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2 minute read / May 2, 2023 /

Every Customer is a Design Partner - Leading Your Sales Motion with Sales Engineering

When a startup is born, founders lead sales. Design partners, pilots, or founder-led sales - they have many names - these customers work with a startup to solve a problem.

Conversations about contracts & pricing are kicked down the road until the customer sees value & the path to capture it.

Said another way, founder-led sales are sales engineering sales, not account executive sales.

As a company scales, founders transition sales to others. The default behavior is for founders to pass sales to account executives.

AEs, experts in closing contracts, often focus on reducing sales cycle & maximizing contract value - which aligns with their incentives & compensation plan. The very best blend aspects of sales engineering & sales closing.

What if founders transitioned sales to sales engineering rather than AEs?

That achieves a few goals:

  1. Validate the value proposition first to ensure product-market fit.
  2. Continue to understand the customer base, its segments, its nuances to inform product development
  3. Develop strong relationships with customers as reference accounts in the future
  4. Provide technical help to the customer to smooth rough edges in the field including onboarding tooling

Technical companies, especially open-source, have achieved some of this with developer advocacy or developer relations teams. Devrel educates the market, assists them in solving their problems, then sales engages.

A sales flow of :

devrel -> sales engineering -> account executive

much more closely parallels the founder sale

awareness -> problem solving -> commercial terms

than the classic sales motion which places sales engineering after the commercial conversation :

awareness (SDR) -> commercial terms (AE) -> sales engineering (SE)

This last motion may work in technical companies with established brands, where customers trust the vendor to satisfy their claims. At this point, sales should optimize the sales funnel for maximum productivity : short sales cycles & larger contract values.

But for those startups still needing to prove the value or with more patient strategies, sales engineering-led sales extend the successful pattern of founder-led sales until the startup establishes a brand & social proof in the market.

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