I used to feel that way. I used to look at tiny little startups and wince when a founder went around talking about himself as “CEO”.
But then I had to learn how to Sell to Big Customers, and Sell to Power. And what I learned is customers care. Customers and prospects want to talk to the CEO. They love to talk to the CEO. Even the CEO of a 5 person company.
- The more business process change is involved, the more they want to know who the CEO is. That she is there for them. That she’s committed for the long run. Customers are taking a risk on you, often a big risk, but in any event, in SaaS, they are changing the way they run their business to use your product.
- Customers care just as much about talking to the CEO if you have 5 employees as 5,000. Maybe even more, because they expect more of a personal touch when you are small. Customers know they are taking a risk in picking a start-up to work with. They expect innovation and a personal touch back as quid-pro-quo for taking that risk.
- Now take it a step further, and show up in person. The customers love it. No matter how small you are. Go visit all your customers, all that you can, and don’t feel nervous or uncomfortable that you are a tiny company. You are important to them. And few mid-level managers really get the chance to talk a CEO. They appreciate being treated as peers and as stakeholders.
So be the CEO externally even in the earliest days. Make that clear, and take advantage of it as a sales and customer success and retention tool. Even if internally, you’re just one of the “guys” in the early days.