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Startup sales in a nutshell: how to come out on top

Start with this premise – EVERYONE is in sales! Why? Because everyone must be involved in one or both of the following two fundamental components of a successful company. If you look at the characteristics…

Start with this premise – EVERYONE is in sales!

Why? Because everyone must be involved in one or both of the following two fundamental components of a successful company.

If you look at the characteristics of the best companies, they all have at least these two fundamental components.

  • Great product(s) and;
  • Great customer experiences.

Say what you want about sales… think what you want about sales… a company’s runway is pretty short with mediocre sales. Despite this time proven fact, many still don’t consider selling a company-wide initiative.

People tend to steer clear of the salesperson persona because it often has a negative connotation attached to it. This is such an easy fix! It’s your company. Your culture. Either way, you are defining the sales persona/customer experience culture of your company, either proactively or passively.

Sales is really all about creating great and lasting customer experiences:

  • Building must have products;
  • Solving real world customer problems;
  • Changing the direction of an industry;
  • Consistently delivering the optimal customer interaction with your company;
  • Listening. Solving. Follow up. Empathy. Integrity. Value;
  • Creating a cult-like following takes great products and incredible customer experiences regardless of their touch point with the company;
  • The best customer experiences are, the ultimate sales activity.

Sales is all about having a conversation with someone about the problem they are faced with and how you can help them solve it. With this in mind, let’s look at three ways that you can improve sales and create a solid sales culture in your organization.

Your Actions Define the Culture

Sales must go deep into the organization and if you are sitting near the top of the org chart, you need to remember that you are defining the culture that your employees see and more importantly, your customers experience. This means that you need to set the example and get in front of your key customers and prospects to demonstrate the type of relationships that you expect your team to be building on a daily basis.

Another way to integrate everyone into the sales culture is to create opportunities for internal dialogue to happen. Bring in the heads of different departments to listen to the sales team so that they fully understand the interactions at the front lines, the challenges sales and support are dealing with repeatedly and actively participate in continuously improving the customer experience.

When I hear an executive complaining about the numbers or characterizing the sales team in disparaging ways, I immediately question how removed that executive is from speaking to customers and working with the sales team on specific customer/prospect opportunities.

Sales is 100% About Solving a Problem

While a lot of people will tell you that B2B sales is hard, the reality is that the buyer’s process has changed and buyers have become much more sophisticated.

Today, customers are:

  • Smarter – 70+% of the buying journey is done BEFORE a sales rep is involved
  • Harder to Reach – 90% of decision makers say they never respond to cold outreach
  • Expect More Value – 74% of buyers choose the sales rep that was FIRST to add value and insight

When a sales professional first connects with a prospect (email, voicemail, IM, live, etc.) they literally have five seconds to create an impact. To demonstrate value.  If they can’t give the prospect a good reason to keep listening, it’s over. People are insanely busy and have lots of  choices. 

The first cut is simple and usually lethal. Can this stranger that is somehow connected with me, sound like someone that can provide value to me and my company, yes or no? Get your value point across in five seconds or you have probably lost the prospect’s interest.

For every five seconds you can hold their attention, the prospect will typically give you five seconds more. The key is to focus on, and lead with, the problem you are solving for them.

Grab your prospect’s attention early and hold it. It’s your job, as a salesperson, to get straight to the heart of the problem and show them the value in what you are offering. A sales pitch is not a feature/function data dump – it is an exercise in presenting value and delivering meaningful results.

Understand Your Buyer

When it comes to selling your company’s solution, it will always be much more obvious to you as to why the prospect should buy, than it will be to them.

Understanding the buyer’s business problem is only part of the selling equation. You need to understand what was happening culturally in their generation and then leverage that into your interactions. For example, if someone grew up in a time when relationships were built face-to-face but you resort to text or email, you will likely lose them. Failing to understand communication styles will dramatically increase your risk of annoying your prospect and being shut out of the conversation.

Understand how your buyer prefers to communicate and adapt your methods to fit. The weakest link I see today is timely follow up. Selling is a process of earning their trust and respect. Your actions, your professionalism, your commitment to get back to them with what they asked for on a timely basis, is the behaviour that is being measured on trust and respect.

Prospecting and Pipelines Need Constant Nurturing

Prospecting will always be king.

Every rep’s pipeline needs to be constantly fed. The better the flow the better the forecast. The weaker the flow the more a rep tends to hang on to a prospect that at best is a suspect and most likely is someone that should be in marketing’s nurture system.

When you don’t have a lot of coverage, every opportunity looks like a good one but when you have a large pipeline, you can be much more discerning and focus on the high return activities.

* * *

Having a solid sales team, and great sales culture, has the power to change the trajectory of your company but as you’ve likely learned, it starts at the top and has to permeate through every facet of your organization. Spend some time reflecting on how your organization could do a better job making sales a larger part of the conversation and how you can put solving really tough problems for your customers at the center of your company.

To grow a company, you need rock stars in every functional area. Creating the right “sales persona” for your company will make attracting those rock stars, keeping those rock stars and building a premier customer base, the envy of your industry.

In summary, think of the greatest brands in the world. They all speak consistently of their focus and commitment to the “Customer Experience.” They do that to attract new customers and to keep existing customers. They have a company wide commitment to continuous improvement of the customer experience. 

That in a nutshell is selling.  That is how great brands engage everyone in the business in the selling process.


L-SPARK is the destination for Canada’s startup and tech ecosystem to learn, share, plan, execute, measure, adjust, scale and succeed. L-SPARK startup and corporate acceleration programs give companies exclusive access to leading edge technology and help build the foundation and metrics to raise capital, grow revenues, and reach global markets and partners. To date, L-SPARK alumni network of 100+ startups has raised funding totaling over $150M.

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