Gregg Schwartz is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Strategic Sales & Marketing, an industry-founding lead generation firm based in Connecticut.
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Startup companies often struggle with lead generation and sales – even though the founders are often very enthusiastic about their company’s product, solution or service, they might not have a good sense of which customers are truly receptive to their solution.
Another challenge for startup founders is to sell in a way that feels natural, comfortable and authentic to who they are. Startup founders often have a sense of idealism – they have identified an excellent solution to a pressing problem in the market, and they want to get in front of as many potential customers, partners and funders as possible, as quickly as possible, but they don’t necessarily think of themselves as “sales people” and they don’t want to be identified with stereotypical “pushy sales tactics.”
How can startups get better lead generation results – find more of the right companies that are interested in buying what you sell – while also do better at “authentic” sales tactics?
Here are some tips to help startup entrepreneurs get better lead generation and sales results.
Sell to the right companies
Many startups make the mistake of trying to sell their solution to anyone and everyone. It’s very important to focus your lead generation efforts on only the companies that are the right fit.
Do your research. Figure out which companies have the biggest need for what you sell (note that it might not be the “usual suspects”).
Make it easier to try your product. Do you offer a free trial or test run? Is it easy to access with no complications or glitches? The easier you make it for prospective clients to “try before you buy,” the more leads you will attract.
Sort, rank and nurture your leads
One of the other mistakes that startups and small businesses make is not having a consistent way to track and rank their sales leads.
Big sales organizations typically use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that helps them keep track of key information about each prospective buyer over time – keeping notes on conversations, evaluating sales leads based on how likely they are to buy, and prompting follow-ups at specific intervals throughout the sales process.
But even if you’re running a small company that lacks budget for a big CRM system, you can still find ways to sort and rank your sales leads. This sorting and ranking process can be done as simply as using a spreadsheet to keep track of which sales leads are most promising/highest priority. Then, once you have your sales leads sorted and ranked, you need to “nurture” them – not with one single cold call, but with a series of contacts to build a relationship and offer value along the way, even if it doesn’t immediately lead to a sale.
Follow up with your prospective buyers over time – keep notes on what they said in each conversation, what questions they’re asking, and why you think the prospect is a good fit for what you sell. Repeat as needed.
Don’t make a “sales pitch,” have a conversation
Making sales is often thought of as being all about “overcoming objections” and convincing/persuading people to buy something that they might not otherwise want. Many startup founders do not identify with the stereotypical image of a “high-pressure sales person” – and the good news is, you don’t have to.
The best way for startups to sell is by identifying the needs of their prospective customer, building relationships with customers, and aligning your company’s offerings with the customer’s needs. Ideally, you don’t need to bombard people with sales pitches or overcome their objections to why they don’t want to buy your product – instead, as a startup founder, your biggest sales goal should be having an engaging, mutually beneficial conversation with people where you can demonstrate the value of what your company offers, and find out whether it’s the right fit for what people need.
Connect with customers
Making sales is about building relationships, first and foremost. Many startup founders can relate to this – startup culture is very collaborative and is often based on networking and drawing upon the ideas, talents and contributions of a wide range of people and places.
In the same way, startups can often benefit from taking more of a collaborative approach to sales – you’re not trying to “take” something from your customers by selling to them, you’re trying to learn from them and help your product, service, and/or solution get better along the way. You’re trying to find the right fit for what you sell, in a way that will benefit your customers more than it costs them to buy from you.
Making sales is not about “getting” something from someone on a one-time transactional basis – it’s about “giving” to your customers with long-term engagements. Show the customer that you care, and that you’re interested in more than just making a sale – you want to be a helpful presence to contribute to their future success.
The best sales relationships are built on trust – but if you’re a new company with a short roster of existing clients, how do you build trust and show that you’re here to stay?
Part of the job of building credibility might include sharing some details about your executive team’s industry experience. Do you have any advisors on your board who are highly respected and well connected in the industry? Do you have any major venture capital investors who are on the record as publicly supporting your company?
Be prepared to tell these stories as part of your overall sales process. Part of the sales process for startups is not only selling your customers on the value of your product, but also showing that your product – even if it’s a very exciting, “next big thing” type of development – fits into a broader context and is trusted and respected by people who have credibility with your buyers.
Stay true to your brand – and yourself
Startups face many challenges, but sales can get a lot easier if you look at it from a different perspective. Harness your sense of idealism, optimism and generosity. Look for ways to create constructive conversations where you can engage with people and learn from them about what they need and how your company’s product or service fits their needs.
Keep in mind that sales is ultimately a matter of establishing trust and building relationships for the long-term. You don’t need to “push” anyone into buying from you; you don’t have to be a stereotypical slick, smooth-talking sales person.
Instead, let your own sense of authenticity – your own natural inclinations to build relationships and share information and help people along the way – guide your sales process.