You would never start a business, develop a new product, or engineer a piece of technology without a thought out and proven business or product roadmap strategy.
Why You Need a Startup Sales Strategy Plan
If Peter Thiel, the multi-billionaire, high profile tech investor understands how important your startup sales strategy is then you should do. He’s quoted saying that,
“Poor sales rather than bad product is the most common cause of failure.”
We’ve all heard the daunting statistics plaguing tech startups. The shame of failure, money owed back to friends and family, and the love for the created products have drastically
Who Owns The Burden?
The reality is, most tech founders don’t have backgrounds in business development. Thus, the startup sales strategy plan likely doesn’t come naturally. There are some savants out there who have both skill sets. But, it’s extremely rare.
Most tech founders find themselves caught in the world explained earlier by Peter Thiel. They make great products. But, are lost on how to get their products in the hands of their desired customers.
If I just explained the situation you find yourself in — then this article is for you. Use the below steps to create and build your own startup sales strategy plan so you can begin to enjoy growing your business as much as you enjoy creating your products/services.
The Strategy Loop
A world class startup sales strategy is rooted in two basic concepts — preparation and execution. Success cannot be achieved without both. You must do the work to prepare and continually improve your strategy and you must understand how to properly and consistently execute.
The preparation tells the execution what to do. The feedback from the execution tells the ongoing preparation where to focus change.
When you’re a startup you are naturally doing a bit of guessing. Nobody can predict exactly how the market is going to accept their product. This is where pivoting becomes extremely important.
Much like your development cycles, you want to have a fast feedback loop. Fail fast, they say. Create your initial strategy and start executing, then analyze, then pivot, then execute again — rinse and repeat. All this feedback will help you further develop your strategy so you can execute on a better plan. The better the plan that’s being executed, the higher the success rate.
The Startup Sales Strategy Plan
1. Understand Your Customer And Their Pain Better Than They Do Themselves (in a niche’ way)
Not a single part of your startup sales strategy can be crated without a crystal clear understanding of your customer and the pain they are in.
You need to know EVERYTHING about them so you can deeply understand how to solve their problems. We will dive into this in a minute, but solving pain is really the only thing that sells.
You can’t solve everything for everyone. One of the biggest mistakes that startups make in their sales strategy is claiming they can help EVERYONE.
You can’t! You must niche down.
You are likely competing with larger companies with bigger budgets. To beat them, you have to take market share niche by niche.
Choose the vertical with the largest amount of pain and own it. Once you master that niche, move on to the next one.
Once you decide on your niche, now you need to do your research.
If you don’t have customers yet, the best way to gain this understanding is to talk to the people you intend to serve. Reach out to them and ask them these questions:
- What do you hate the most about X (whatever area your product is going to play in)?
- What kinds of problems does this pain create in the your day to day work?
- If you had a magic wand, what would you use it on to make your life easier as it relates to X?
- What tools are you currently using to solve X? If you could change anything about this tool what would it be?
- Who else in the organization has these same problems?
2. Create A Modern Process For Generating Leads
Relying on referrals and sales from people in your network is not sustainable.
It can get you off the ground in your startup sales strategy plan. But, it won’t last.
You HAVE to have a way for the specific people you serve to know that you exist.
You do this via targeted outreach (Phone, Email, Social) and by having a presence where people are searching for pain (Google for example).
Building a sales funnel is a deeper topic for another day. But, the most important thing to know as you build your startup sales strategy is that you need to think in a modern way.
What worked two, three, and four years ago will likely not work today.
Stay ahead of the curve, and educate yourself on the way that consumers engage with products in the modern era (social channels, audio, self serve, chat, free content, etc).
3. Position Your Offering To Solve, Not Be “Sold”
The average person hates sales people. I get why. Most sales strategies consist of word vomiting product feature after product feature with very little that actually relates to the person in the buying position.
As you build your startup sales strategy plan, you must understand that nobody wants to buy your product.
I know that sounds crazy.
But, nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “boy, I’d really like to go out and buy a new piece of software today.” Buying software is never the intention.
People purchase things to fix pain — it’s that simple.
Take the research you did earlier in this strategy and create your messaging aimed to talk about nothing other than the pain your customer is in and how you can help them solve it.
Most tech founders have a misconception of what sales really is.
It will likely surprise you to hear that most sales people also have the same misconception.
It has nothing to do with fancy presentations, smooth sales tactics, or ABC (always be closing).
The truth is, It has everything to do with ABS (always be solving).
Sales can really be boiled down as simple as doing your job of discovering exactly what pain your prospect is in, understanding how decisions are made, and show them what life could look like if they allowed your product to solve their pain for them.
4. Prepare Yourself To Compete
Second place to the research you do about your future customers is the research you must do on your competition. Ask yourself the following about your competition and mold your product offering into a place to out-compete:
- Who are my top competitors?
- What is their messaging?
- What market are they serving?
- What is their sales and customer on-boarding process?
- What is the quality of their offering?
- What are they really good at?
- What are they really bad at?
