Y Combinator Sales School

These are notes on the amazing sales seminar that Steli Efti of Close.io did at Y Combinator on August 14, 2014.
You can watch the talk here. It is only an hour and I highly recommend it.

Sales Basics

You’re not looking for traditional sales people for a startup.
Sales for a startup is a completely different beast. It requires more hustle.
Look for people that know how to show up, know how to follow-up, and know how to close.
Follow-up is when winning really happens.
Make sure you never stop following up until you actually get to a result.
Just ask the (close) question a lot:

  • Are you ready to buy?
  • Do you want to buy?
  • What can we do to get you to buy?

In sales if you are not getting rejected it means you are not trying hard enough. It means instead of going for the big deals you are going for small deals inside of your comfort zone.
You need to be able to deal with being rejected.


Learning the basics of sales is simple if you are smart and a hustler.
What makes great salespeople great is not that they are good at talking or charismatic. What makes great salespeople great is consistency.
You can’t judge (salespeople) on a few interviews. You have to work with them for a few months.

Ask Questions

Sales is all about asking questions.
She who asks questions leads the conversation.
You really want to dig deep and understand a person. Once you understand you throw one dart and it hits.

Sell Value

Don’t sell features.
Don’t talk about features.
Sell them on the value your features are creating.

Friendly Strength

The way you need to do sales is friendly strength.
Don’t be friendly weak.
Interact like a great parent–for a position of friendly strength.
You should know better about your product and market than most customers do.
Customers want to buy from people that have strength and come from a friendly place.

Follow Up

You never stop following up. Ever. Until you get a yes or a no.
Yes and no are both wins.
Keep following up. Be professional and see what happens.
When people tell you they don’t want to hear from you anymore then leave them alone.
If people don’t reply to an email then never stop following up.

Outbound Sales Pros & Cons

Outbound sales powers your business to be proactive.
The awesome thing about outbound sales is you identify someone you want to be your customer and you go after them proactively.
You can scale outbound sales dramatically.
Outbound sales can make a huge difference
What sucks about outbound sales is that you are interrupting people with a message they didn’t ask for.
Outbound sales is going to be painful.

Lead Generation

You can buy lists. The good thing about it is every idiot can do it. The bad thing is every idiot can do it.
People that sell lists are going to sell them as many times as possible so the people on them are going to get tons of (sales) calls.
You can scrape lists.
More often than not the high quantity things are low quality.
To get lists you can either buy lists, scrape lists, do the work yourself manually, or outsource it.
Take your five or ten best customers and create a spreadsheet and enter as many details you can about them (how many employees, where on social media they are, who made the purchasing decision, etc.) and then try to find the common denominators between them.
If you go really broad you are going to get inconsistent and unpredictable results.
If is better to go narrow than really broad at the beginning.

Sales Calls: Reach People

Your outbound model depends on your reach rate.
Reach rate is really crucial.
Reach rate is the top of the funnel.
Pay close attention to your reach rate.

Sales Calls: Sound Good

You need to sound good.
The slimmest way of how you impact people is what you are actually saying.
Be a bit excited.
If you aren’t excited talking about your business then people won’t give a fuck about your business.
Your voice is going to create images and those images are going to influence people so you need to be excited. You need to be energetic.
Be authentic.
Make sure when you are talking to people in meetings you’re having some level of enjoyment and excitement.

Sales Calls: Asking Questions

You need to talk to them and qualify if they should be buying your product. If so, why?
Once you know that you can really close them.

Sales Calls: Manage Objections

You need to be able to manage objections.
Sit down and think through the top ten or fifteen objections that people have. Write down an answer to those. Keep it at two sentences max. The answers don’t need to be perfect.
Be able to answer something with precision and clarity in one or two sentences.
When you answer on the fly you tend to talk too much.

Sales Calls: Ask for the Close

Ask early (for the close). Ask often (for the close).
You’re the most interesting person they have talked to in a while.
Loving what you did and buying is a different thing.
Buying is a level above loving.
You always want to go for the top.

The Original Elastic Sales Script

Start by addressing the question of, “Who the fuck are you?” (Hi, my name is ____. I’m calling startups in the area to find out if they are a good fit for our beta program.)
Use a lot of lingo that says, “I’m like you. I’m in your area. I understand you.”
Every sentence in an email or a cold call is selling people on listening to you for another sentence.
“Does that sound interesting to you?”
No matter the answer follow up with, “Oh that is interesting. What is your sales process?”
They have already made up their mind so let them get that out of their system (by saying yes or no) and then keep going.
The power of questions is really, really amazing.
When somebody asks you a question there is a very strong unconscious urge to answer.

Cold Emailing

They have to open it. They have to read it. They have to respond. You have to have a plan to follow up.
The subject line is the first thing they look at.
If your email wasn’t opened it didn’t exist. The first thing you have to do is make sure people open your email.
You have to make sure you have at least a 30% open rate.
Every sentence in this email has to sell the reader on why they should read one more sentence.
Have one call to action. Not five.
If you’re trying to make a meeting give them one time so they don’t have an option.
Follow up two or three times at least.
Don’t send one email and then never follow up. (If you do that) then don’t even send the first email.