I decided to pen (down) an article on selling and start-ups. This is written with the view to give you the ability to assess your sales and get you as a start-up to reflect on your business model and how it will scale. The rationale for writing this was threefold:
- We are a start-up and want to share our learning journey in a realistic manner with what we have learned over the last 4 years in a real and applicable way.
- We are a sales consultancy firm, and we want to share what we have learned from our clients that will help you.
- We are launching a new product and would love your feedback on the idea. See notes at the end. [my little pitch:}]
We know that selling in the start-up world is tough, we work with start-ups from all industries and having gone through four years of building our own model we reckon that we have our finger is on the pulse. We see a lot of start-ups really struggling with their sales, listed below are some of the issues we find that keep raising their heads.
As my mum says, “if the hat fits wear it” “make sure you are trying hats on”. Read on and see if you face the same issues, and try and be honest with yourself.
The Dirty Dozen
- You Don’t understand your product in relation to the market and buying cycle of your clients
- You do not have a lead generation model
- You use founder-based selling as the model, [enthusiasm] and expect your sales people to sell the same way
- You do not have a scalable sales model
- Not optimising the use of technology
- No documentation and templates
- Overpitching during meetings
- Poor lead follow-up model
- Poor branding
- Not targeting the right market place
- Lack of recruitment strategy for scaling
- Ineffective sales management
We in our own business have gone through all of the above issues. The harrowing thing for us is that we teach it, we live it and it’s still a daily battle to keep on track. My point being that running a sales model is tougher than it looks, even for us.
As few examples of issues we faced, we have made poor decisions on recruitment, we have misused CRM and still sometimes do, we have fallen into the trap of founder based sales, which I will explain in detail below, we were not targeted as we should have been, and I believe are still not targeted enough, and so on and so forth. Let me approach this article as a means of highlighting what we did wrong and how we fixed or are trying to fix it. My belief is that if we share, we all learn from others mistakes and can avoid doing the same thing and strategise on the way ahead in a more constructive fashion.
Lets dig deeper and look at the above issues
You don’t understand your product in relation to the market and the clients buying cycle buying cycle of clients: As start-ups, we all think we have a greatest idea ever. I am with you and I believe I am onto a billion-dollar winner as well, but let’s all be honest, we might or might not as the case may be. Because of this, we need to always be reflecting on what we are doing, leading us to assess and reassess our product, how our clients see it, what the clients really want and what the market is calling for.
In my journey so far, with many failures stuck in there, the first being the building of the online training platform with my co-founder who is a world-class sales coach, having sold 8 million books, I thought if I built a video training platform around him, then why wouldn’t the whole world want to have him training his team on a daily basis. I had made one mistake, I had assumed far too much. Here were my assumptions;
- People have a sales model and want to get better
- Managers manage teams well, have good models and are constantly coaching and developing their sale people
- The content we have would be embraced (implemented) by all, and they would want to watch daily
- The impact of this would be that everyone would see a vast improvement in their sales
Reality check: It did not work like this. No one really trains on a daily basis to improve on sales skills. Managers tend not to have clear models, and people are not interested in micro-learning, they are busy doing other things, and habit patterns are not in place to get them doing this. So although the content was amazing, the reality was that there was the issue of how current it was and if it addressed the super hard issues that sales people really faced at the time.
So, what did we do? We went back to the drawing board, stepped into consultancy and started building models for our clients, understanding what they genuinely wanted and directly helping them scale their companies up. This was very different from my first model and ultimately allowed us to step into our newest product, the third evolution of the model, helping our clients with recruiting new salespeople, boot camping them through the first three months of their careers, and facilitating the manager during this period. For me the learning of our client’s journeys, what they really wanted and the subtleties of their issues took time, but the net result is that we believe with this new approach we can scale on this model. [Let’s see over the next few years]
Lesson: Take feedback, ask your clients and mentors to look at you. Ask them what they think. Ask them to be blunt questions, empower them to be honest and listen. Often a little change in direction is all it takes to get in tune with your market.
You do not have a solid lead generation model
I have always been pretty good at this but it’s become one of my babies. That was not the case 15 years ago when I worked in the life insurance industry. I was at the time earning a measily 20k Singapore dollars per year, and it was tough. After about 12 years of doing this, and having gone from being super successful prior to this, I decided I needed to fix my life. One of the core areas was to optimising my lead generation in a scalable way. I did this in four ways;
- I figured how to get unlimited referrals
- I built a model on how to consistently get meetings in my diary
- We mastered how to optimise networking
- I developed the model of partnerships and introducers
The key goal first was building up the referrals model in a steady and scalable fashion. This all came back to having a clear process for asking the right way and right time and getting unlimited names. When I had fixed this area, my revenue jumped through the roof, let’s not talk numbers, but I was able to fund a team of about 6 people, including PA, a Quant, a driver, a Bd person and still making good profit.
