Have you ever gone bowling? It seems simple enough, you roll a heavy ball down a lane in order to knock down ten pins. That is until you have a bunch of friends coaching you on how to bowl with suggestions to “straighten your arm,” “shift your hips,” “focus your eyes straight ahead,” and so on.
The problem is that in the heat of the moment, remembering and incorporating all these suggestions is mental overload. With so many signals going at once, your brain and muscles are not aligned. So instead of bowling strikes, you hopelessly toss gutter balls.
That is the problem of cognitive load. The more information we take in, the more time our minds need to process the information. If we consume too much information too quickly, we forget things or get confused, and our progress often regresses. You experience this whenever you pick up something new or that you do infrequently, like learning a new programming language or going out for bowling. You know the high-level steps, but remembering the details and putting it all together is hard.
Over the last twelve posts, I have been walking through the process of B2B sales. Perhaps it is a completely new skill or something you do not do frequently. Whatever the case, there are a lot of tactics, exercises, and strategies to process. There are also tweaks and adaptions you need to make to fit some of the concepts in this series to your own situation. Even though the content is focused on B2B sales, that still leaves much room for variations in markets, business models, and types of solutions.
To recap the highlights from this Startup Founder Sales Series and to help you put all the pieces together, let me recap the highlights of the previous twelve posts:
- You have to have the mindset that you can sell. As a startup founder, you already possess the energy, enthusiasm, resilience, and confidence to sell. Often booking meetings will be easier for you than for salespeople. To bolster your confidence, use visualization exercises to walk through your conversations with customers ahead of time and practice your pitches and demos.
- The foundation of all sales is understanding customer motivation. You cannot sell if you have not established need. That need is driven by what motivates people to take action. Use the Motivation Matrix to map these high level motivations for each type of person (aka persona) you will engage with during your sale.
- While you may have a vague idea of your market, you will need to revisit and refine your target market. You cannot sell to everyone, so use the principles of lean startup to interview people in your prospective markets to better understand solution fit. Through this process you can identify your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and prioritize your prospecting efforts.
- Without crafting the right messaging, your prospecting will go nowhere. For messaging to attract the interest of prospects and generate meetings, it needs to be personal, relevant, and actionable. Use outputs from the Motivation Matrix and your 3×3 research to craft sales messaging that leads to more prospecting success.
- Once you have the messaging, you need to build lead lists. Put on your marketing hat to focus on lead generation (attract contacts to you) and lead acquisition (use other sources to collect relevant leads). Some methods include gathering contacts on LinkedIn and other social networks, generating unique content, and hosting your own events.
- Prospecting is the hardest task in sales, so you need a good prospecting mechanism to succeed. The channel you use, whether email, cold calling, or social networking, is less important than having a structured process built on the right tools & automation, is easy to use and explain, and allows you to measure and refine your process as you learn more.
- Getting interested prospects is exciting, but make sure you qualify prospects to ensure they will be good customers for your startup, ones that can be successful and get started soon. Use a qualifying methodology called PRIM to discover the prospect Problem, their appetite for Risk, the Impact your solution can have, and the Money to buy.
- Sales are won or lost on the ability to run effective sales meetings. Meetings that are centered on the prospect’s needs and have actionable next steps help you to avoid getting ghosted. Come prepared to meetings with clear goals, good questions, clear responses to objections, STAR-based next steps, and recaps to improve your meeting results.
- Every sale has an internal champion that sees the value of your solution and fights to make a purchase. Never assume though that your champion is really a champion. Understand what’s in it for them, then gauge how well they can explain the value of your solution, if they know the buying process, and what the org chart looks like.
- The challenge of navigating the sale depends on the size of the organization and complexity of your solution. To avoid surprises, co-sell with your champion to learn the buying cycle, map influence , and sell high, wide & deep. Be rigorous in tracking deals, settle pricing concerns early, avoid assumptions, and never go negative on competition.
- Understand the long-term implications of the contracts you sign to avoid legal traps. Watch out especially for language that relates to who owns modification of your intellectual property (IP), termination clauses, most favored pricing, data privacy standards, and what you indemnify for and to what extent you are liable for .
- Most founders assume negotiating and closing the sale happens at the same time. In fact, negotiation happens throughout the sale. First you negotiate the scope of the problem, then price, then buy-in from decision makers. When you hit objections, ask open-ended questions like “How am I supposed to do that?” to surface underlining issues.
Once you have the sale though, what’s next? The sale is only the beginning of the customer journey. It is also just one of hopefully many more sales down the road. Therefore you need to establish the post-sales handoff and begin to build a repeatable model to generate more sales consistently.
Post-sales handoff in an early stage startup is often very informal. You have a small team, and everyone is generally aware of any major news, like closing a deal. To ensure that all the relevant information is provided to the implementation or customer success team, give them access to all the history of correspondence with the customer and any relevant notes. This will be much easier if you capture this information in a CRM system as discussed in the Prospecting Mechanics post.
The other benefit of a CRM is that you will have reporting capabilities built in. Initially the data will not be enough to make informed decisions, but even with a handful of closed deals, you might see patterns. Look at what messages and persona combinations generate the most meetings. Observe what qualifying questions led to the best deals. Review what deals had strong versus weak champions. See where in the sales pipeline has the most drop off from one stage to the next. All of these are data points that over time will help refine your sales cycle and scale it for repeatability.
My hope is that this series helped you think about sales in a more systematic and pragmatic way. The key takeaway is that you are building the foundation that will ensure future sales hires and leaders will be successful as you begin to scale. Look out for future posts on sales and other startup go-to market strategies here on the AWS Startups blog as well as stories of founders sharing their stories of building on AWS and scaling their businesses!