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Startup Sales Strategy

dollarStartup sales strategy: you are the best sales person your company will ever have—most likely.

Your passion, your product knowledge and your understanding of customer needs are essential to the startup from the get-go. True, you may not have direct selling experience, but do not underestimate yourself. It is likely that you are what is called un an unconscious competent.

If you do need sales training, go get it. You will certainly be able to improve your skills. Choose the kind of sales training that suits you. When I first set up in business, one of the first mistakes I made was to feel that I needed to recruit sales professionals and underrated my own abilities. I lacked certain skills, talked too much and listened not enough, but those were things I was able to learn, both on the job and in little bursts of training

Sales strategy comes first. When your business grows to a considerable size, you will need to think about a little more sophistication, like customer relations management systems, sales management and territories, but at the start, all I think you need do is to:

Key to Do List for Startup Sales Strategies

  • Set sales targets and monitor variances—a spreadsheet or even a word processing table will do, and know the process never stops, even after the sale + as soon as you have made a sale, that’s the time to start looking for the next one;
  • Create a simple pipeline, using a spreadsheet and later download an open source CRM system to follow leads, accounts, contacts, ‘suspects’ and prospects, forecasts, activities, time management. products, territories. Opencrx and Concursive (where 1-5 seats are free) are examples;
  • Collect prospect names like a vulture—newspaper clippings, overheard conversations, business cards, friends, friends of friends, and don’t forget to ask prospects for referrals;
  • Keep a dedicated card index system of the list above on your desk or on some simple method on your computer–one that you regularly see and interrogate;
  • Remember (or create an index card to look at before your speak with your prospect)–you are not selling what you want, you are listening to what your prospect needs or wants, so ask lots of probing questions and make sure you leave with an ‘advance’ towards a sale;
  • In a business-to-business sale, don’t forget that the person in front of you may not the only person involved in the purchase–ask who is;
  • Make a habit of researching the prospect’s business to appreciate what the issues may be; if it’s an individual to whom you’re selling, find out as much about the person, or class of persons, as you can in advance of discussion..

As the entrepreneur, chances are high that you will be doing most of the selling. But everyone in the company must sell. Nobody is excused, but nobody. Period. If they need help and support, give it freely. The selling may be simply picking up names as you do, handling inquiries on the phone and not hesitating to make suggestions.

This is not a traditional sales training page, but is designed to give you some very special tools to help you on your way to getting your startup into orbit and the revenue flowing.

Special Sales Methods to Get There Fast

WOM Selling is Trust Selling

According to McKinsey, three-quarters of all industries are driven by WOM (word of mouth) and should dominate your startup sales strategy, even when you are using the Internet. Even the giants of consumer marketing use the power of the social web. Consultants Bain & Co say there is womno better force to drive sales growth than strong customer advocacy. Booz Allen says, “Make your consumer an advocate: Shift marketing objectives from sending a message to facilitating conversations with and between consumers.”

Word of mouth marketing makes use of many media. It is not just a matter of telling your neighbors. More than three quarters of buyers trust WOM—more than any other medium. For the purpose, direct and indirect means are available to you.

The direct methods, apart from the neighbors and the sales call itself, include:

  • public speaking: at conferences, local associations, client events,
  • customer referrals; you should not be shy about asking for them,
  • user conferences–where you seek to engage your customers and link them to one another,
  • training events–ones you arrange or ones in which you participate elsewhere,
  • demonstrations at trade shows, on client premises or for client staff.

The indirect methods include:

  • podcasts (that you post on your website or youtube),
  • online forums,
  • live chat in its many forms,
  • consumer reports and user information sites,
  • aggregators of consumer reviews, especially in local marketplaces,
  • company grading sites that capture WOM wisdom of measure against criteria,
  • blogs–yours or other people’s (where you post comments),
  • email newsletters and e-blasts to your mailing lists,
  • articles (ones you write yourself and post on line, or journalist’s stories).

Take a look at The Startup Owl’s Promotion Media Martix for many more indirect means of communication with customers and potential customers. If you are convinced by the importance of building a sales pipeline, then a good way to build a lead list could be to use LinkedIn as a source. To capture targeted leads, take a look at SalesIntelligent prospecting automation software. It can produce email lists based on the profile of companies, sectors, or locations you want to contact.

With either means, direct or indirect, bear in mind that the message must:

  1. Come from the right source.
  2. Be relevant to the customer.
  3. Be coherent and simply presented.
  4. Be believable.
  5. Be in a context relevant to the customer.

Make sure that you subscribe to Google Alerts, so that you can capture references to your products or company, whether positive, negative or misleading. This way you can monitor web references both to you and your competitors or developing issues in your industry.

Dabbawala Selling is Relationship Selling

When I was a boy in Britain over 50 years ago, I often heard the expression ‘time for tiffin’, never even questioning the origintiffin of the word. Now, the tiffin box dabbawalas are the toast of the sales world and the business model that social entrepreneurs rave about. Tiffin is an English Imperial word for a light lunch, and sometimes for the box it is carried in. For this reason, the dabbawalas are sometimes called Tiffin Wallahs.

A dabbawalla is a man in Mumbai, India who delivers a home-made lunch in a tiffin (box) to city workers. A walla or wallah is someone in the trade of the prefix word, as in punkah (fan), or dohbi (laundry man).