So, building a model of driving traffic into your business is critical. Nowadays we have an unbelievable amount of resources at our fingertips. Let us use them to scale up our business and follow a process that fits your world:
For us, our process is as follows;
- Referrals, where we get 5-10 names per week. Qualified, leading to 2 to 3 meetings per week
- LinkedIn, where we get 2 to 3 meetings per week
- Events and general networking, where we get 2 to 3 meetings per week
- Partnerships, 1 to 2 meetings per week.
- Webinars, for brand building and future lead generation
- Social media, for brand building and future lead generation
Going ahead you need to think of how to fill up your diary. This is all about the number of attempts you make asking for meetings.
Which can be done using the following tools :
- Phone calls
Each week a certain number of requests to book meetings with leads are required to get the right number of meetings. For us it is 19 attempts per week to ask for meetings. This nets 7 meetings. Broken down, this looks like the following; 4 calls per week, 4 WhatsApp messages per week, 6 LinkedIn requests per week, 2 emails per week and 1 SMS per week, to our warm leads.
You use founder-based selling as the model, [enthusiasm] and you expect your sales people to be able to sell the same way.
Founders can always sell. It’s the one thing that makes start-ups work and probably the most important thing during that first few years to build sales. The reasons why it is so important are many, the main ones are, founders learn more skills on how to sell, they get real-time feedback from the market, and they keep their fingers on their pulse and do not get shut off from the world. Saying all of this, there is a huge flaw in this model and that is the fact that your sales people cannot sell the same way as founders, with the main reason for this being that sales people cannot have the same passion and energy for the product, obviously and also they do not get the same respect from clients that the founder gets. So how do you address this?
- Do not expect salespeople to be founders
- Give them a model, not only passion
- Have clear metrics [do not compromise on this] for all team members including the founder
- Founders must keep doing meetings all the way through, it’s a core part of scaling up
- Have a clear lead generation model
- Do not let the founder do the training of the sales people
- Do not teach a sales model by taking the salesperson out with the founder
My story about this is more around the issue that I did everything as is the norm for start-ups. I was selling, doing lead generation and consulting and it just did not work. As a founder, your most important recruit is your BD person and then your first salesperson. They do not have to be your best team member, and you do not need to start with a superstar, in fact, I would never start with a superstar as this usually ends in disappointment and loss of money as they cannot adapt to your small-time world with no structure. I realised that, when I recruited a BD person it changed everything for me. The rest became easy, the key was that I needed support to free me up for the critical things that I needed to do. I still do 5 first meetings per week, our belief is that you should practice what you preach.
One point to remember, your model is not proven or scalable until someone else sells your product for you.
Once you get your first BD and first salesperson, you can think about scale, and how this will look. Very much recommend the “Sales Acceleration Formula” by Mark Roberge. This book is critical for all C-Suite to read reinforces the model required to scale a start-up, he took HubSpot to 100,000,000 turnover in 4 years.
You do not have a scalable sales model
This is the only way you can make money. You need clear process and system built for sales. A SALES CULTURE. This for me comes back to the 12 years of my life when I consistently earned 20k per annum. It all changed once I had a model and it was scalable. This is the secret to building your sales; you have to be able to come back to the basics. You then can assess what are the numbers and the ratios and where do you need to improve?
What should your model contain;
- Good lead generation
- Good appointment booking
- First meeting process
- Second meeting process
- Third meeting model
- Admin process
- Metrics model
- Solid recruitment model for sales
- Sales coaching model
Ask yourself this question, where are you now on a scale of 1-10 on the above. If you are 6 or below on any of them, reach out and let’s have a chat.
Not optimising the use of technology
Where do I start? There is a high chance that you have an area of expertise and you are great at what you do, your company and yourself will tend to not really looking outside this for change and being ahead of the game as we often tend to be looking inward at this stage. The problem this creates for you is that the world is now officially passing you by. You cannot run away from tech, my mum is 70+ and uses Instagram, and my Co-founder shamed me into using Snapchat, and he is 70+. We need to be embracing the tech world in order to survive and here are the ones you MUST be using;
- Fully utilized CRM. Without it, you cannot scale in sales.
