Don’t try to hire a sales savior. Just hire to get to the next rung on the Startup Sales Evolution Ladder.
Recently, I spoke with a young entrepreneur about hiring someone to help him grow his company. He was tired. He was awash in things to do, with more tasks being added to his to-do list each day. And he needed help. And I could see he was dreaming of hiring a savior - someone that could do everything he couldn't and more, someone to make all his troubles disappear.
It was at that point I asked him what he needed help most with now. This got the conversation going in a whole new direction. And it helped him look at potential hires in a new light. And I could see that he was no longer dreaming of a savior but of someone who could help him now with specific tasks that would keep his startup moving forward today.
Hire for a purpose, not to be saved.
Like my friend, many startup founders are tired or fearful of the sales process and dream of a sales savior. And many look to employ one in their first sales hire. They want someone to "make sales rain down." Founders look for sales saviors in many places, and they come in different flavors, the outsourced salesperson, the college roommate, or the big company Sales VP.
In sales, the difference between the best and everyone else is that stars don’t waste time with time vampires - non-buyers. So, ask you self, how much time are you wasting each day trying to engage and sell non-buyers? Likely more than you should.
Many a founder wastes precious time and money trying to sell to non-buyers – that company or individual who cannot or will not purchase what the young firm is selling. Hell, many experienced salespeople waste time this way too.
But, the best startup founders who are out pounding the pavement quickly discover ways to segment out qualified buyers from non-qualified. In other words, they learn to disqualify fast.
At a startup, the more prospects you speak with and the more you try to close, the quicker you learn what markets need and what customers desire. And whether you have what it takes to build a great company.
In other words, the faster you learn, the quicker you get to a rinse and repeat sales model that drives predictable revenue. And an accelerant to this learning is urgency. An urgent problem moves the prospect to act. Without it, selling gets harder - meetings do not happen, deals drag out, or they do not get done at all.
In a startup, anything that speeds up the sales cycle speeds up learning and helps a company zero in sooner on their ideal customer, helps them understand how buyers make decisions and how to attract them, and what the company’s real product superpower is.
Startup Sales Due Diligence Basics: understand the two-mode Sales Model - Developmental and Systemic Sales
A startup is a race and a journey. It is a race to get to a repeatable sales model before running out of cash. And it is a journey of understanding and development of a sales model that can sustain the company. However, many startup founders lack the experience and acumen to build a sales process from scratch, which will seriously hinder their ability to complete the startup race.
At the Exponential Boot Camp for Startup Sales, to help founders better understand and navigate the sales journey they are on or have ahead of them, we introduce and train them on our two-mode sales model. The model highlights the different selling and hiring efforts and activities they must undertake at various stages along their journey. We have named these two sales modes, Developmental and Systemic Sales.
The selling and hiring activities in these two modes are vastly different. Understanding these differences helps entrepreneurs plan their journey with more foresight, better manage their cash resources, engage more effectively with prospects, and hire more astutely. In short, it helps them make sales decisions with more clarity and purpose.
If you are an angel or early-stage investor, looking at deals through the two-mode sales model's lens helps you understand how well your founders appreciate the task ahead of them.
It’s a mistake I see made over and over again. A first-time entrepreneur assumes that selling at a startup is like selling at an established company. Many angel investors and mentors from established companies make this mistake too.
If you have never been in a startup before or been the founder of one and run the startup sales gauntlet, you will likely make this mistake. And it is not a trivial one to make. Many first-time founders have sunk their companies because they did not approach startup sales correctly. Others that made this mistake just cost themselves and their investors a ton of money and wasted more time then they had to spend running a sales process that was ill-equipped from the outset.
You approach customers and close deals in a startup very differently than you do at a going concern. Selling at an established firm usually means executing on a well-tested plan to sell a product with a track record of meeting the needs of customers willing to pay. Essentially, you follow a map down a well-traveled road. Whereas at a startup, you are on the opposite end of that spectrum. At the beginning, usually, it is just the founder, some ideas, and grit.
But there is a process and a rhythm and a methodology to startup sales. Done right, it allows a startup to move forward in a productive and results-oriented manner.
I was in Montana last week on vacation and was lucky to be able to fly fish for a few days. Of course, while out fishing on the Gallatin river, I had my son take pictures of me so I could post them on Facebook and Instagram and let my friends know what I was up to.
