• Transitioning from founder-led sales to a scalable revenue engine

Transitioning from founder-led sales to a scalable revenue engine

Frank Mayfield
on July 26, 2023
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You’re a startup founder. You pitch your product countless times a day, you’ve crystalized your company’s value proposition, and you’ve secured funding and a huge network in your industry. You’ve also been responsible for any revenue that’s made it through the door, with little, if any sales training under your belt.

But now comes the (even) harder part: making this scale. You can’t do this forever, otherwise, how will your company grow?

Generally speaking, startup founder teams will hit their first obstacles in going to market when it’s time to transition out of founder-led sales.

How do you set up your company so that it can grow successfully, without you being involved in every sales deal, and only the ones where the founder’s presence really matters?

Here we’ll walk through a few things that are most common in initial sales motions when they are founder-led, and a few best practices to ensure a smooth transition from a founder-led sales approach into a well-defined, scalable revenue engine.


What is founder-led sales?

Founder-led sales refers to the initial phase of a startup's go-to-market strategy, where the founders are responsible for all sales activity. It usually occurs after a startup has achieved a minimum viable product, is in the post-seed funding stage and is looking to gain early traction in the market.

What are the benefits of the founder running sales?

When it comes to their product, founders have a deep understanding of the value proposition and are often able to communicate it more effectively than anyone else. This comes from two factors: first, they developed the product themselves and second, they've had to fundraise.

As founders, they've had to go above and beyond not just pitching their product, but also articulating and delivering a compelling vision for the company. To put it short, they've already lived through a lot of trials by fire.

In fact, some founders become extremely good at sales. They know who they’re trying to target, and they have a sense of who their market is going to be. As a result, they know how to speak to their product in a really elegant way, their roadmap, and their vision. 

How do you know when it’s time to transition out of founder-led sales?

There are a few key indicators that are signs that it's time to transition out of founder-led sales.

1. If your leads are already too much to manage.  

As a founder, your role is to build and grow the company, not to spend all your time managing leads. If you find yourself stretched too thin and spending a disproportionate amount of time on sales instead of focusing on other important aspects like product development and team building, it's time to transition out of founder-led sales.

2. If your network no longer provides enough leads for sustainable growth. 

When you've got an MVP, friends and family, former coworkers, peers in an incubator, or other bootstrapped founders all become your first cohort of “leads”. However, eventually that initial network of leads is exhausted. Sustainable growth will require reaching a broader audience. This means that it's time to bring on sales professionals who can expand your network.

3. If your home-made CRM is taking up all your time

When you're building a startup and getting some traction, the sheer volume of communication with customers is exciting. However, eventually it becomes overwhelming. Tracking this communication, setting up email folders, creating spreadsheets, managing follow-ups, and maybe even creating a few Notion documents is commonplace. 

The idea is generally, “We know this won’t scale, but it’s fine for now,” or “We’ll do this until it breaks, then figure it out.” 

No surprise, the system eventually breaks. Founders are left doing menial tasks and admin work instead of focusing on growing the business. In the meantime, opportunities are slipping through the cracks.

4. If you need a more structured sales process.

After you’ve hit some stride with sales, you’ll see the need for a post-sales process, customer success, and even more relationship management structure grow and grow.

After some serious momentum with your first cohorts, you’ll start feeling that getting arms around all of this becomes priority number one. 

With all that in mind, let's dive in.

How to transition out of founder-led sales

As a startup founder, it can be hard to let go of certain aspects of your business, even if you know it is necessary for sustainable growth and scalability.

Here are some steps to help you make a smooth transition out of founder-led sales:

Find the right sales talent

In the end, it's more important to find the right fit to help your transition out of founder-led sales, rather than the right title. It won't be overnight. You'll need someone with the skills, experience, and personality that will complement your team and help drive growth.

The first step is bringing somebody on who can also tell your story well. It might be tempting to think that you need to bring on a Head of Sales right away, but that's not always necessary. Storytelling and speed of execution are really key here.

Every company, product and situation is different. If you're good at sales, for example, you might not need someone with extensive sales experience to start. A lot of startups will hire one or two AEs, with the expectation that they will work closely with the founder to develop and refine the sales process.

If a startup has a more technical product, it might hire a sales or solutions engineer who can act as a technical expert in sales conversations.

