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.
A few days back, I met an executive from a well-to-do technology investment firm via Zoom. The meeting was a typical Zoom meeting. Her camera showed me more of her forehead than anything else. She rarely made eye contact with me – she never looked into the camera during the meeting. And her surroundings made it look like she was conducting this meeting from a broom closet.
So, just minutes into the meeting, I was thinking more about this lady's forehead than what we were there to discuss. And I was also wondering why she was in a broom closet. And then I realized she had lost credibility with me. How could this high-level executive, associated with a well-known tech investing firm, present like a first grader using Zoom for the first time?
After the meeting, it struck me that this type of presentation is now the norm across the business world. Many people have settled for this below-average type of production.
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.
Startup Sales: Framework for Identifying a First Market Segment to Attack For Pre-revenue and early revenue companies
For many entrepreneurs, unless you pick the right first market and the right people to engage with, you won't be able to generate the traction you need to either attract outside capital or produce capital on your own to finance your startup's growth.
Hence, the way you approach and determine where to attack first will decide whether your startup gets off the ground or crashes and burns before it even gets started.
This framework is designed to help you determine where your best first market opportunities lay.
1. Identify a segment which will be quickest to embrace your offering. Time matters, there is limited time and money available for most startups.
The goal is to create a beachhead that will generate early momentum, speed your learning, and create reference points for other prospects as well as show your investors or potential investors that you are gaining traction.
In this first phase, revenue is secondary.
Startup Sales: What Value does your Product or Product feature bring to the market? Is it Medicine, Vitamin or Laughing Gas
Is it medicine, vitamin, or laughing gas? How do you convey the value of a feature or product concept to your team or get them to discuss it based on market value? One way is labeling.
As an entrepreneur, there always is another shiny object to chase. With a talented development team at your disposal, you can very easily chase any of these flashy baubles. The secret is for you and your team to stay focused on those few features or overall solution that your target customer needs. If you discuss your product features or product as to whether it is a medicine, a vitamin, or laughing gas, it helps your team focus on the value the market will place on it.