Getting your first sales as a startup

Your first sale will be the hardest. That will likely be made to an early adopter or “true believer” (see Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore for a great read and a good definition). One successful strategy I have employed is to identify a group of likely prospects early in the concept and development process and use them as a sounding board for the idea as you move forward. Questions like “I have identified a problem in companies like yours with [describe problem]. Do you have the same challenge?” If they do, you can begin. If not, explore what related problems they DO have.

Assuming your prospect has a similar problem, you can ask them about impact and what it would mean to them if they could solve it. Once value is established, you can generally describe your concept and ask if they think that would help. If they don’t think it would help, ask them about what, specifically, doesn’t work (be VERY careful to not be defensive) and if they have any thoughts on what might be helpful. It won’t take too many of these discussions to begin to identify themes, or maybe even specific solutions that you can begin to build out.

As you move into design and product development, these early prospects can serve as a client advisory committee to help keep your product on track and ensure you are solving an actual problem. You can reward them with early views into design, early access to a beta program, and discounted product once you launch. Once you have them onboard as paying clients, swing those logos around like a dead cat (thanks Jay Emmett for the stunning visual). Nothing makes prospects more comfortable than existing clients, references and big logos. That’s why no-one gets fired for hiring IBM or Accenture. So, unless you think your target market is very small, it may be worth your while to steeply discount your product for client advisors in exchange for their agreement for written testimonials and references. Those things will be worth more than their weight in gold.

It takes more than an executive sponsor

I’ve been in customer facing roles going on 25 years now. Apparently I’m a slow learner. I recently completed more of a player/coach sales leader role than I have had in some time. Prior to my last role, I spent several years running relatively mature (and larger) sales organizations that needed more of a strategist and coach. I really enjoy direct customer contact and have recently been deeply involved in managing several key accounts. I also took the lead in selling into new key accounts.

This was my first opportunity to sell directly (almost exclusively) into marketing organizations – mostly at the C-level. A couple of notable things surprised me. First, there is tremendous turnover at the senior level of marketing organizations. Over the course of nine months and across, say thirty late stage deals (negotiating stage or later) at least four were significantly delayed or de-prioritized as the result of a CMO moving on and the new CMO wanting to re-evaluate the strategy from the ground up.

As a solution selling coach, I advise my teams to identify and engage all cross functional stakeholders. Doing a good job of this in the four Opportunities described above could have prevented the delays and project cancellations. When the outgoing CMO was preparing to leave, we could have simply shifted our focus to other stakeholders to keep the project on track. Without the cross-functional support, we were left to start from the beginning to educate the new CMO – after they were hired and onboarded, often a long cycle. Which brings me to my next point…

In the SaaS world, closing a deal is just the beginning. Depending on the solution and your market, it’s often the easy part. Getting the solution implemented can be hard and time consuming, which can delay revenue depending on how your contract is constructed. Having cross functional support that includes the finance office, IT, marketing, legal, and the executive suite can streamline implementation timelines dramatically. If this is done correctly, all stakeholders understand and support the vision, objective, and benefits of your project. They are as anxious to launch as you are and have all necessary resources lined up before the ink dries on the contract.

When I run into resistance working with a prospect to identify all stakeholders I explain that in my experience it takes a village to plan, integrate, and launch any complex technical solution. I truly want to set my executive sponsor up for success during and after the sales process and gaining cross function support is key to that.

Separation of marketing and sales functions

I read a great article on LinkedIn this morning by Steve Blank on the separation of responsibilities between Marketing and Sales in tech companies. Steve benefits from a harsh lesson learned early and carried with him through his career.

The article is worth a read, but the ultra high level summary is that marketing creates awareness and the front-end of interest and sales increases interest, educates, ensures fit for the solution, and negotiates the commercial terms.

Thank you, Steve.

Oops, I did it again

I enjoy supporting and mentoring entrepreneurs and job seekers. One of the first things I advise is for them to grow and maintain their networks. It’s good advice I need to learn to take.

It’s not like I don’t recognize a pattern of throwing myself into a new job to the detriment, almost exclusion, of nurturing my network. In fact, following my last job search, I vowed not to fall into the same trap. I told everyone I knew I would stay in touch. Now that I have exited my latest company following an acquisition, I find myself in the same boat – wanting to reconnect with the network I built over the last several years but let go stale in the excitement of establishing my sales system with a new company.

I tell myself that learning the new role, straightening things out, and training the team are the most important priorities. Perhaps. However, those objectives need to be balanced with helping others outside of your new employer and ensuring you stay relevant to your business network. Doing so will feed the ecosystem and return value to you personally and to your new employer – especially if you are in sales or business development.

