6 Questions Founders Should Ask to Build Sales Leadership


Becoming a sales leader is one of the many roles you have to take as the founder of a startup.  And as a sales leader, your job is to do much more than sell — you have to inspire a team to solve their customer’s problems and put people first. 

If you’re like many new entrepreneurs, you might feel intimidated or not know where to begin. But if you want to drive revenue and growth, understanding your customer and articulating a vision that your team can follow is the first step.

The best way to accomplish this is to rely on six essential questions: why, how, what, where, when, and who. Once you have those answers, you can set a foundation to build your own sales leadership and accelerate your startup to success. 

Keep reading for a breakdown on how to use each question and grow into the sales leader your company needs! 

Why do customers buy?

This is the first question we have to ask ourselves to become a strong sales leader. No one knows this better than Simon Sinek. He’s made a living helping people find their “why” — the thing that drives everything as both a company and a consumer. In business, we need to fully understand why a customer buys so we know how to sell. 

The good news is that discovering your customer’s “why” isn’t as hard as it sounds. In fact, the answer is pretty simple.

Your customer buys for an outcome.

That outcome can be a variety of things: to become happier, smarter, healthier, richer, safer, and so on. 

Once you can define the outcome your customer is looking for, you can develop and lead a sales strategy. When you build a strategy based on why you're selling and why your customer is buying, you can work towards a mutually beneficial outcome. From there, you can align your whole organization to be customer-centric, making the business conscious and deliberate.  

How do customers buy? 

What decisions do your customers make before making a purchase? As a sales leader, you have to identify the steps your customer is taking to come to a purchase decision and build a channel that supports their  decision-making process. 

How a customer buys depends on their own internal process. They need to convince themselves that they need the product or service, and your role as a sales leader is to guide them to a decision. 

We’re all emotional beings and we seek meaning in what we buy. It’s your job to help the customer find that meaning. 

What do customers buy? 

While technology has quickly changed the possibilities for new products and services, what customers really buy has not. 

No matter what form it takes, customers buy stuff that brings them value. The three main types of value include: 

  • Gain creators: a product or service that provides advantages to the customer
  • Pain relievers: a product or service that alleviates a customer’s problem or pain
  • Life/time savers: a product or service that makes a customer's jobs easier or more efficient 

If you can’t identify what value you’re selling to your customer, you need to take a hard look at what you’re offering. Is it because your product or service isn’t valuable, or have you just not pinpointed where the value lies? Once you have your answer, you can more effectively connect with your customer and sell.

Where do customers buy? 

This question isn’t about the exact location your customer is making a purchase. The “where” refers to where they are in the buyer’s funnel. While they’re on a path to purchase, where do they make the decision to buy? 

The buyer’s funnel is a way to visualize the customer’s journey in their buying process. By taking the same customer-centric attitude behind your customer’s “why,” you can figure out your customer’s “where” in this funnel. Essentially, your goal is to move customers through their own process and this funnel is a tool to map it out. As a sales leader, your role is to help the customer move from awareness to desire to interest to action, as illustrated below.  

Buyers Funnel - Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation


First you must emphasize connection. This is where the customer connects your product or service after you’ve shown them reasons to like it and have established authority. To do this, you need to clearly articulate a product or service’s benefits to the customer while also demonstrating why you are the expert they should trust. 


Next, customers move to the questioning stage. Here, your role is to provide commitment and social proof — pushing the customer from desire to interest. Customers will undoubtedly have questions, but when you have all the answers you’re showing them you’re  committed to their needs. Likewise, social proof demonstrates that competitors, users, or other trusted entities all agree that your offering is worthwhile. 


Finally, the buyer moves to the close stage. This is where you  leverage reciprocity, scarcity, and contrast to ultimately take the buyer from interest to action. Reciprocity shows that we are offering a deal to the customer in exchange for them buying the product. Scarcity, such as a limited time offer or limited quantity, can get them to take action. And contrast highlights why our product or service is better than competitors and assure them they’re making the right choice. 