The goal here is to deeply understand what your competition is great at and what they are bad at.
Take and learn from them on the things they are great at. The areas they are weak are where you need to double down.
If they give poor customer experience make that your number one priority.
If their sales people are lazy and have poor communication, do the opposite. You get the point.
5. Track and Know Your Metrics
Metrics are the science behind the art of your startup sales strategy.
They tell you the story of the past that can help you predict the future.
Month after month, quarter after quarter, year after year you should have documentation and metrics that explains exactly what activities happened that created your sales.
Here is a live example.
If you on-boarded 20 new customers last year and did a total of $300,000 in revenue we can start to understand what we need to do to get to the 1 million dollar mark if we dive deeper into the metrics.
We know that the average deal size is $15,000 ($300,000 / 20) — great!
But, what did it take to get those 20 new customers.
How many demos did you do?
How many sales calls did it take to get those demos?
Once we have those numbers we can begin to deeply understand the sales activity required to get to a million.
Let’s say that it took 50 demos to get those 20 customers and it took 150 sales calls to get those 50 demos. Now we have some serious numbers we can work with and can literally predict the future.
We now know that our demo closing ratio is 40% (50/20) and our conversion from sale call to demo is 33% (50/150). So for us to do $1,000,000 in sales this year we need:
- 67 new customers at our $15,000 average
- 167 demos to close 67 customers at our 40% closing ratio
- 506 sales calls to get 167 demos at our 33% sales call to demo conversion rate
When you know this math you can start to be proactive as opposed to reactive.
Now, in your startup sales strategy plan you are going to want to monitor and manage the amount of sales calls that are happening each week (you need 10 per week) and demos that are going down (you need 3 per week).
If you hit those sales metrics every week your revenue goal will take care of itself. It’s like magic.
6. Build A Team That Wins
This is where the rubber and the road collide in the execution in your startup sales strategy.
Once you understand the metrics necessary to achieve your sales goals, now you have to think about what sales team you need to make sure you hit them.
It all starts with the right leader.
Don’t hire a single sales person until you are 100% certain you have the right sales leader in place.
The best sales person in the world will fail or quit if placed under a leader who is not qualified to lead the sales efforts.
Once your leader is in place it’s time to hire sales talent. The top three areas to consider when hiring sales talent:
1. Do they have the right attitude to succeed?
The attitude your sales rep has is an indicator to their future success.
Do they think things should be given to them or are they programmed to go after what they want?
Can they get up when they get knocked down?
Do they have mental control over the emotional ups and downs of the job?
Have they had to fight through hard times before?
2. Do they have the work ethic necessary to compete?
Sales takes work. A disciplined sales process will include high call volume, consistent follow up, and doing whatever it takes to earn the trust of your customers.
Your sales people must demonstrate that they have this work ethic in side of them.
3. Do they have the competence to learn and master their craft?
You don’t have to be a Harvard grad to be great at sales.
But, you must have the ability to deeply understand the market you’re selling to, the product you offer, and sales strategies you use.
Someone with a great attitude and work ethic will eventually fail if they just don’t get it. Mental competence is important.
7. Create a Rock Solid Sales Process
Your sales process is the playbook that your sales team will follow in your startup sales strategy plan. It’s the Xs and Os. Every single step in the sales process needs to become a topic of training so that you’re people understand exactly how to properly execute each and every step. Things to think about when creating your process:
- What channels should your team use to do outreach to your prospects?
- What messaging should be used in the above outreach?
- What cadence of follow up should your people use to stay appropriately persistent?
- How are contacts, leads, and deals managed in your CRM?
- How are sales meetings or demos run?
- How are leads qualified?
- What should be done with qualified leads?
- How do deals get closed?
- What is the onboarding process?
Create all of these steps as processes, train your people how to do them, hold them accountable to successfully accomplishing them, and let the machine run!
8. Utilize Technology For Leverage
The support of technology in the sales process is better than it has ever been.
Take advantage of it. New tools come out every day, so it can be a little daunting to decide which ones to use.
It’s okay to run tests on different products to see what is right for you. But, don’t fall into the habit of throwing new tools at your sales people every other week.
It will distract them from their process.
To keep things simple, I’ve created a list of all the sales tools we use internally at UpRoar Partners for you to test and explore:
- CRM (Hubspot)
- Sequencing (Ulinc and Replyify)
- CTAs on site (OptinMonster)
- Lead Nurturing (ActiveCampaign)
- Lead data insights (Lusa / Findthatlead.com)
- Video messaging (Loom)
- Landing pages (Leadpages)
- Pixel retargeting (FB/LinkedIn)
- Chat on site (Hubspot / Drift)
All In All
They say that “If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.” That is so true as it applies to your startup sales strategy.
Figure out where you want to go, build your plan, and work your tail off executing it. Sales = runway. Sales = more employees. Sales = investment. Sales = more product development. Sales = retirement!
Josh currently offers free Sales Growth Strategy calls for founders/CEOs of B2B companies looking to develop a plan for how to generate more leads, build bigger pipelines, and grow your business through modern sales.