Once in my new role, my intent is to schedule one or two hours a week in advance to meet with contacts made during this upcoming search. No agenda, just a checkin regarding whatever is topical at the moment – it seems there is always something important to chat about. If you experience this same challenge, you might give yourself permission to do the same.

Take the advice of a multi-time offender. Make building and supporting your network a high priority whether you are looking for a job or already have one you love. You and your employer will reap the rewards of doing so.

SaaS Solutions Don’t Sell Themselves

Thanks to Keith Smith (@chiefdoorman) for sending me this great article on selling SaaS solutions into enterprise accounts. The article covers sales process, the keys to customer psychology, creating a customer value framework, and positioning your product in a competitive environment.

Yes, SaaS solutions have huge advantages over traditional on premise solutions including a compelling try before you buy commercial strategy. However, this doesn’t negate the need for salespeople selling SaaS solutions to deeply understand corporate objectives, business unit strategies, and the challenges prospects face in achieving those objectives. Once needs and challenges are understood, the creative work of a salesperson can begin – matching solutions from your portfolio and your broader network to help drive your prospect’s business forward.

If you found this post interesting, you may also be interested in my posts on BANT and The Power of Three.

Great PR Advice

Thanks to @JoannaLord for surfacing this great article from First Round Capital featuring Facebook’s Head of Tech Communications, Caryn Marooney.

There were two primary takeaways for me:

  1. Use the RIBS test when thinking about your PR message.  Is the story Relevant?  Does it feel like the outcome is Inevitable?  Is the story Believable – that is, are you and your company credible?  And, is the message Simple?
  2. I loved Marooney’s seven deadly sins.  I’m guilty of several (but working on it).

I hope you get as much out of this as I did.

11 concepts to become a better leader

I wanted to amplify Dave Kerpen’s recent post on LinkedIn about traits of great leaders.  I was happy to see several characteristics that are important to me show up on his list as important: Integrity, Transparency, and Gratitude.  While I’m calling these three out, I want to be careful not to diminish the others he has identified.  The article is well worth a read – as I suspect is his book, Likeable Business, which just made my reading list!

Thanks to Suzanne Leamer for sharing the article with me!

Lead your sales team like a Superbowl Champion

OK, I’ll admit it.  I’m a lifelong Seahawks fan and I am really proud of the season the team had this year.  So, when I saw Henry Schuck’s article, Five Ways to Model Your Sales Leadership After Pete Carroll, this morning I was hooked.  In addition to a catchy title, it turns out Henry made some really good points:

  • Practice, practice, practice – Give your sales team every opportunity to present and demo in low-risk environments.  During sales meetings I ask members of the team to deliver a training on a feature, competitor, product, market, win or loss.  Not only is this educational for the rest of the team, it gives the “trainer” an opportunity to practice valuable preparation and presentation skills.
  • Play great defense – Know your competitors.  Gather data from their website, past customers, former employees, analysts, webinars they put on.  Understand how they position themselves, their weaknesses, what they feel their competitive advantages are, and how you defend against those claims.
  • Use data to drive performance – I firmly believe you can’t run a sales organization without strong systems and processes, and CRM is the heart of this.  Without these systems in place and clear processes used religiously, you are blind as a business leader.  Assuming these systems are in place, trend total revenue, factored revenue, deal close rate, average deal size, length of sales cycle, team, and individual performance. For more information on CRM and processes, check out the sales forecast template I included, here.
  • Make adjustments in real time – If you see something that is not working, fix it right away.  If a player is under-performing openly talk with them about it.  Give them a chance to improve and move them into a more suitable role or out of the organization if they don’t.
  • Keeps the troops motivated and passionate – Ensure goals are well understood and celebrate wins.  Carry your top performers around the office on your shoulders.  Make a big deal out of the successes your team experiences throughout the year.

Global smartphone metrics

Great infographic regarding smartphone use, demographics, market share, and worldwide penetration.  One glaring miss on the infographic, though, is online spend by OS. According to IBM, smartphones running Apple’s mobile operating system delivered e-commerce sales at a rate of almost five times higher than Android at a rate of 12.7 percent versus 2.6 percent during Q4, 2013. Continue reading

Mobile payments game changer

Broad use of mobile payments has been a glimmer in our imagination for several years now but the medium has failed to achieve scale for a number of reasons (I’m looking at you, carriers).  It appears that Apple is ready to enter the game – mobile payments for physical goods.  If that’s true, we are likely at a tipping point for the shift to mobile payments in a big way.

Check out this article on the topic from Tech Crunch.