Photo credit: Daniel Coy
Imagine. You are creating your B2B start-ups. You had that marvellous, light bulb moment. You did some research, interviewed people. And after much fear, you decided to go for it. Congratulations! You’ve done the first step on an exciting journey. And now, whether your start-up is about a product or a service, you need to sell. Yes, sell. Whilst you rightfully feel that your idea or your product is really unique and possibly world changing, you need to convey this to someone who then will take a big punt on you and give you some of hard earned cash (or cash from a budget they manage) and give it to you. So you need to convince. You need to put them in a motion that will take them to you buying. But even before this, you need to approach prospects who could, heaven forbid, be complete strangers. And you dread this. You dread this probably because in the back of your mind, you associate sales to a range of concept which you don’t associate as sexy. Yes, concepts like cold calling, cold emailing, convincing, asking people for money and so on…
But you can’t be further apart from the truth. Sales is fascinating. Sales is what defines an organisation as a success or a failure. Actually, I challenge you to think of another function within an organisation that is not more crucial than sales. So, despite the fact that we often think that technology and marketing is sexy, your success as an entrepreneur will solely depend on your ability to actually sell. And like so many people, you might think that the only need in sales is to be a happy chappy, have a good empathy with people and the rest will happen.
Sales is a process. Sales is complex. Don’t get me wrong, sales is exciting but I haven’t learn it in MBA or in an auditorium. I have learned sales by being coached on it, by doing it, by reflecting after each sales meeting, writing down notes on what I did well and did wrong so to try avoid them again in my next sales meeting. And the best situation I’ve been in to learn about sales was in start-up environments where I had very little support, no big marketing machine to support me, generate leads. In essence, when I had to start from scratch by generating a conversation.
So how do I generate this first conversation, because that’s where it all starts from. How do I generate those that lead to the first sales and ensuring customers? Or, more exactly how do I generate these conversations. Because I need to initiate plenty of these and to maintain them all (that’s when you wear you marketing hat!) to get my first and ensuing customers. Here are some tips:
- The medium: I am a fan of Linkedin and Twitter. So much data out there. People specifying their interest, people following twitter and LI account of companies they are interested in. It’s a brilliant way to start and develop conversations, relationships and clients. I stopped counting the number of conversations, clients, partners, leads and even friends I started over twitter. You can also email people. Finding prospect email these days is ridiculously simple (ping me if you want to know more).
- The content: When I approach a prospect for the first time, especially from cold, don’t be enthusiastic, stay on the right side of the pendulum (hence the name of my blog, more on this later). I always say “I am not sure we need to talk” and specify clearly the objective of my mail. Far more powerful than “my solution will sort your problems” when I am not even sure they have a problem! I talk about what other people have found in using my product or service even when I am part of a pre-rev start-up that hasn’t got customers yet. I present briefly how others are using (or eventually will be using) my product/service and qualify: it might not be relevant to them! Yes, I am not selling, I share what others have been through. Once a prospect has been told the situation other people faced, if the issues mentioned address some he faces today or worries he might face tomorrow, then he has a ground for an adult conversation. My response rate from cold emailing is just below 20%. I could do better but it helps getting a few conversations started.
- The first encounter: If I manage to get a first call / meeting, then one thing I constantly bear in mind is that the one who ends up with the most information is the one who is in the best position. How many times do I meet sales people who just start talking over and over about how great their service/product is without even me saying anything. I have sales director meeting me and, true story, start by putting a flyer about their company. Amazing… There are no stupid question. I sometimes qualify with a “this might be a stupid question but …”. Every time I say this, the answer is generally: “This is a good question”.
There is a lot more to say, far more than this post can contain. From the need to leave “happy ears” at home when someone says ”this is interesting” to avoiding “the dog and poney show” and of course the necessary need to track your activity and use a good CRM (start with a free one, in startups it’s revenue first, expenses second). So I’ll simply finish by saying if a prospect ignores or rebuff you, do not take it personally. Separate your “professional you” to who you are, your “personally you”, in other words: “it’s just business”. And just carry on and contact new prospects.
Imagine. You not only made the jump to create your B2B start-up but you’ve also made your first cold call, your first prospect meeting and even your first sale. How does that feel?