buyers the way you'd want to be treated. But we also made the deliberate decision not to build a sales team and to instead focus on product led growth and incentivizing referrals. All of these decisions were made in the same spirit and I can tell you with certainty that this has been hugely appealing to many buyers.

On a personal level, I certainly don't love selling—nor do I think I'm particularly good at it. Yet selling is without question a critical component of growing start-ups that will have an outsized impact on how successful you are.

All of which is why I was so impressed with Alex Hormozi's comments recently on the My First Million podcast. In a soliloquy of less than five minutes Alex explained the fundamentals of sales better than anyone I've ever heard before. Take a listen to the clip, then I'm going to unpack all the key themes from how they can be applied to start-ups specifically to why this approach to sales resonates with me. I'll also turn Hormozi's comments around on myself to see how I can apply these ideas more effectively at Outseta.

Stop selling and start helping

Chances are the most familiar idea Hormozi shares is the idea that sales is really about helping—as he says, "You're helping someone to make a decision to help themselves." And furthermore, you should be "asking questions to get (the prospect) to reach a conclusion on their own."

If you've read any sales books, these ideas aren't new but I'd be remiss not to start with them. The minute you stop selling and start helping the entire mood of your interaction with a prospect softens. Making a genuine effort to help someone disarms the tension that's often present at the start of any sales interaction and also lays the foundation for building trust.

The role of conviction

Hormozi goes on to describe the pillars of sales as trust and conviction. When you're selling you hold a belief—a conviction—that the prospect doesn't yet share. Your job is to transfer that conviction to the prospect—and in order to do that, you must establish trust.

But he makes an important point that I think is critical to consider as we talk about sales in the context of early stage start-ups specifically—if you truly believe in a product, you will talk about it differently. I think we all realize this to be true.

But something I don't see discussed often is this:

In the context of an early stage start-up, it can be incredibly difficult—and dare I say it's actually honest—to not have deep-seated conviction in what you're selling.

How could you? It's not all that proven yet.

Reflecting on my own start-up journey, when I first started selling Outseta the truth of the matter was I was offering prospective buyers CRM, billing, and email tools that simply weren't as good as the other alternatives on the market. This is true in the early stages of almost every start-up. I certainly sold the vision of what we were building as well as the benefits of an all-in-one platform (our key differentiator), but selling the future state of your product is very different from selling a solution to a customer's problem that they are experiencing now... with a high degree of conviction. Whether you're good at faking it or not (I'm not), real conviction hits quite differently.

As I look back over the past six years, it's very clear to me that my conviction in what we're selling has grown in parallel with our product maturing. This is stupidly logical—as our ability to solve our customers' problems has improved, so has my genuine conviction as a sales person.

Why does nobody talk about this?

I think this is human nature and it's helpful to acknowledge—but then how can we apply the importance of conviction in learning to sell early versions of our product more effectively? The only solution I've come up with is reducing scope—start by focusing your product on one specific problem that you can solve really well relatively quickly. You can then focus your effort on selling that solution—with real conviction—while you broaden the scope of your product over time.

How to establish trust

Alex says that trust is how you transfer your conviction to a buyer and ultimately make a sale—and trust comes both from expertise and rapport. As I turn that around on myself and Outseta at large a few things come into focus.

When I think of rapport in a sales context, I think of the outgoing sales rep who is chatty and tries to be my buddy—even though he or she is in fact not my buddy. This is why big companies spend insane amounts of money "entertaining clients"—it's an investment in building rapport. While I'm relatively easy to get along with, I wouldn't say I have a gift for gab—yet I think I've been pretty successful in building rapport. My approach has focused largely on sharing my own entrepreneurial journey with other founders very transparently. I think this has made me approachable and relatable to a lot of founders, so I've been pretty effective in building rapport with them.

When I consider expertise, I see "expertise" in the tech industry measured primarily along a singular dimension—the amount of money you've made. People in tech line up to follow and learn from people who have made millions, rarely questioning the person's expertise beyond the financial outcome they achieved.

Along these lines, it's pretty easy for us as a company to demonstrate expertise. Outseta was born out of our experience bootstrapping Buildium to about $7M in ARR—we've taken the journey that our customers are hoping to before. We can speak to what it takes to get there legitimately having done it—and a big exit event followed.

While I certainly don't shy away from this, I've always been uncomfortable leading with it as a way to demonstrate our expertise in bootstrapping SaaS companies—it feels self aggrandizing to me. More recently I've made more toned down efforts to demonstrate that our expertise can help our customers achieve their goals—our First 500 course is an example. Again, we've demonstrated the ability to do the things that our prospective customers are hoping to do.

