How Start-Ups Transition from Founder-Led Sales to Sales-Led GTM

Many start-ups start with one of the founders leading and performing the sales efforts. For the company to grow, it needs to transition to full sales-led GTM mode. We offer some guidance on how to do the transition.

How Start-Ups Transition from Founder-Led Sales to Sales-Led GTM

Sales-led go-to-market and founder-led sales are closely related. Both approaches focus on driving customer acquisition and business growth through direct, hands-on sales efforts. The transition from founder-led sales to full sales-led GTM can be reasonably straightforward as the company and its sales team grow.

Let's start by exploring what founder-led sales and sales-led GTM are.

Founder-Led Sales

Founder-led sales involve the company’s founders actively participating in the sales process, especially in the early stages of the business. Although founder-led sales have some drawbacks, their benefits come from the founders' passion, profound product knowledge, and clarity of the company’s vision.

Founder-led sales involve the company’s founders directly participating in sales activities, leveraging their passion and vision to secure initial customers and growth.

Sales-Led GTM

A sales-led GTM focuses on sales efforts to drive customer acquisition and business growth. This approach typically involves a dedicated sales team engaging in consultative selling, developing relationships with potential customers, and tailoring solutions to meet their needs.

A sales-led go-to-market strategy emphasises sales efforts to facilitate customer acquisition and business growth.

Transition from Founder-Led Sales to Sales-Led GTM

A company, often an early-stage startup or an entrepreneur-run business, can gain initial momentum with founder-led sales and then transition to full sales-led GTM. Founder-led sales and sales-led GTM have synergies, so the transition can be smooth as these approaches can coexist during the transition.

  1. Leverage Founder Expertise: Founders can lead the initial sales efforts, using their deep product knowledge and passion to secure early customers and gather critical market feedback. Sales-led GTM uses a sales team to drive growth; founders are (a big part of) the sales team in founder-led sales.
  2. Exceed the Criteria: For a sales-led GTM to work as a growth driver, having a sales team needs to make economic sense, and the team must contribute to creating value for customers. Before committing to a sales-led GTM, the founders should confirm that the company they are building is sales-led and that their vision for the product is also aligned.
  3. Build a Dedicated Sales Team: As the company grows, a dedicated sales team should be established to scale the efforts initiated by the founders. This team can handle most sales activities, allowing founders to focus on strategic tasks. The company can transition from a founder-led sales model to a more structured sales-driven strategy by hiring seasoned sales leadership to execute the go-to-market strategy.

As a part of the transition, founders take a step back, and the company introduces a professional sales team. To prevent knowledge from leaving with the founders, the sales leadership can leverage resources such as outsourced SDR teams and tools like battle cards to help bridge the knowledge gap. Battle cards ensure that knowledge of founders stays with the team and is available for all sales representatives to utilise. In addition, founders should support the sales team with expertise and passion when working on high-profile opportunities, no matter the stage of the company!

By answering 18 questions, companies can evaluate their readiness for sales-led go-to-market.

Moving from founder-led sales to sales-led GTM allows a company to move away from the hindrances of founder-led sales and start scaling its business faster. Depending on the situation, the team and their funding, the transition can be quick or happen slowly as the company and its operations mature. To help with the timing and planning of the transition, GTM Club offers a free GTM Checklist. By answering 18 questions, companies can evaluate their readiness for sales-led go-to-market.