Returning to Building

Over the past three weeks, I provided you with an inside look into my current entrepreneurial endeavors. As we move forward through the year, I will keep you up to date with the progress of each of my businesses at the end of each quarter. Up until then, I will return to focusing on the key action steps that it takes to build a successful startup in its first year.

In this column, I will be focused on how to structure a startup sales process. With my experience in building FreeeUp and eCommetize, I’ve had to go through the process twice in the past 6 months. If you take nothing away from this article, remember that customers do not magically appear once your product or service has been built. Millions of entrepreneurs have made this mistake before and the outcome is not going to change any time soon.

Once you have built the first version of your product or service, you need a strategic plan to inform your target customers that it exists and that you are a better solution than your competition.

Why Is the Startup Sales Process So Important?

The startup sales process lays the foundation for a sales system and set of processes that will allow your company to grow as you continue to work on the development of your product/service.

In the first year of building a start up, little to no one knows about your new company. In the first year of starting a business, it is your job as the founding team to let people know about the amazing product or service that you are offering.

With a Strategic Sales Process

By focusing on the startup sales strategy in the first or second quarter of building your business, you will begin to better understand your market. When you have a better understanding of your market, you can listen to their feedback and make adjustments to your product or service.

As you release new versions of your product or service, you will have potential customers that are interested in buying your product because you built it with their feedback in mind. When you have potential customers waiting patiently for your product to be released, you build hype around your product and the sales process becomes more of a period of onboarding until you can’t handle more volume.

I would assume that we would all want to be in this position. Am I wrong? It all starts by setting up a strong foundation for a sales strategy that will inform your potential customer market of your product or service.

Without a Strategic Sales Process

When you solely focus on building your product or service and neglect selling to your target market, you lose sight of who you are actually building for. When you head down this path, there are a number of results that may occur:

  • you build a product for a problem that doesn’t even exist
  • you spend money building a product and run out of cash before you can sell it to enough customers
  • you spend too much time building a product without getting customer feedback. Once you finally talk to potential customers about the product, you realize you need to rebuild the product.
  • you build an amazing product with an amazing technical team, but none of you know how to effectively sell it to the end customer.

Value your Time and your Product

If you truly value the time that you are putting into building the product or service that will define your startup, don’t neglect the startup sales process. It’s what will allow you to build an MVP with the customer in mind and eventually scale your business.

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What Does a Startup Sales Process Look Like?

Sales systems and processes come in many different forms and sizes. However, most will usually come back to a universal structure that can be defined by the sales funnel. Dependent on the education necessary for your product or service and the end goal that you are aiming to achieve, there will be many different levels within the sales funnel.

The Sales Funnel

sales funnel

If you’ve never seen or heard of a sales funnel before, you are going to see thousands of different models based off the shape to the left. Some models will refer to the sales funnel as a sales pipeline depicted as a line chart of processes that brings the customer from initial interest to the close.

From my experience, most startup sales processes have a typical set of stages that you must create in order to successfully bring a target customer to the bottom.

Stage 1: Get Prospects into the Sales Funnel

If you can imagine from the picture above, all of your potential leads are outside of the funnel flying around waiting to be pulled in. They are consuming content and information from hundreds of sources on a daily basis and it is your job to create a set of strategies that piques their interest enough to say, “yes, I’m interested in more information.”

Stage 2: Education

Dependent upon the complexity and makeup of your product or service, there will be a certain period of education where it is your job to tell the potential customer about how your product makes their lives better. This is typically done through a set of email exchanges, clever infographics, website information, and sometimes brief phone calls.

Stage 3: Initiating the Sale

After the potential customer has learned more about your product or service, you want to gauge their interest in actually purchasing. I recommend this conversation to happen via phone or in person when dealing with business to business products. When you can create a personal rapport with someone and answer the questions where they are struggling to find a solution, you have a better chance of convincing them that your product is a great solution for their business.

Stage 4: Closing the Deal

Turning a potential lead into a full blown sale is usually the most difficult stage of the sales funnel. When approaching this stage of the sales funnel, you want to make sure that the potential customer completely understands what they are getting into before moving forward.

Once you are confident that the customer understands your product or service, it’s time to put everything you can into getting them to sign the contract or click the button.

Disclaimer: All Sales Funnels Differ

As I said above, every sales funnel is going to be different dependent upon your product and target market. Sales funnels will also be applied with marketing practices, but for the purposes of discussing the actual sales process, I have decided to focus on the stages once you have pulled the potential customer in.

Who Do You Need for a Successful Startup Sales Process?

1. Lead Generation Specialist

You need someone on your team that is a wizard at finding potential customers within your defined target market. This individual will be responsible for creating a research and contact system and set of processes so that other lead gen specialists can be trained and implemented further increasing productivity of the team.

2. Systems and Process Expert

You need someone on your team to work directly with the Lead Gen Specialist and Sales Person to create a sound structure of systems and processes for the entire funnel. This individual should have a systems-driven mindset and a love for planning.

3. Sales Person

Third, you need someone who is a natural on the phones and in person. This person is going to be responsible for communicating with all potential leads that the Lead Gen Specialist creates. They will be responsible for education and the final close of the deal.

4. Integration Specialist

Depending on your product or service, you may also need a fourth individual that handles the customer once the sales person has converted them. This individual will meet with the customer and act as support as they are integrated into the product or service. Again, this is only necessary for certain types of startups.

Always Have a Handle on your Sales System

As the founder and owner of your business, you should be directly involved and influential in the sales system within the first year of building the business. You, as the owner, are the best sales person that your company will possibly ever have.

Don’t be a founder that looks past the sales process for the product. A perfect balance of both will place your startup in a place set for eventual growth and scale.