Starting sales at RightHello cost me many sleepless nights, but with hard work I managed to push my company forward. Let me tell you how I closed our first deals and started building an outbound sales process.
How do you start building a startup sales process without the resources needed to hire and train representatives? You do the first bits of legwork yourself, slowly and carefully.
It’s not as demanding as you might think – you don’t need extensive sales training or unique skills. As the founder, you’re already in possesion of a powerful toolset to use when acquiring your company’s first clients.
And signed deals aren’t the only benefit from this. Kickstarting sales yourself will generate:
- customer feedback, that will serve as a great guide for further product/service development.
- buying process insight, invaluable for the experienced person that will be running sales later on
There’s much to be gained from doing sales yourself, but also a lot to be lost when you don’t do it right. Starting with the mindset, I’ll show you the fundamentals of kickstarting sales as a business founder.
At the beginning of RightHello, I had just “some” sales experience from previous companies – it was never a core duty of mine, but it was enough to see how hard it is to deal with rejection. Except that it was hard mainly because I had to sell by any means necessary.
When that’s your main goal, you’ll only be looking for a “yes” and ignoring all the other benefits of talking to potential customers. But you’re not a sales rep, you’re the founder. Your main goal in this process isn’t to get signed deals – it’s to get anyone to use and feedback your solution.
Your toolset is different from a hired sales rep, so your approach should be different too. Your tools are authority, authenticity, knowledge of customer pains and full company insight (I explained all of those in an article about why founders that suck at sales can still close deals).
With different skills comes a different reason to approach people – your reason is to get feedback. Founders that go around asking people to buy their stuff are not trustworthy, especially in the start-up community. You built your business around something you’re passionate about – so share that passion and ask for feedback.
Don’t be salesy, be likeable and be cool. When you’re honestly asking smart entrepreneurs for feedback, deals will get signed as a by-product.
A lot of shit will be happening all around you – making it hard to focus on kickstarting your sales. That’s ok. As long as you’ve got your priorities in check, no part of your company will get hurt.
Put out fires first, kickstart sales later. No-one can be a full-time salesperson and CEO and the same time. Switch between tasks according to what’s more important at the moment – at times you’ll have to focus on product development, other times you’ll have a few hours to approach people. Be efficient, unplanned chaos only makes things harder – so schedule and set deadlines.
I personally managed my schedule by booking a day of each week for sales activities only (following up, setting up appointments). Through the rest of the week, I tried to have at least 1 appointment or call each day. It was just enough for me to stay on top of everything else happening in my company.
How do you kickstart sales efficiently?
Low effort and high ROI process to kickstart startup sales
You’re looking for short-term positive ROI – for instance, this isn’t the time to start writing a blog. You’ll spend hours and days writing and it might not generate any leads for a long time. But spend a day talking to people and you’ll see instant results. This is the time to do things that don’t scale.
The best place to start is your network (closest first). Look for people that might be interested in your solution, or just well-connected entrepreneurs that could referr you.
Call, email, message on Linkedin – no holds barred. Ask for some of their time to get feedback or help with finding your first customers.
Honestly, I was kinda shocked at how many people were willing to help me – but it was a great feeling (and positive ROI followed). Until you start asking for help you don’t know how much support you actually have.
Always ask for referrals, even when the person isn’t interested herself. And again, remember – you’re not supposed to force people from your closest network to buy. If they want to, great! And some of them definitely will. But you’re not approaching for that – your aim is feedback.
The fact that you need clients is implied, so don’t mention it because everyone knows that your business needs customers – that you need customers. Be honest about the stage of company development you’re at (“We’re looking for first adopters…”), without being salesy.
When a business founder I’m talking to gets too salesy, I lose interest. If you try too hard to convince someone, you send a message that your business fundamentals aren’t solid! But an honest approach makes any entrepreneur want to help, because calm confidence usually means that you already have strategies in place to develop your company.
Prepare an initial pitch and try it out at conferences and events.
This is where you can get more salesy, because talking to people who don’t know you requires at least some pitching. When you do it wrong, this is kind of shooting in the dark. But take your time to pick the right events and it will become an interesting test.
The right event is the one where your potential customers come together in large groups – you’ll need to do some research (what kind of research? Read more in an article about networking events).
Apart from seeing how people react to your pitch in real-time (and whether it generates any interest in buying), squeeze every bit of business intel out of them:
- what their company does
- their understanding of your solution (in particular, the pains they understand it will fix)
- related problems that you could also fix, without spending much resources
This is a goldmine of information that will help you pin-point the type of leads your business needs. Try out your pitch, value propositions, observe people’s reactions and learn about their needs.
I closed 20 deals by myself before finding an experienced sales co-founder. I aimed to make my clients the first brand advocates, that would spread the word about how well RightHello does business.
Looking at it differently – this also helped avoid bad word-of-mouth at the early stage of Righthello, which could seriously damage our perspective for the future.
Give discounts, offer extra features, consultations and other forms of help, at this point you need to have someone using your product/service more than you need cold hard cash.
Show must go on…without you
When you’ve talked to all potentially interested people in your network and been to all promising events, there’s not much more you can do to kickstart your sales (without sacrificing other priorities).
If you aced it, you should be confident that your product is worthy of buying and delivers real value. Clients might even start knocking at your door themselves. And you won’t be able to handle them yourself.
That’s why you should start looking for an experienced salesperson at this stage. You’ve already got a lot of data that will help her adjust the sales process to customer needs from the start.
If you’re worried about not having enough leads for her to work on, you can have experts generating leads for you.
Get to it
Kickstarting your startup sales process can be very beneficial, especially if you’re careful and well-organised. Keep it in mind, avoid fuck-ups and know when to leave the stage – you will effectively kickstart your company’s sales process.
If there’s any strong reason for why you don’t want to kickstart sales, I probably dealt with it in my previous article.