Even the best ideas need to get sold before they have a chance to change the world. Sales are a big challenge to startups for many reasons: focus on development, lack of resources, time, investor discussions, the accelerator program or sometimes know-how and even courage. Getting the solution sold is the #1 target but all too often the last priority in a busy startup day for founders, CEOs and developers.
One big challenge to sales we see often is the right (or wrong) personnel: “good sales people are hard to find” is a mantra we hear a lot in the startup world. While this might be true, there is still something here to think about: a successful sales organisation only ends with the best sales people – it starts with a clear focus on sales and paving the way right from the start. Even the best sales managers are bound to fail by your expectations if they find an organisation not ready to sell or when they are called in too late for ‘damage control’. If you ask me, anyone can sell – if the organisation does its homework first.
I have a history of 6 years in Fortune500 B2B sales. During that time, I dialed about 50000 phone numbers, send 20000 emails, had about 12000 conversations through various channels and about 2000 sales meetings. I have lead and trained sales teams for several international markets. I worked in both highly process oriented corporate organisations as well as startup environments and the common denominators for a successful sales organisation were always the same: 1) do the pre work and clearly define your target groups, 2) understand and utilise your own and your client’s main communication channels, 3) learn how your clients buy solutions and master the various channels through which they do that and 4) introduce and lead a sales oriented culture of growth from the start.
1: B2B Sales 101 – the pre work
Selling starts by prospecting – the art of turning air into a company name you can potentially sell to. To do this well you need to establish a database of names. The higher the quality of those names the more money it yields. It is worthwhile sitting down with your team and carefully think through who can and should buy from you – industry, company type, level of decision maker and function. You can do that based on your statistical experience or specific challenge you solve. Be creative in finding those names. Look out the window when you take the bus to work, read the adverts in an in-flight magazine first and utilize tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator for a spear-headed searches. Your first 1000 prospects are easy to manage in an Excel sheet. Consider getting an inexpensive but functional cloud-based CRM like Pipedrive after that to manage your activities.
2: Social Selling
Startups work in an inherently digital world. Both startups and their clients are communicating through digital channels and it is only natural to put an effort into mastering these to create revenue. Social media has the strong advantage to deliver tons of information about your clients but poses a challenge to the extent that a client’s expectation towards a first contact raises tremendously. Social Selling is the art of showing a true interest in your client and delivering value based on their business model to build a strong connection before you engage in a sales-discussion. This requires research, curiosity, patience and an honest interest for your prospects to benefit from your insights before they buy from you.
If you are looking for inspiration in The Nordics it is worthwhile following Sani Leino, Sales Director of Europe ThingLink. He is listed among the Onalytica global top100 social selling influencers in 2016. Sani had a long sales career both in a corporate and entrepreneurial environment and is a certified sales coach.
3: Learn how your clients buy
Startups in a B2B environment will notice that ‘conventional’ forms of selling do no longer work. While best practices in sales are still true today as they were in the 80s and 90s it is the way enterprises buy that has changed tremendously. Purchasing processes have become more complex, more influencers are involved in the decision, enterprises follow a higher level of risk-aversion and third party negotiators created a more rigid evaluation process and higher pressure for suppliers. However, the information age does not only provide buyers with a lot more information but it also gives startups a multitude of channels to tab into these new procedures of purchasing. Both shifting your focus towards understanding your client’s purchasing preferences as well as mastering a multitude of sales channels (social selling, phone, f2f, events, …) is more important than ever to succeed in sales.
Valuable insights as well as a ton of literature is available by Mika Rubanovitsch, CEO at ImperialSales. ‘Ruba’ literally wrote the book on the buying revolution and is author to several sales-publications. He is a frequent speaker and the most trusted sales coach to the biggest enterprises in Finland. He is also a mentor at Vertical and coaches both teams and leaders to push sales organizations to the next level.
4) Growth is a Culture
Exponential growth is the target for many startups. But what is the best way there and what is the right kind of growth for the individual company? The actual way to success is easily underestimated while the focus is on product/service development and investor acquisition. Spreading the mission with actual clients appears to be both a challenge and a late target to follow among startups. However, spreading the mission is the essence of what sales is all about. Getting client feedback from the earliest stages does not only guide the product development in the right ways it builds the very base of your income. Putting a focus on sales early on is therefore critical and the right motivation to push for it is more than a mindset – it’s a culture of the organisation.
Tomi Hilvo, CEO at D11 Helsinki is a central reference point in this area. Tomi has a long history of challenging traditional business models and has lead a number of highly successful, disruptive and very sales oriented organizational cultures. Corporate growth and fast internationalisation is his expertise built on organizational culture.
In the end, sales is more than hiring a sales manager and, I believe, needs to be an intrinsic part of every company culture from the start. What do you think and what is it your need to take sales to the next level? We are happy to get feedback and questions to support you the best we can in the future.
Hoping this gave you some insights already we would like to start supporting you very practically right away so we turned the above into a dedicated Sales Track at Arctic15.
The event offers 4 workshops hosted by Sani, Ruba, Tomi and Arcticstartup targeted to give you concrete tools and actionable insights to boost your sales. You can learn from these influencers, discuss and challenge them and put the information directly into action by utilizing the Deal Room App to generate valuable sales meetings on the spot.
Get your tickets here.