Retro-salesman

At my company we’ve had the privilege to work with dozens of early stage startups, helping them establish their sales processes. Some ask us to build their process from the ground up. Many come to us solely looking for guidance as they develop their own sales processes and teams. In both cases, the best campaigns are those in which the founders are actively involved with developing the process, or have conducted their startup’s early sales themselves.

For tech entrepreneurs without sales experience, here’s how you build a sales process for your startup from the ground up.

1. Begin customer outreach as soon as possible

The best thing you can do to develop your sales process is to get out there as early as possible. That Lean Startup mentality works just as well in sales as it does for development.

Spend a week, even a few days, picking up the phone and cold-calling your customers and getting a feel of how to communicate best with them. During these early calls you’ll get a sense of their challenges, objections you might face, hopefully how a good call should go as well as direct customer feedback about your product. You might even realize a key aspect of your product that needs to be tweaked before you push hard into the market.

As a founder, you absolutely need to do this before handing it off to someone else. Conducting preliminary outreach to your customers will help you better understand your customer, their needs and your market place, as well as refine your product as you develop your sales process.

2. Do a full walkthrough of a close

Walk through simulated conversations that begins with finding the lead and travel through the complete sales process – ending with handing the customer off to your support team. Do this with colleagues who understand your space, then try your pitch on someone who doesn’t. Outsiders quickly notice problems and inefficiencies.

These scenarios not only give you great practice before implementing your process, they’ll help you identify gaps in it. Say on your first call you get a customer’s credit card, then what? How do you process the payment? Who do they speak to next? Mock calls are a great way to practice your pitch and refine the logistics of a sale. This is obviously best to do before you deal with a ton of customers, and look like an idiot because you don’t know how to use Stripe.

3. Establish qualifying criteria

Qualifying criteria is a list of traits that makes a lead a good fit (qualified) to buy your product. Sounds easy enough, but lots of young companies have no idea what they need to know about a customer to make a sale.

So how do you develop qualifying criteria and track them?

Common criteria for leads are:

  • Does your product solve their pain point?
  • Does your product save them money/cost?
  • Does your product save them time?
  • Is your product in their budget?
  • Are they using a competitor’s product and paying for it?
  • How fast can they make a buying decision?

It’s best to develop just five criteria based on what you think you need to know about a buyer, and then reach out to a subset of customers. Identify those five criteria in the customers, and then see if the criteria need to be expanded, or even cut down, to know they would be a good fit. Once you close a few deals, look back at the deals and figure out what you really needed to know in the first conversation to mark someone as “qualified” and move the deal to a close.

Do not get into the habit of marking every lead qualified, because “you had a nice conversation.” Most folks are nice over the phone, and the myth of getting chewed out by a lead is the exception rather than the rule. Remember, a qualified deal is very different than an “active opportunity.” A qualified lead should be a prospect that matches all of the criteria to purchase your product, and one that has expressed interest in learning more and speaking again.

An active opportunity is a qualified lead with a value attached to it. This means that you have communicated the cost of the product/service to the prospect, they understand it, and have expressed that it is in within their budget.

4. Establish a sales script

A good call script is a way for you to guide a customer through your sales process from start to finish, while showing them the value of your product/service.

A good call script typically has the following sections:

  • Introduction
  • Qualifying questions
  • Q&A about features, pricing, and next steps
  • Asking for the close
  • Managing customer objections
  • Establishing next steps

Developing a script is an iterative process, but begins with research. Know your product and how it fits into the market, and find a way to convey that as simply as possible to the customer. It’s important that your script incorporates your qualifying questions (so you know they’re a good fit), common pain points, and benefits around which to position your solution. It’s also important to include objections that your future sales reps will encounter during their calls.

5. Establishing a conversion funnel

Here’s an example of the ideal basic conversion funnel: calls/emails –> reaches –> qualified buyers –> closed deals

A conversion funnel should be built with a “reverse” approach. Establish a range of deals you’d like closed over the course of a week or even a month. Then ask yourselves — to close that many deals, how many active opportunities/deals do I need to qualify in order to achieve that goal? This is called a conversion rate.

This will help you determine how many qualified opportunities you need to achieve in order to reach your “closed deal” goal. But how many scheduled calls or demos do you need to perform each week to in order achieve the desired amount of qualified opportunities?

Using the conversion rates you’ve estimated (be conservative), determine how many calls/emails, or leads generated, you need each week in order to schedule that target amount of calls.

It’s important to note that the amount of calls or emails you need to send each week is pretty large — this is the top of the funnel.  In turn, this might mean that your “closed deals” goal might be too large. Start with a number you believe to be attainable, but aggressive. Work through the entire process and reach the goals you set out at the beginning of the week.

Once you’ve done that, start increasing your goal by 10 percent each month. You need to have 10 percent month-over-month growth to really have a healthy funnel as a startup.

6. Optimize implementation

Sales doesn’t end with the close — as a sales person you need to make sure that the customer is successfully integrated, and this means a clean handoff to your support team. As you develop your sales process, communicate with your customer success team and check in with your customers to see how they’re doing. As a founder, you’ll quickly find out ways to improve your process and ensure that your customers stick around. This is also crucial in order to secure customer references — integral in bringing in new business down the road.

7. Iterate, iterate, iterate

Just because something works, doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it. Make sure you are constantly stress testing your process to figure out what’s broken. Maybe your script is still a bit clunky, or emails don’t generate the response rates you’d like, or your conversion rate is too low. Don’t get stuck doing something because it works “well enough.” Lack of iteration is what prevents companies from making a good sales process great.

It’s crucial that you, as the founder, conduct some of this early outreach and help develop your company’s sales process. Early customer engagement can provide some of the best insights as you look to improve your product or service. Only once you’ve developed this repeatable process, and know it works, you can confidently hand-off sales to a director that can refine the process even more.