This piece was written in collaboration with AfterWork Fellow Tim Rossanis, who is the Head of Enterprise at Uber (ANZ).
For a B2B startup, early sales is one of the most important metrics there is.
In the rush to find product market fit, show traction and build momentum, it’s tempting to jump straight into sell mode, without giving much thought to strategy and process. However, a robust process trumps everything. Done right, it can provide you with a constant source of leads and sales, while also giving you the space to experiment and learn. With the right fundamentals in place, you can make iteration and experimentation an important part of your process, especially as your market segmentation sharpens, your product improves, and you start to move into new markets.
Our community is full of some sales whizzes, who have shared ten tips on how to get your sales process in shape and crack your first million dollars… fast!
1. Prioritise good CRM hygiene
No matter how early in the journey you are, invest in a CRM so you can easily keep track of the conversations you’ve had. Most CRMs have the same basic functionality, so don't get lost comparing a sea of feature sets. Tracking meetings, notes, actions and activities enables you to manage high volumes of prospects whilst providing personalised interactions to build personal relationships.
2. Articulate your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and invest in pitch materials
In clear, compelling and succinct language, you should be able to articulate why someone should purchase your product over a competitor. Have this information available in multiple formats, a one-pager, a comprehensive deck and even an intro video. They are an investment worth making as they can bring information to life in a way that text and images cannot. But don’t stop there! Develop clear and thoughtful materials for every step of the sales process; from API docs to proposals and agreements.
3. Identify your constraints
Constraints are actually a good thing, as they highlight areas of focus. For example, when entering a new market, Dave and the team at 90 Seconds would initially focus on certain verticals and try to understand them well, network, and achieve product-market fit before expanding gradually over time into the remainder of that market.
Make a list any constraints you have, whether geographic, regulatory or supply chain related and accept where you are right now. It’s also valuable to think about how your constraints will change over time, and what your startup needs to do in order to alleviate some of the more restrictive constraints ( for example, a FinTech company might need to get a financial services license).
4. Find areas of focus
Once you’ve identified a clear articulation of your USP (why should someone buy my product over a competitor?) and constraints (who am I currently able to sell to?), it’s time to determine which market to prioritise. The companies in your target market should be grappling with the problem you can solve, and fall within the constraints of who you’re currently able to sell to.
5. Build your hit list
There are three effective ways to build out a list of target companies. The first involves leveraging your network. Make a habit of reaching out to old contacts, workplaces, university friends, family friends and anyone you’ve crossed paths with! Don’t underestimate the value of your network. Even if you think it’s small, it will deliver.
Next, make a list of the major industry events and attend them. Hustle and sleuth to find out who is going to be at the conferences (you can email organisers or look on their website), then reach out to attendees in advance and book meetings with them. Finally, remember that cold emails work. Make them short, personalised, actionable and to the point; and go for quantity. It’s worth mentioning that fancy titles get better cut through. When you really need traction, don't be afraid to lean on your leaders and founders!
6. Mix it up
Be varied in your approach to prospects. Switch it up between email, phone, social, events, introductions, referrals and channel partnerships. Remember, this is a numbers game. Not many companies will be willing to purchase B2B products from a startup with little-to-no revenue and an unproven product. Optimise for speed; reach out to companies of all sizes and figure out who can move quickly through the sales process. Once you’re up and running, this process wont fundamentally change; but it will iteratively refine and mature.
Equally, go for variety with who you target within an organisation. Aim to approach people up and down the hierarchy of your target company and develop multi-level relationships across the organisation. There’s a tendency to prioritise people higher up in the organisation, as they are decision makers. However, those decisions will be based on the advice of their more junior employees, who are more likely to actually be your end users. Building a groundswell of advocates at grassroots level can often be the key to forcing the hand of a busy executive.
7. Believe in your product - help your customers solve their problems!
The best salespeople don’t sell. Instead, they believe wholeheartedly in the product they represent and enjoy the process of problem solving for their customers. In fact, when building out your sales team, a candidate's genuine passion for the product should be given as much precedence as years of industry experiences or the extent of their network. Conviction is gold dust. It will create the tenacity and authenticity required to get a young product into client’s hands.
Getting sales is the best way to battle test Product Market Fit and build deep consultative relationships with early customers. One of the most effective relationship-building methods involves spending time listening and asking questions. Your role in the conversation should primarily be to ask questions and figure out the exact problem the person is facing and what their ideal solution would look like. Repeat what they’ve just said back to them, in a structured, top-down format. This will not only help you (and possibly even them) gain more clarity on the problem, it will also demonstrate that you care and don’t just see them as someone you’re trying to close.
Inspired by the Sandler methodology, starting a meeting with an ‘upfront contract’ where you can state the purpose of the meeting, the format it will take and the intended outcome will help you set the expectation that you’re there to listen and learn more about their business in order to tailor your service appropriately for when you do get into pitch mode.
8. Do what you said you were going to do
In a busy, distracted world, sticking to your word is powerful. After a meeting, do everything you say you will do and overdeliver where possible. That can be as simple as:
- Sending the link you discussed
- Making the relevant introduction you promised
- Finding the data point you referenced which may help them with a business problem
This alone will set you apart.
Follow up diligently, with thoughtful and personalised messages and avoid follow-up templates at all costs! This takes a lot of work, so you’ll need drive to keep going. Be persistent but respectful and remember that people have other priorities. Finally, remember it’s not over till you get a no.
9. Embrace ‘no’
Contrary to popular belief, a ‘no’ is nearly as good as a ‘yes’. There are a few reasons why. First, rather than take it as a sign of defeat, consider that you have taken a prospect through a process, they have applied their mind to your offering and have given a definitive answer. This means you can all move on and continue focusing on highest value opportunities in the pipeline. Focus is everything.
Second, a no is a critical input for early cycle product market feedback loops. If you can interrogate and understand the why behind a no and develop pattern recognition, you’ll move faster to replicable sales plays in the right areas and experience faster traction.
Finally, a no is not a permanent thing. You can always re-engage at a different point in the future and get to a yes. For example, a key decision maker could rotate and make way for a ‘yes’, you might add a killer feature that plugs a gap for your customer or your competitor could underdeliver or increase their prices. Keep checking in, but make your intentions to genuinely problem-solve apparent.
10. Balance your pipeline
A healthy pipeline should always be “dripping” and have multiple opportunities passing through to help you achieve weekly, monthly, quarterly targets. At the beginning of your journey, commit to weekly new business meeting targets to ensure the pipeline is constantly moving. Try to ensure your pipeline has a combination of opportunities; some may be big and take a while to close, others may be on the small side and faster to close. Balancing your pipeline prevents the urge to panic when some deals take longer to close. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to hit your targets with 50% big deals, 30% medium deals and 20% small deals. And remember that the last 20% can make all the difference in hitting your target.
With these tips in hand - go forth and conquer!