How I can close more deals for you (without even being in the room)

by Steli Efti
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Most founders and engineers don’t consider themselves natural salespeople. It’s not part of their DNA. They’re uncomfortable negotiators. They hesitate to close deals. They lack the confidence to succeed.

Sales isn’t easy, especially when you lack experience. But if you don’t have a sales team, someone needs to talk to prospects. Someone needs to pitch your product. Why can’t that someone be you?

I’m asked all the time whether you can teach sales. It’s kind of like asking, “Is running natural or learned?” Many of us are capable of running—some people are just faster than others. Because certain runners are born with a gift, they have an advantage. But we can all get better at running. We can run faster and farther, depending on how we train.

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The same goes for sales

Some people have a natural gift for selling, while others need plenty of practice. Learning the basics and a few advanced techniques doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be great, but it can help you sell more effectively.

People assume I’m a natural-born salesperson. There’s a little truth to that, but I’ve also spent nearly two decades perfecting my craft. I’ve pitched, negotiated, and closed deals for years. I’ve managed and trained sales teams. I’ve advised founders. I’ve read thousands of books and written hundreds of blogs. I was born with gifts that make selling easier, but I’ve worked my ass off to be the best salesperson I can be.

Here’s a motivational story for non-salespeople

Patrick McKenzie—who you may know as patio11—doesn’t look like the typical salesperson. In fact, most of time he looks like he just woke up from a nap. He’s a brilliant founder and engineer, but he never really considered himself a natural salesperson. Over time, he started to realize that if he wanted his projects and startups to succeed, he needed to learn how to sell. So he studied a bunch of sales techniques and (spoiler alert) he became an incredible salesperson. Seriously. He’s straight up dangerous. But it took a lot of time to gain confidence in his sales abilities.

To be fair, he’s an introverted guy. Skills and experience have taken him far, but not every sales meeting has been a walk in the park. There are still times when he needs moments of inspiration (and innovation) to close big deals.

Take, for example, the time he was talking to a big tech company—a billion-dollar unicorn—about his new startup. He wanted to land a high-profile customer so he could hire more engineers. After discussing his product at-length with one of their founders, Patrick said, “Do you know Steli Efti?”

Founder: “Yeah, I know Steli.”

Patrick: “Well, if Steli was here, he’d say I shouldn’t leave until you agree to do this deal.”

Founder: “We’ve known each other for a long time, Patrick. That’s not like you.”

Patrick: “That’s why I said, ‘If Steli was here…”

He went for the virtual close and used me to do it for him.

Guess what happened next? He closed the deal.

Yes, this story’s good for my ego…

...but more than anything, I wanted to talk about this so you can steal this tactic from Patrick. He essentially created a virtual salesperson to speak honestly and confidently on his behalf. Like I said, he’s brilliant. If you’re ever short on confidence, or you need an extra push to close a deal, just channel your inner Steli. Or your inner Patrick channeling another inner Steli.

And if a prospect doesn’t know me (which is pretty likely)...

Use somebody else. Tell them: “If my VP of Sales was here, he wouldn’t let me leave without a firm commitment from you.”

Don’t have a VP of Sales? Try this one: “If my future VP of Sales was here, he wouldn’t let me leave without a firm commitment. Are you going to become a customer?”

Use whoever you can to project the confidence you need to close a deal. What I love so much about this sales tactic is that Patrick found a way to be aggressive, while remaining comfortable and authentic. He didn’t act like me—he included me in the conversation, even if I wasn’t there. If he’d actually pretended to be Steli Efti, I’m sure that founder would have thought he was insane.

You don’t have to be a natural to close deals

You just have to know how an experienced salesperson might handle a given situation. My advice? Pick up some tips along the way, and experiment with ideas on your own. Until you’re more confident, do what everyone else does: Learn (and steal) from others. After all, most salespeople aren’t born—they’re taught.

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