There are so many facets of launching a business that need attention when launching a startup. As a result, sales is often seen as a final step — something that can be put on the backburner until everything else is sorted out.
To simplify matters and make sales something that startup founders can appropriately tackle in tandem with their product efforts, we’ve nailed down three things that every startup founder needs to know.
Keep these “sales truths” in mind when building out your sales process and hiring your first sales team, and sales won’t seem so daunting after all…
1. A sales process — ANY process — should be documented immediately.
Step one is to simply create a sales process that can be tracked. It might not be the right process, but you won’t be able to figure that out until you nail it down and document the results.
Once you start selling, you’ll discover the holes and adapt accordingly.
Ultimately, perfecting your product, discovering the market fit, and developing a replicable sales model should happen together as you constantly adjust each until a reliable combination of all three is established. Keeping the development of your sales process in line with the rest of your efforts will ensure the most efficient progress in perfecting the whole picture.
Tracking this progress is pertinent and the earlier you start the better. So don’t sweat over perfecting your process at first. Just get it down on paper. (And in your computer. Please don’t actually use paper.)
Check out this article from Forbes on some of the best sales tracking tools to get you started.
2. Sales involves both art AND science. (But mostly science.)
There’s a misconception that salespeople possess this innate charisma to charm, persuade, and close their deals through the black art of their words. Which is the excuse startup founders often give themselves when they decide that sales is just not their thing. To many, it’s an artform that is simply out of reach.
There is a hint of artististic flair in the way some people sell. But sales is also a process that can absolutely be learned. There are specific steps and systems that make sales 90% science, and with enough practice, anyone can nail it down and make up for the missing art of it by diligently mastering the rest.
Ultimately, the best way to master sales? Simply do it, again and again. And, back to number 1 — track it. You’ll likely feel uncomfortable and fail at first, but did you really think that any of this “launching my very own business” thing was going to be easy?
The more your do it, and the more data you collect to examine, the clearer the science of sales will become. .
3. What you think you want in a sales hire may not be what you actually need.
Many startup founders default to “industry people” when making their first sales hires.
One of toughest conversations we have with young companies is why people that work in their industry may NOT be the right fit. (They can be, but this is not a given.) Industry people have an understanding and a comfort with the space you’re selling in. They also have some helpful connections within the field. Both of these things can get them off to a successful start, but neither are sustainable.
The connections these people bring to the table are rarely as strong or as far-reaching as they’ll lead you to believe, and they’ll often lack the skills that are necessary to build fresh contacts for a company that no one has heard of.
Picking the right people for your startup is huge.
According to a study of 20,000 small business hires done by Leadership IQ, 46% of new hires fail within the first 18 months. That can mean the difference between success and failure to a small team that relies on every single person to keep the ball rolling.
To avoid this pitfall, make sure your hires have a sales process to pair with their connections. If they can only talk about their contacts without also explaining a process for how they get these deals done, then they’re not the right person for a startup, because their method can’t be replicated.
Tom Hopkins of Entrepreneur.com recommends paying attention to who sells effectively to you.
“Start paying attention to the good salespeople you encounter when you’re the consumer. What is it they’re doing that makes you feel good about working with them?”
4. Sales is about education, not brute force.
“Let’s just show them the product and they will lose their mind.” If only it were that easy.
Our goal as salespeople is to level set expectation with clients, show them that we understand their world, and then discuss how we can help with these challenges. If you don’t lay this groundwork first, then your process will stall before you’ve finished your pitch.
Your salespeople need market information and competitive information in order to be successful in today’s sales environment.
The job of a sales professional has changed and is evolving more year over year. The Challenger Sale is a great read that I recommend to all of my companies because it is the first book to match an education and “challenger” based approach with data to support that this actually works. Remember to listen, educate, and look for mutual alignment, BEFORE presenting your bells and whistles.
When sales is kept at the forefront of startups’ efforts, it ensures that a sales process can grow alongside the business. Keeping these sales points in mind throughout the early stages is the first step in ramping a startup that sells — and keeps selling.