- LinkedIn. You need to be optimizing LinkedIn. It’s the number one lead generation tool now in the market, and if you are not a whiz at this, you are in the dark ages.
- Instagram. This is where you get your brand out there and your ideas and passion to the world.
- WhatsApp. This is where you build personal relationships, and there are so many ways to use it, that I will write an article and could write a book on it.
- Website: Your landing page and content must be sensational.
- Video communication. Re-learn how to make a phone call, its critical for success.
There are others, but these are the non-negotiable key technological tools you need. On a side note, I hear people say; I am only going to talk to people via Email. Really, that’s what you think? Well, take a step back because the world hates email, and if you reach out solely through this medium, you are reducing your revenue generating potential significantly.
For us, the chink in our armour is CRM. I have to fess up that I am still not getting it right and I need to practice what I preach. My Tech guy, Todd, is on it though and empowered to kick us all. We are getting better…
No documentation and templates
You need documentation; everything should be done from a template. We have a document that’s called a collaboration document, and we deliver it after a fact find. I used to do each one separately until my genius team took all of them, put them onto one editable document and from there they took the time of creating document from 6 hours to 30 minutes. This was a game changer for us, and this is the way everything should be.
Templated documents you must have:
- Fact find
- Collaboration template
- Proposal documents
These are easy to build, and you should have one brand, one template, and everyone should use the same one.
Over-pitching during meetings
“Starting with No”, is one of the most essential books in sales, alongside “Never split the difference”. They put over the point that ensures you are stepping into a meeting and you are in control. Being in control is easy and knowing the methods of not stepping into a needy or pitchy relationship is critical to success.
Now for what we have learned over the years, it was the moment I realised that I had to walk away from a percentage of meetings and tell them that I was not the right company for them that it changed.. I got it that I did not need to sell to everyone. In fact, I cannot sell to everyone. It’s tough to accept, but logically, your product is not right for all. It’s the most enlightening thing to say to someone, I am really sorry, but we are not the company for you. It really does change everything for all the other clients you can help. Its critical you do this before they think it or say it to you.
Sales is a science/process, some say its an art, but they tend to be the ones who don’t want to be managed and coached and know better. You need to have a process, minute by minute, with clear guidelines on what to do and what not to do and when to do it. Some of the things you should do include;
- Listening skills
- Ability to ask questions
- Keep to your process
- Do research on all attendees
- Be curious, this is a sales persons most important trait
- Accept you cannot help everyone and look for reasons to walk and not waste both your time
Things not to do
- Don’t be needy
- Don’t be lazy
- Don’t lose concentration
- Do not Interrupt
- Not listen actively
- Not have a framework
These are little things, but they stop you, as a founder or sales person, from being too needy and too pitchy. Meetings are not about you; they are about your client and about your understanding of your client.
Remember to SHUTUP… It’s not about you. 10 percent you and 90 percent your client, is the perfect meeting. TRUST ME ON THIS. I have learned and keep learning the HARD way.
Poor lead followup model
You worked so hard to get leads, and then what do you do? Probably nothing, or a bad job. It’s crazy how many leads people have in their phones, on their desk, at home, on LinkedIn etc. People they have met and done meetings and just not followed up on. I say this as we were shocking at it. I would do a meeting and then follow up when I had time. My experience is though that we all do this and leads must be dealt with the right way.
Process one. Name collected networking in some form
After any event, networking, collection of names, do the following;
- Collect name, event, LinkedIn, referral etc
- Input into CRM
- Create actions in CRM for them
- Communicate with them
- Book a meeting with them
- Send a confirmation
- Update CRM
Process two. Meeting done
After each meeting do the following;
- Update CRM with a summary of meeting and deductions from the meeting
- Next steps, i.e. meeting booked, send info, send a gift
- Email summary of meeting to client
- Should have booked meeting but if not, book next meeting
- Categorise and edit client in CRM based on the response
- Book time for prep of paperwork for client
- Prep paperwork for meeting way ahead of time
My world is even better than I am describing here. The main reason being that I am so disorganised and forgetful is, that if I don’t have someone running it for me, I quickly fall behind. My process is as follows.
- Do dictation after all meetings and networking events, with email for client/lead and updates for CRM
- Send dictation to EA
- Must have booked next meeting at that meeting
- Rest done by my EA
NOTE. I cannot do 7 first meetings, consult, 3-second meetings and all my admin and be CEO and founder, without a strong system behind me. Getting someone else to do this saves me a lot of time to focus on other areas that I am strong in.
What’s your brand? What are you sharing with the world? Oh, one article every 4 months and you think that’s acceptable in this day and age? You really need to think again. Here are some of the things you have to be doing as a minimum.
