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How to Use AI to Kickstart Sales at Early-Stage Startups

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  • Kelly Schuur
    Kelly SchuurCo-Founder
    Kanda Group
5 min

We’re at an interesting moment in tech, where AI has emerged as a powerful tool that will revolutionize business operations. Sales is certainly no exception. I know many technical founders are hoping AI will finally be able to replace them as their company’s first salesperson. While AI shouldn’t completely replace you, it will be able to supercharge early sales efforts.

The success of developer-first platforms like LaunchDarkly, Netlify, and Tailscale highlights the success of bottoms-up, developer-first sales motions. These companies recognized the importance of individual developers in software adoption and the buying process and crafted their sales strategy around that. A critical step in figuring out a developer-first sales strategy is the founder-led sales stage. Let’s explore why.

In the early days, you’re not just the founder; you're also your company’s best salesperson. Your unparalleled passion for solving the problem your product addresses, and your deep product knowledge, will close more deals than any sales “trick” someone can teach you. One of the best things founders can do early on is have as many conversations with users as possible to learn more about how they are using the product and what value it provides them. You can use this information to guide future sales conversations as well as product development, using the feedback you capture from your conversations. Plan on closing at least the first 10 deals for your company.

As you’ll quickly discover, sales is very time-consuming. For example, it typically takes salespeople eight touch points to book an initial meeting, and that is just to have the first conversation. Below is an example of a founder-led sales cycle. Each step requires emails, scheduling, and material which creates a high volume of administrative tasks.

But don’t let that scare you! This is where AI comes in. These AI-powered tools can streamline your sales process, help you close more deals, and give you more time to focus on the thousands of other tasks on your to-do list.

  • Otter.ai [Transcription]: Live conversations with early users are a product feedback gold mine for founders. Think about these conversations as a way to collect qualitative data to understand the world of the buyer and the pain your product solves. Without a tool like Otter, these insights are often lost or difficult to share with teammates. AI-powered tools like Otter help you quickly capture unstructured data, summarize it, and share it with your team so they can also use that information (think how valuable unlocking that information is for product, marketing, engineering, etc.)
  • Lavender [Sales Email Coach]: There is an art and science to writing effective sales emails. Learning how will help founders generate more leads and revenue, but this is something that takes salespeople years to master. For founders doing outbound sales, using an AI sales email coach like Lavender teaches you how to write sales emails that are statistically more likely to get responses and improve deliverability. This is a good hack until you hire your first sales rep.
  • ChatGPT [Virtual Assistant]: Before you get on a sales call or send an outbound email, you want to research the person you’re reaching out to to understand what their priorities are and if your product can help them achieve their goals. With ChatGPT, you can quickly do prospect research to better understand your target audience and their priorities. The other place ChatGPT can be helpful for founder sales is with content creation. Positioning yourself as a thought leader can help you break into a market (this is how we got most of our leads in the early days of Intercom), but being a thought leader requires a lot of content. Use ChatGPT to do some of the heavy lifting and cut your content creation time in half.

Remember that your early sales efforts are not just about revenue maximization. They provide a golden opportunity to collect qualitative data, gain insights into your users, and refine your product-market fit. Embrace AI as a tool to enhance your sales process, but always keep in mind that you are the driving force behind your company's early sales success.