In the end, it's more important to find the right fit to help your transition out of founder-led sales, rather than the right title. It won't be overnight. You'll need someone with the skills, experience, and personality that will complement your team and help drive growth.

Bring in the right tools

The second step to transitioning out of founder-led sales is bringing in the right tools to support your new sales talent. 

As I mentioned earlier, most early-stage startups are run on spreadsheets. This works for a hot minute, but to truly scale your sales efforts, you'll need much more robust tools.


CRM is the very first thing I recommend for any early-stage, revenue-focused team.

I know: thanks to its reputation, it’s typically the last thing any early stage startup wants to bring into their stack. This hesitancy makes sense. Most CRMs aren’t built for early-stage needs. Flexibility, speed of iteration and customization are crucial.

But spreadsheets and Notion stitched together with a few Zaps is not a viable long-term solution. Any solution is better than no CRM solution.

That being said…I really recommend giving Attio a try. We’ve built it to meet the exact needs of startups. It’s quick, flexible, and also has an incredibly powerful data model. It requires minimal setup time (minutes), and grows with little to no maintenance. You can really mold it to build whatever you need and iterate on your GTM activities on the fly. It’s designed to be the backbone of your GTM stack.

Sales Enablement

Another important tool to consider is sales enablement. Gong, a conversational intelligence and call recording platform has become indispensable for myself and the teams I’ve worked with. Whether you’re reviewing a call to gut check your notes, refining talk tracks, or understanding where your call went off track with regard to best practices (Gong does a great job of telling me I’m a bit too impatient), how you chat with your customers is a constantly iterative process. 

Depending on what type of business you run (product-led growth, heavy outbound vs. inbound, enterprise-only) the tools you need can vary widely, but our team is also a big fan of MixMax for larger email campaigns, Slack, particularly for integrations for deal close announcements, and LinkedIn Sales Navigator for reviewing org charts, etc (check out our new Chrome extension to add people directly to Attio from LinkedIn!).

Productivity tools

There’s no real substitute for documentation around processes, discounting philosophies, and general sales best practices when onboarding a team, so something like Notion is vital. We use Notion to orient new teammates into our culture, as well as our business – this seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how many companies miss the boat on this piece, and rely instead on word of mouth, and “figure it out.” You can’t track what you can’t measure, and you can’t iterate on a process that isn’t table stakes and known for your team – get this stuff documented, and refresh it regularly. 

I’ve seen more and more startups adopt tools that have historically been reserved for larger, more mature sales organizations. Tools like Clockwise, Calendly, and Clari have opened up massive value for sales teams looking to be effective as soon as possible. Managing time and bandwidth is crucial, so I definitely recommend investing in platforms that will maximize value:hours.

Overall, choosing your stack wisely is important, because each time you make a shift, it can have cascading effects from actual actionable work down to the documentation you built six weeks ago being unreflective of your process based on a quick change in vendor.

Build for repeatability

If you want to scale your sales efforts and build a sustainable business, the third step to transitioning out of founder-led sales is building for repeatability. This means identifying your ICP, documenting your sales process so that it can be replicated by new hires, and having a single source of truth for all of your relationships. While it can be daunting to hand the reins of your sales function off after having built, iterated, and pitched the value you provide so many times, having a repeatable process can definitely ease the anxiety.

The single source of truth is one of the most relieving tools I’ve noted here. We use Attio internally - knowing at any time, from anywhere, we can garner a full understanding of the status of our relationships is very freeing. Your new teammates can loop you in, tag you in relevant notes, assign tasks that only you can complete, and provide a rich, robust dashboard of how your business is going.

Let sales scale

Transitioning from founder-led sales to a scalable revenue engine is a crucial shift in a startup's trajectory. This isn't just about swapping out one sales method for another, but rather an evolution in the founder's role, from being at the frontline of sales to overseeing strategic growth and scalability. This transition involves a few key steps: finding the right sales talent who can articulate your vision, equipping your team with the right tech tools, and creating a replicable and efficient sales process.

But at its heart, this transition is about maturing as a startup. Instead of selling directly, founders get to step back and watch their team take over, applying the blueprint they've crafted. It's about realizing that your startup needs to grow into a robust entity capable of navigating the market independently. In other words, this transition isn't just about growing your business – it's about shaping your company's future. It's less of a hand-off, and more of a leveling-up.

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