The Top 3 Startup Sales Mistakes

The Top 3 Startup Sales Mistakes
Lead GenerationSales DevelopmentSales Operations

*Editors Note: Guest post by Steli Efti, CEO at, a sales software / social app organized in a compelling way around the tight inner loop of today’s sellers.

If you’re a startup founder or part of an early-stage sales team, it can seem like a daunting task to develop a solid sales process. There’s so much you could do to increase sales that it can be hard to prioritize.

Here’s how to score some easy wins: simply fix the most common causes of lost deals. Read about three easy to avoid, but shockingly frequent sales mistakes startups commit.

Mistake 1: Failing to Follow Up

I can’t overstate how many sales people underestimate the importance of following up. They follow up politely once, timidly twice, and maybe embarrassedly a third time, but few people go further than that.

Want to know where winning happens in sales? In the follow up. You want to be the one who’s still running when everyone else already gave up and is out of the race.

If you’ve had a conversation with someone, and you didn’t get closure… keep following up! Friendly, professional, polite, but shamelessly. Follow up until you get a clear response. It’s better to get a strong no than a friendly maybe.

Mistake 2: Closing Like a Coward

Many people deliver great sales presentations, convey all the benefits, manage all the objections, customize their value propositions to the prospect… and then fail to ask for the close!

They end their presentation with vague words like: “Thank you for your time and attention, we sincerely appreciate this opportunity and hope it will lead to a fruitful partnership.”

They shake hands, pack up their stuff and go. Maybe they ask the prospect hopefully: “Well, what do you think?”

No! That’s not how you close. Selling isn’t an effing gala dinner. Ask them to buy. Ask early. Ask often.

Expect a yes when you ask, and embrace a no when you get it. If they still tell you no at the end of your presentation, ask them: “What do we need to do to win you as a customer?”

Then listen and learn.

Mistake 3: Dull Demos

A lot of startups screw up their demos before they even start giving them. How? By not pre-qualifying people who request a demo.

Only demo to qualified prospects.

Understand the prospect’s wants and needs before you start giving the demo. This enables you to

a) assess in advance whether they’re potentially a good fit, and thus worth giving a demo to.
b) customize your demo to their specific needs, rather than just robotically going through a one-size-fits all demo, which would fail to push their hot buttons and get them excited.

Next thing you can do to avoid a dull demo?

Keep Your Demos Under 15 Minutes.

Keep your demos short, even if you have a complex product. Share the most valuable benefits of your product, and leave out the nice-to-have features.
Here’s what you should do during your 15-minute demo:

  • demonstrate your product
  • tell a story
  • sell.

Afterwards, take another 10 to 15 minutes to answer their questions and further explore what they’re most curious about.

Why just 15 minutes? Because most people won’t stay focused any longer than that. You can’t afford to lose their attention. 15 minutes of concentrated listening is a lot better than 15 minutes of concentrated listening and 30 minutes of absent-mindedness.

Demonstrate value, not how to use your product.

The purpose of a demo is to sell them your product, not to teach them how to use it. It’s a product-focused sales presentation, not a tutorial.

Demonstrate value. Training and support comes after they buy.

Don’t guide them through step-by-step instructions. Show them the magic of your product, and what it can do for them.


By fixing these three very basic, but widespread sales mistakes you can easily start closing more deals without having to spend a lot of time or resources on sales training. It’s the low hanging fruit of sales process optimization that will lead to the biggest wins early on.

Steli Efti is the Co-founder and CEO of, a sales communication platform that aims to improve customer management for salespeople. Prior to, Steli started and managed Elastic Sales, which helped startups scale their sales processes.