This could be a very unpopular opinion but what I have observed from working closely with founders is that early stage startups spend way too much time focusing on driving big, impressive ‘growth’ numbers through tactics that have lots of secondary benefits, but can be ultimately irrelevant to converting business.
For example, amazing you've increased blog readership by 150% this month...but have these converted to paying customers? If yes, great, but usually it’s a no.
“We need another workshop to determine our optimum channel strategy” or “We need a B2B content framework“ or “Let’s revisit and update our digital marketing (again)” or “We’ll need to adjust our inbound marketing flywheel”. All of these things can add value, and are difficult to argue against, but you need to put them to one side and focus on revenue building activities first.
I see this time and time again and is particularly prevalent in early stage B2B startups, where the focus needs to be in bringing in at least their first five to ten clients in the first year of business.
As a startup founder, it’s YOUR job to bring in those first accounts. You are the sales team!
Firstly because most of us don’t have the resources to hire a salesperson let alone a sales team when you're starting out.
Second, you gain a tremendous amount of knowledge by talking to your potential customers face-to-face—how they think, the language they use, what their pain points are, and what makes them say yes or no to your offer but most of all it teaches you to read their body language. Reading body language is a powerful tool; it’s your non-verbal communication skills — such as active listening and interpreting non-verbal cues that are just as important as what you say. Developing these skills will help build rapport between you and your customers.
Third, only when you understand the sales process thoroughly can you teach other people (sales team/person) how to do it.
Finally, it’s only by understanding what works that you know who to hire for your team.
If I was to advocate one B2B sales and marketing strategy and mindset shift for this year, it would be to simplify your approach by following this straightforward, BS-free, guide:
Step 1. Conduct market research.
Google is your best friend. Start there.
Most high-level market research can be googled allowing you to understand the current state of demand for your offering and identify gaps in market and the customers expectations.
This is how you identify opportunity.
Here is where you get clear on who your competitors are, what their techniques and strategies are, allowing you to understand what messaging your prospects are hearing and what it is that they like or dislike in those messaging tactics.
Step 2: Determine Your Value Proposition
Your second step is to figure out why people should buy your product or solution in the first place.
It may seem obvious to you, but many of the people you talk to won’t understand right away. They’re used to doing things a certain way, and you’ll have to convince them to get out of their comfort zone.
Many startup founders include their value proposition in their elevator pitch. This language will influence the rest of your sales process.
There are various types of value propositions, and you may be able to combine more than one. Here is a template for you to determine your unique value proposition.
Here's a quick elevator pitch template as well:
“We solve [problem] by providing [advantage], to help [type of customer] accomplish [customer’s goal]. Here are [metrics that prove our claims].”
If you have multiple customer segments, it will help to have multiple unique value propositions addressing each segment’s specific pain points. However, don’t make this too complicated. Your value proposition should be clear and simple so prospects understand it immediately.
Step 3: Identify Your Target Audience and Segments
Next, determine who needs your product. For B2B businesses it’s a whole different process than selling to B2C.
You need to start at the organizational level. What type of company would get the most value from your product benefits over a long period?
Next, narrow your scope as much as possible to these types of businesses. I always believe in finding your minimum viable audience who will become your customers for the long term.
For example, instead of targeting a broad group of “real estate firms,” you might target “commercial real estate firms that specialise in dealing with 10+ year leases with extensive remodelling.”
Finally, identify the type of person in that organisation to sell to. This is the most important part and can be tricky. You want to sell to the person who directly experiences the pain your problem solves, but that person isn’t always the one who makes purchasing decisions.
Each of these people, or groups, is influenced by how your product or service will affect them personally in their job. They are also looking at how your product or service affects their company. You have to convince so many people in a B2B sale, which is the reason the selling cycle takes so long.
Step 4 - Map out the buyer’s journey.
Now that you are clear on who your audience is and how your offering will serve them, it's time to map out how the customer will purchase your offering. To do this, walk through the steps a potential customer could take to reach your product or service.
Typically, prospective customers go through the following stages when making a purchase:
i) Awareness — The customer realises they have a problem or pain point that needs to be solved.
ii) Consideration — The customer determines how the problem could be solved, and is researching different products or offerings that could help.
iii) Decision — The customer is comparing available options, and determines which course of action to take.