It is a 125 year old trade formed by a network of 5,000 men with the complex task of delivering 200,000 lunches Mumbai within approximately 3 hours, with all deliveries complete by 12.30 pm every day. According to a recent survey, there is only one mistake in every 6,000,000 deliveries, statistically equivalent to a Six Sigma (99.9999) rating. The industry started during the Raj in about 1880 and still grows at 5-10% a year.

It is the biggest example of relationship selling that I know about. It is very effective.

Why does it work?

Because it is based on

  • trust and relationship (e.g., delivering Corporation Bank account forms);
  • meticulous teamwork (e.g., 3 hand-offs between kitchen production and office client);
  • a healthy product (home-made food, not junk);
  • faultless time management (200,000 lunches in 3 hours);
  • a human delivery chain (low-tech and personal);
  • continually updated systems (e.g., text message ordering);
  • introducing add-ons (e.g., delivery of Airtel cell phone cards);
  • security and quality control (Nutan Mumbai Tiffin Box Suppliers Association);
  • everyone in the system is treated as an equal (and paid $100 a month about double the average wage);
  • word of mouth marketing (and Mumbaicha Dabewala, a film, is out, in India at least).

What can you learn from the Dabbawallas?

Sensory Selling is Neuroscience Selling

Whether you sell paper clips, power stations or packed lunches, you will be using relationship at the core of your startup sales strategy. Yours. So start with yourself. Work at a personal brainappreciation. Who are you; how do you like to work; what is your predominant interpersonal style; how do you best collect information.

The sensory part of you defines who you are and therefore the person with whom you want to relate. The traditional five senses are sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste, but humans have many other additional senses including

  1. nociception (pain),
  2. equilibrioception (balance),
  3. proprioception (felt from the nervous system as a whole),
  4. kinesthesia (joint motion and acceleration),
  5. perception of time,
  6. thermoception (temperature differences),
  7. and in some, a weak magnetoception (direction).

When you have some confidence and before you take to the road, you need to do some other preparation. Dress the part, be timely, choose your moment, be sure you have relevant information to hand, be well-documented about your prospect.

Above all bear in mind how you are going to approach the prospect. Think about him or her, whether it is direct of indirect selling. Natural born salespeople will do this without thought, but most of the rest of us will need to do a bit of analyzing. What you will be able to figure out is how the customer most prefers to deal with you.

It will be on the basis of

  • facts: company, product or service—hard data, numbers and performance;
  • support: nature, speed, length or quality—who will respond and how;
  • vision: concepts and plans—the end results;
  • logic: pricing, guarantees—a matter of keeping score.

The there is the matter of how you get and give information. Make sure you are using all your senses to get information from the prospect and do not just rely on your preferred one. You may like to see things in print, but if the other person does most of his work through speaking, you may get nothing if your hearing is switched off. Remember that when you are the listener, you are communicating, too. So listen actively by giving the speaker confirmation that you are hearing, through flashes of confirming words or by nodding your head, leaning forward and above all by eye contact.

On the other hand try to play to his preferred means of receiving information. Bear in mind, for example, that the eyes take in a third more information per second than the ears, so if someone is more visual you better have something the prospect can see. Good social skills alone probably will not cut the mustard, and you will leave wondering why you did not close the sale.

Here is a sensory check list:

  1. reflexes: how your mind and body react; personal space or habits are examples;
  2. cognition: the way you process information; thinking style or association, for instance;
  3. emotion: psychological state based on feelings, thoughts or behavior: watch for body language, facial expressions.

If we do not use candor in our approach to other human beings, their unwitting neurological functions will nonetheless pick up on your hidden agenda through the kinds of non-verbal clues that will litter your presentation and thinking about the non-verbal aspects should be automatic when you plan your startup sales strategy. The relatively simple physiological properties of so-called mirror neurons allow us to understand the mental states of other people. Popularly we say things like, “I can read your mind.”

Mirror neurons naturally tend to produce imitative behavior in others. You have heard the expression ‘Monkey see, monkey do’ which is a crude way of expressing this. We want to be empathetic. This is not to suggest that we want to use neuroscience to get others to do what we want, but we want to be on the same side and thus in selling, we need to be in tune with the other.

Think about why

  • even the highest priced or lowest quality products sometimes outsell their competitors;
  • and how your prospects buy the products or services they do, even if their choices seem irrational or impractical;
  • some brands have a devoted cult-like following while others have zero loyalty.

I recall a moment when a major oil company prospect called me back after having considered my proposal against others. He asked me, “Given that yours is twice the price of the other offer on our shortlist, tell me why it is twice as good.” With my heart racing, my reply was, “Since I don’t know the details of my competition is proposing, I can’t say. However, maybe you can. I guess that as a top executive in the company, it’s probably your job to make decisions.” I got the sale.

Dan Pink’s 2013 book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, is a sales book like to other. He points out that in the US, the portion of the workforce in sales jobs has remained steady at 1 in 9. But what he points out so deftly is that people are now spending about 40 percent of their time on what he calls non-sales selling–persuading, influencing, and convincing others. Think of the finance person, the customer support agent, the production supervisor. In a survey he commissioned, he found that 39 percent of people at work said they devoted a significant amount of their time “serving clients or customers.’ Nearly 70 percent reported that they spent at least some of their time “persuading or convincing others.”

The two main chunks of the book are devoted to ‘How to Be’ and ‘What to Do’. Every entrepreneur should read this book.

PLEASE NOTE: There is tons of useful stuff on Startup Owl, a site that’s been going for a dozen years. So keep browsing, but know that the founder, Will, now devotes most of his time and energy to his new website that you should definitely visit:

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