The challenge here is simple—how do you demonstrate expertise without sounding like an ass? But Hormozi's comments are also a needed reminder for me that demonstrating expertise is a critical part of establishing trust, and I probably need to be a bit more forthcoming and comfortable talking about the things that we've accomplished to help build that trust quickly.

Testimonials sell like nothing else

While we're talking about building trust without flaunting your accomplishments; I absolutely love Alex's point about testimonials and results being what actually sells most effectively. No matter how much conviction you have or trust you build, nothing is going to be more effective than showing prospects how other people's lives were changed by your product.

Your ability to sell is ultimately secondary to your product's ability to actually solve customers' problems.

The proof is in the pudding.

I've always taken this to heart—recently I've been using to capture testimonials from customers, which we display prominently on our pricing page. I would far prefer that our customers do the selling for me!

A basic framework for sales

Alex clearly doesn't view sales as a complicated or complex process—he was a wonderful way of making the fundamentals of sales approachable. I've sat through countless sales trainings that have covered detailed discovery processes and sales frameworks that have ranged from well intentioned to absolutely ludicrous. The line of questioning Alex rips though is so simple:

  • Why is the prospect here?
  • What have they done to try to solve their problem?
  • Why has what they've tried so far failed?
  • Ask for permission to introduce your product
  • Introduce your product in terms of what it can do for the prospect, using analogies liberally

That sounds pretty damn easy to me—perhaps we're all overthinking things?

Sales people have a MASSIVE advantage

I can't reiterate this point enough either—sales becomes easier the moment you realize that you have a massive advantage. You've probably had the same sales conversation hundreds of times, whereas a prospective buyer is likely having it for the first time with you. It shouldn't be that hard to walk that buyer to the conclusion you want them to reach as a result!

I had a similar ah-ha moment of sorts when I was in high school and I was learning to play golf (see I'm already using analogies to sell you on this point). Like nearly all golfers I was struggling to drive the ball straight, until one day I had a lesson with a pro.

"Driving the ball is the easy part," he said to me.

Taken aback, I came out of my stance and looked up from the gnarled green plastic of the driving range mat.

"Why's that?" I asked.

"In the entire time that you play golf, driving the ball is the only scenario where you completely control the circumstances," the pro said. "You'll get thousands of repetitions throughout your life and they're all the same. You get to put the ball on a tee. The ground is always flat. The club head is the largest. There are just fewer variables at play that with any other shot—these things are going to be true every time you hit a driver for the rest of your life. Use them to your advantage."

I'd never thought of driving the ball in that way before and it changed my approach to hitting a driver forever.

The same is so true with sales. You simply need to recognize who you can help, and ask questions with genuine curiosity that help the prospect reach the conclusion that you can help them too. Do this repeatedly, and you'll come to the conclusion that sales doesn't need to be all that hard.

Avoid confrontation with curiosity

Another point that landed well with me was the idea that what people are trying to avoid in a sales conversation is confrontation—that explains why a lot of people don't like the idea of selling and why most of us hate trips to the car dealership. But the antidote to confrontation is genuine curiosity! This is something that I'm excited to put into practice more myself.

As an example, I frequently talk to customers that are interested in migrating to Outseta from a product called Active Campaign. Active Campaign provides really robust email marketing tools—you can create incredibly complex workflows for email automations based on all sorts of conditional logic. By contrast Outseta's email tools are quite basic, which often comes up in sales conversations.

Oftentimes the prospect I'm chatting with is quite proud of the campaigns they've built in Active Campaign—most often they've invested dozens of hours into building them out. I've probably been too quick to say "You don't really need that much sophistication in your email sequences a this stage." Even when I try to do so gently and explain my reasoning it creates some unnecessary confrontation—nice work, Geoff!

A better approach goes something like this...

  • "Woah, that's an incredibly detailed email flow you've built out there—very cool.
  • "How long did you spend on these sequences?"
  • "How did you decide on these 5 or 6 workflows?"
  • "What kind of results have you seen? Are these advanced automations driving revenue?"

The truth is these elaborate sequences are almost always a waste of time in the context of an early stage business—and the prospect can almost never demonstrate that all the work is actually delivering meaningful results. But it's childlike curiosity that can help them reach those same conclusions on their own, in a much gentler way.

You should only be selling to people you can help

The very last sentence Hormozi utters is the best of them all...

"Now they don't feel like you're combatting them—they feel like you are genuinely interested and want to help them, which is what you you should be doing, because you should only be selling them if it makes sense."

Hallelujah! Give the man an Oscar.

It's just way to common to hear overly ambitious sales reps talk about things like selling ice to an Eskimo—to the vast majority of sales reps I've come across in my career, there's no such thing as a bad sale. All in the name of hitting your quota, baby!

Hormozi's perspective here is just so refreshing to hear—and it rings true all that much more if you happen to be selling SaaS.

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