As part of your sales process, you should be able to identify and track where your prospects are in the sales journey. Doing so empowers you to strategise so you can put forth tactics that will meet them where they are in the process.
For example, if a company is in the awareness stage of a buying decision, bombarding them with pricing or specific offering information wouldn’t be appropriate because they have not indicated wanting to make a purchase to solve the problem yet. They are simply acknowledging that the problem exists. It is your job to showcase how you are going to solve this problem for them in the most effective way.
Step 5: Generate Leads
Here are the main ways to find potential customers:
i) Inbound marketing: Create content for potential customers to find. You can also run events or speak at other people’s events. The goal is to either convert them into customers OR convert them into leads (and then build a relationship with them that first turns them into a qualified lead (see below), and then eventually turns them into a sales.
ii) Outbound marketing: Cold-calling, cold emailing, connecting over LinkedIn, etc.
iii) Word of mouth: Do such a great job that people refer you every chance they get. You can also ask your customers for referrals.
Ask your friends who they know: One approach is to ask them for advice, and get their feedback on your product. You’ll learn a lot, and hopefully they’ll either buy or refer you to other potential customers. The closer these contacts are to your ideal user, the better information and referrals you’ll receive.
Step 6: Qualify Your Leads
Qualifying leads means evaluating if each potential customer is worth your time as quickly as possible. You don’t want to spend hours on phone calls and meetings, only to realize they’re never going to buy. You also don’t want to waste other people’s time, so it’s win/win every time you disqualify someone.
When determining if a B2B prospect is sales qualified, ask them the following questions:
i) What is the problem you are trying to fix?
ii) Have you tried to solve this problem before? If so, why didn’t the previous solutions work?
iii) Who makes the final purchasing decisions?
It's a big world out there, filled with abundance - so don't worry about letting people go. Take the time now to learn how to find your true customers.
Step 7: Take the Meeting
Once you’ve qualified the prospect and you’re confident they’re in a position to buy, set up a face-to-face meeting (in-person or over a Zoom chat).
Don’t dive into the same generic sales pitch for all prospects. In fact, don’t even open with an overview of your product or solution. Instead, start by asking about their problems and how they buy or use the product or solution that you are selling. There’s nothing worse than a founder who does all the talking.
"The most valuable resource you can give customers is your time. Listen to them to uncover their real needs. Only then can you find a way to solve their problems or meet their expectations. Treat the cause, not just the symptoms." – Ginger Conlon
B2B sales are higher-stakes in nature, and often entail greater deliberation. When you are able to meet face-to-face (in person, or via video) to answer their questions, you are able to build trust with the customer that can’t always be established over digital marketing or emails.
Step 8. Close the deal
As the sale comes to a close, the work is not done.
If the end result is a sale, now is the time to facilitate an agreement outlining the terms and delivery for your product or solution.
If the end result is not a sale, thank the prospect or customer for their time and offer to stay in touch to support any needs they have in the future. Oftentimes a "no" is simply a "not right now" and you gained valuable insight that will support future sales.
Step 9: Continuously Develop Your Product, Solution or Service
Sales interactions are valuable tools to help you build a better product, solution or a service, even if you don’t gain a customer.
In fact, rejection is often the best teacher. You can learn what customers want and expect, why they didn’t choose you, and how you can improve it. You also learn the language they use.
One of the most valuable—and underused—sources of information is your sales prospects who didn't buy.
"To build a long-term, successful business, when you don't close a sale, open a relationship." Patricia Fripp
Find out why and solve those issues for your next sales prospect.
Step 10: Don’t Give Up
As a founder, you don’t want to stay the number one salesperson forever.
Someday you’ll have a team of people— to free you up to grow the company in other ways.
But in the short term, it’s up to you to bring in those first accounts. Sales isn’t easy—no one likes to be told “no” over and over again—but it’s critical for growth. Keep your chin up, follow this process, and you’ll get there.
If you are ready to make the powerful shifts required to grow and scale your business, then schedule a FREE session with me.
We will use this powerful consultation to:
- Understand your vision
- Clarify the key obstacles to growth and how to overcome them.
- Layout the sales process that works best for your business.
- Effectively communicate using the new ABC’s of sales and persuasion.
- Pinpoint the specific actions you must take to accelerate growth.
To get your FREE strategic growth consultation, click here.