- Short videos
- Long videos
- Short articles
- Long articles
- Short posts
This is a basic list to give you an idea of things you can do and need to be doing. So, this is what it should look like each month;
- 5 short videos
- 1 long video from the webinar
- 20 short articles/posts
- 1 webinar per month
- 1 event every 2 months
- 1 infographic per week
This is easy to do, outsource to Fiverr etc. If you are struggling with it, let us run a content build workshop for you. Simple as that. Once you have the model and infrastructure, you really can churn it out content in an extremely effective and most importantly high quality way.
You are a start-up; it’s super important that you get it right. My model is there; I use a Fiverr gig where I pay 300 SGD per month for 5 posts per week on four platforms, I also do all the other content with my team, webinars, articles etc, in fact, this is an example of a long article. I wrote one for startups, one for professional services, and one for accountants. Took me a few hours I admit but passed to my person on Fiverr and they did the edits and preparation for posting.
Not targeted enough
When you are defining your vertical, its critical to do one at a time. Blitzing everything does not work. We did this with our video platform, hit everyone and anything and I am sure that was a contributor to the failure of the model. The key is to keep it simple and focused.
So how do you decide your target market/verticals?
- You do a brainstorming session with yourselves, outsiders and potential clients
- Look specifically at why your product fits, what the market/vertical wants and why you?
- You test out the markets by arranging 10 meetings with each market/vertical
- Make sure you have a model for doing this properly, the meetings
- Make sure you are not being overly optimistic about how it looks. You need honest feedback, and as founders, we often don’t like this, reality is reality.
I have a management coach, Andrew, and one start-up mentor, William, and business owner Chris, who are all far more successful and better at what they do than I am. I trust them, try and empower them to be honest with me, which is not pleasant at times, and listen to what they say. They care, feel safe to say it as it is and I force them to do this. You need mentors.
You do not know how to recruit to build a sales team
Who is selling? If it’s only you, you have an issue. This is the world that I was in for a while, even as a consulting firm in sales we made the same mistake. There are three people that you can bring in that can help you sell.
- A BD person. Their job is to coordinate the sales. Junior role. They book meetings, run campaigns, go networking, update CRM.
- A junior consultant with a sales bent. This person from day one should be working with the BD person to bring in and facilitate sales, deliver projects etc. This is a recruitment play, and you must be looking for someone with the right characteristics of a salesperson. Such as, curiosity, intelligence, ability to take feedback, track record of success, right profile [DISC]
- An experienced manager, with a sales focus, and again comes back to a sales bent with the person and the same characteristics. For more information on how to recruit in sales, look at my article or reach out.
You do not know how to coach
You are the founder and owner. Coaching your people is at the heart of your success. As we navigate through our careers, our success is dependent on whether we can bring out the best in our people.
So what should you consider?
- How do we recruit the right people?
- How do develop them?
The failure of any one person always comes back to yourself. You are the boss, its on your head. I really believe, we as founders have to own this bit and really beat ourselves when it’s not working properly. No matter what the person does. What are the key things to consider when we are building our teams?
For me, the main issue is that I get so busy that I expect the team to know what to do from day one, or after 2 hours of coaching on a topic to run and be an expert. This is not the best way to navigate through behavioural change and is my most important lesson to pass on to you. You must be willing to do the following with your teams to make it work;
- You need to know how every job works and be able to do it, teach it and coach it.
- You need clear metrics on roles and what they are doing.
- You need to have a clear picture of where you are going.
- You need to be a good coach and know the principals of coaching.
- You need someone to assess you on this.
- You must recruit the right people, not the best people [there is a big difference.]
- You must train the trainer.
- Do not micromanage.
- Check what you expect.
So, hopefully, this helps you a little on building your model from a sales and business perspective. I have done a bit of a brain dump of thoughts on what we have learned from the last four years of being a startup and working with over 42 different companies. The good news is that there are some parts in your model you can leave to us, but counter to that there are parts you should be deeply looking into now.
With this in mind, as a company, we sat and looked at the core areas companies struggle with and came up with the following. We have built a model that helps you recruit the right sales people, we boot camp BD and Sales for the first 3 months of their sales career in your company, with the goal to optimise their revenue generation as quickly as possible, and we guide you and your mangers on how to build and coach your team during this period. The model works for New and Struggling salespeople.
Feel free to reach out and let’s get a coffee or grab a Zoom/Skype call if you want to know more info. This will also help me as I would love to get your feedback.