As you can see from the picture, the photo shows me standing in tall grass, smiling, and holding my fly rod. Of course, later in the day, when I posted this image and wrote, “Lucas and I, caught zero fish,” I got some snide comments back from friends. They said, “water is required” and “find water.” Implying that my inability to catch any fish stemmed from the fact that I was not near the river.
And later that evening, while reviewing these comments, I got thinking about what a good analogy fishing is to startup sales and especially early efforts. The point being, you cannot generate sales or learn what customers want until you engage. Or, in this case, find the water and toss your line into it.
Many in the startup world simplify the entrepreneur journey into three stages – Build, Scale & Exit. However, it helps the entrepreneur to look at the process more granularly - more definition provides more direction. For this post, we break the startup lifecycle into six actionable stages from ideation to value realization, with each being an essential part of the journey on a company's growth curve.
By delineating and defining the steps along this curve, the entrepreneur can better understand where they are on their journey, where they must go, and what must get done. In turn, this assists her in acting and communicating more succinctly and clearly with her team, investors, and other key constituents about what steps to take to achieve her goals. This engagement then helps the company build a stronger foundation from which to scale the business, deploy capital, and create value for investors.
The startup sales process is challenging. Many founders are not salespeople by trade, so we at the Exponential Group, working with input from other startup CEOs and sales professionals, developed the "Selling Framework for Startup Founders". It is a simple set of actionable ideas that entrepreneurs can refer to when selling that will make them more effective. This podcast digs into this framework.
Click here, to learn more about the Exponential Boot Camp for Startup Sales,
Selling is what makes business happen
By Tim Bates
The company founder plays many roles, the most important is Chief Salesperson. In this role, they're responsible for attracting, enticing, cajoling, strong-arming, badgering, or essentially doing whatever it takes to produce those first company defining deals that launches their firm. If they play this part well, they will move their company forward. Done badly, it is likely their company never gets off the ground.
Now some say that a great product sells itself, so if you have one of these magical gadgets, count yourself extremely lucky. For the other 99.9999 percent of you founders, put your selling hats on and head to the door, because selling your offering is what will turn your little idea into a company.
Moreover, because many founders are not salespeople by trade, the Exponential Group and MESA, working with input from other startup CEO’s and sales professionals, developed the "Selling Framework for Startup Founders”. It is a simple set of actionable ideas that entrepreneurs can refer to when selling that will make them more effective and increase their odds of signing cornerstone deals that will in turn help propel their company to that next rung on the sales growth ladder.
Tim Bates, Dan Kinsella,
Jim Moar & Kent Lillemoe
for the MESA Organisation
A Call to Arms about Cash Management
For many companies, time is money. For early-stage companies, money is time. This framework underscores this brutal reality.
You need loyal customers and super-duper products for startup success. However, they're rendered useless if you don't respect the fact that cash will always be king, and you need it to survive.
A simple truth, cash-flow surprises kill many startups. One out of three startups dies from a cash crisis. Therefore, as an entrepreneur, you need to understand and, more importantly, master cash management basics before mismanagement bites you in the ass or, worse, puts you out of business.
In its simplest form, proper cash management means controlling your inflows and outflows of cash, so you never run out!
Here, we outline seven fundamental concepts of cash management that every startup founder must adhere to to minimize cash-flow crises or an all-out business implosion.
In the next 90 days, if you must put money on the table to prove to your investors that your product concept is the real deal, are you in a Demand Harvesting (DH) or Demand Creation (DC) mode? For those that answered, DH go to the head of the line. For those that said DC, grab your ass and kiss it goodbye.
Demand Harvesting is about finding and selling to companies or people that are already in the market, NOW, looking for solutions for a specific problem. Anything else is Demand Creation.
An entrepreneur should never confuse the two. Many do. It is one of the reasons many startups struggle early on.
Trade shows: It seems we have all attended them or helped organize one or two. Intentionally or not, over the years, I have used them and other such events to launch new businesses and products. As I look at them through the entrepreneur lens, I see that they are more than just marketing exercises. They are forcing functions* that can drive overall company growth.
As an entrepreneur, you should recognize and embrace the power of these forcing functions. Don’t just let them happen or go to waste. Seek them out. Use them to manage the growth of your business and propel it forward.
Think about how people in your company act day in and day out. There is a routine. Everyone thinks they work hard. They are smart, and they put in long workdays. Then reflect on how everyone responds when there is a hard stop when the company needs to present and demo its latest, greatest product at a major trade show or deliver it to that first customer.