When do customers buy? 

Customers buy in four stages; these are emotional states that the customer moves through in the buyer funnel:  


This is the broadest part of the funnel with the lowest sales percentage. Customers come to awareness after they’ve been introduced to a product or service through marketing.

It’s also the point where customers most frequently disqualify themselves — and that’s okay! You’ll quickly realize that you want to focus your sales efforts on customers who are more likely to buy further along in the funnel. 


The next step is desire — customers desire the product when they start to see value in the product and after the sales person has established liking and authority. This is their first step deeper into the funnel when they know the product/service is something they actually want. However, they will need some more information before they purchase. 


At this point, they’re actually trying to decide if they’re ready to purchase. As a sales leader, you’ve answered their questions, shown commitment, and provided social proof of why the product/service will create value for them. For example, desire is when an Amazon customer adds something to their wishlist, but interest is when they add it to their shopping cart. 


This is the last emotional stage where the customer is ready to commit. You’ve connected with them and are closing the deal. To get the customer to pull the trigger, you need to use reciprocity, create a sense of scarcity, and contrast the product/service with the competition (or to life without it altogether). When we compel the customer to complete this action, we can close the deal.

As a great sales leader, you need to master the buyer’s funnel, can identify where the customer is on their journey, and know how to move them further. 

Who are the customers that buy? 

We’re all multifaceted individuals. And as a sales leader, your job is to understand those multitudes within your customer and how to cater to each. 

A simple way to think about this is by categorizing these layers in three parts — each customer has a personal, professional, and organizational layer to them, or PPO. So when you’re developing products, services, and sales strategies, you need to consider each layer and how to cater to that part of your customer. 


The personal level is how the product or service will provide the customer’s personal life value. As an example, G-Suite gets customers hooked personally because it will improve their personal lives with the easiest email to use (Gmail) virtually unlimited storage for our photos, documents, and more with Google Drive. G-Suite makes your life easier. 


This is how the product or service will provide value in your customer’s ability to work or perform their job. Continuing with the example of G-Suite, customers know that these tools will make them more efficient at work and make their job easier; Google calendar keeps the user more organized and Gmail keeps inboxes tidy so we can focus on the important tasks at hand. 


Finally, this is how the product or service will provide value to the organization that the customer belongs to — whether it’s a company, community, family, etc. Again, G-Suite can make the whole organization better with tools like Google Hangouts, collaborative Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and more. Customers know that G-Suite makes their whole company run smoother, therefore are inclined to buy. 

You can think about approaching these layers like a ladder: start with making  their personal lives easier, then consider how you can support them professionally, and finally show them how your solution can make your customer’s organization better. 

Are you ready to become the sales leader your startup needs? 

So, as you become a sales leader remember the takeaways from each of the five big sales questions:  

  • Why? Customers buy for outcomes. 
  • How? Customers buy when they find their own meaning in the purchase. 
  • What? Customers buy Gain Creators, Pain Relievers, and Life/Time Savers. 
  • Where? Customers buy in the Buyer’s Funnel, which has three stages: Connect, Question, and Close. 
  • When? Customers buy when they work their way through four emotional stages:  Awareness, Desire, Interest, Action. 
  • Who? Customers have three sides that we need to appeal to:  Personal, Professional, and Organizational. 

The CEI Founder Sales Series covers four parts, and this is just the beginning. Register for the upcoming  Becoming a Sales Leader course, or make an upfront commitment to take your sales above and beyond. When you register for this series, you’ll get access to Becoming a Sales Leader, Hiring a Salesperson, Leading a Sales Team, and Scaling a Sales Team.

Learn more about each course and register for the Founders Sales Series today!


Learn more and register!

Aaron Bare Aaron Bare
Aaron has been a lecturer/adjunct professor on Innovation and Entrepreneurship for 10+ years. He holds a Global MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management. He currently lives in Tempe, Arizona.

Why Friends and Family Can't Validate Your Business

6 Steps to Save Your Startup from Cognitive Bias