When we think about startup companies, we have a tendency to think about the excitement, passion, vision, money, stock options, flexibility and thrill of bringing a new product or service to market. But I see many startups where these fantasies are anything but reality. In fact, I recently spoke to an audience that included some startup executives and what I heard were the problems with product completion, the battles with investors, the challenge of working within a starvation budget and the anxiety related to breaking into usually tough and competitive markets as a new company. Clearly two very different worlds can exist in the startup community! One Fun, one not so fun.
We have a pretty lively startup community here in the Boston area. Actually, we have been the home of some really incredible stories! I have witnessed some of our local startups go from a small office or garage, with 2 or 3 founders, to a huge building with hundreds of employees in under 5 years. That said, there also
have been some failures. One of the big differences (and I know this is not the only one) between the success stories and the failures is, I believe, a sales-related problem. How so?
New companies not only
need to identify new opportunities, they need to get those prospective clients to change how or with
whom they do business - often going from known and established to unknown and untested. That is a sales challenge. New companies need to identify clearly
not just whom is going to buy their creations, but also why they are going to buy them. Understanding the why is the key to selling and therefore a sales challenge.
New companies need to realize that it isn’t only about which companies are good potential business
targets, but which buyer in those companies would care about your product. If only someone with no decision-making power and/or no influence
authority gets excited about what you do, that will be a problem. But time and again, I listen to excited founders and inventors, talking about a product, who do just that. Identifying who makes the decisions and how is at the heart of selling.
When I meet startup founders or young executives, I usually ask them to pretend that I am a CEO of a prospective company. I then ask them to explain why I should buy from or invest in their company. Inevitably, the answer goes down the wrong road – features, benefits, technology and the wonderful things which their technology can do (painfully detailed). The right road would be how it will help me and my business to solve problems or achieve goals - and that should be spoken in clear, business language, not techno-babble.
I encourage startups to think about their positioning. Who will they help and why will they help them? Before getting too deep into development and production, think into the future and imagine a sales person trying to convince a CEO to buy what you’re offering. What will the sales person say which might help the CEO say "Yes!"? If you can’t answer that question, I suggest that you put everything on hold until you can.
When you have a clear value proposition and can explain the usefulness of your product or service clearly, then I believe that other things will fall into place. Some time ago, I had the opportunity to assist a startup as they prepared to present to some potential investors. In reviewing their slides, I helped them simplify and focus on the endgame, e.g. How will we sell it to our buyers? The solution involved a merging of inbound marketing and proven sales follow-up which mirrored and aligned with each other. The results were great and they found their investor. In speaking with one of my friends at a fairly large VC firm in New York, he agreed that too many startups are incapable of articulating that value proposition and even getting in their way when it comes to receiving adequate funding.
As I discuss in my book, Sales Shift – How inbound marketing turned sales upside down making it more difficult and more lucrative at the same time, the market and buyers have changed, forcing a change in sales strategy. Startups are not immune to this shift. The products and solutions, which many startups are busy creating, are innovative, new, fresh and exciting, so doesn’t it make sense that the sales strategy should be just as exciting
If you're able to make it to Boston next week for a couple days, Kurlan & Associates
is having its top-notch Sales Leadership Intensive
where sales strategy will be discussed in the context of sales tools, tactics, mindset, knowledge and practice. Contact me
so I can set you up for a successful training!