Some entrepreneurs will need to build their sales process from the ground up. Others will simply need guidance as they refine their sales processes and sales teams. In both cases, the best sales plans are those in which the founders are actively involved with creating the process, or have conducted their startup’s early sales themselves.
For entrepreneurs without sales experience, here’s how you build a sales process for your tech startup from the ground up. Note: This process can be adapted for other industries as well.
Start Customer Outreach Early
Get out there as early as possible. The 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 customers. During these early calls you’ll get a sense of their challenges, objections, and direct customer feedback about your product or service. You might even learn about a key aspect of your offering 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 with customers will help you better understand them, their needs and the marketplace. Then, you can refine your product as you develop your sales process.
Conduct a Process Walk-Through
Walk through simulated sales conversations. Begin by finding the lead and travel through the complete sales process. End by handing the customer off to your support team. Do this with colleagues who understand your space, then try your pitch out on someone who doesn’t because outsiders will quickly notice problems and inefficiencies. These scenarios not only give you great practice before implementing your sales process, but they’ll help you identify gaps. Say, on your first sales call you get a customer’s credit card — then what? How do you process the payment? Who do they speak to next? Mock sales calls are a great way to practice your sales pitch and refine the logistics of a sale.
Establish Sales Lead Qualifiers
Qualifying criteria are a list of traits that make someone a good fit (i.e., qualified) to buy your product or service. It sounds easy enough, but lots of young startups 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? The most common criteria for leads are: (a) Does your product solve their pain point? (b) Does your product save them money? (c) Does your product save them time? (d) Is your product in their budget? (e) Are they using a competitor’s product and paying for it? (f) 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 potential 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 identify whether they are a good fit. Don’t get into the habit of marking every sales lead qualified because “you had a nice conversation.” Remember, a qualified sales lead is very different than an active opportunity. An active opportunity is a qualified lead with a value attached to it. This means that you have communicated the cost of the product or service to the prospect, they understand it, and have expressed that it is in within their budget.
Establish a Sales Script
A good sales call script will help guide a customer through your sales process from start to finish, while showing them the value of your product or service. A call script typically has the following sections: introduction, qualifying questions, Q&A about features, pricing and next steps, asking for the sale, managing customer objections, and establishing next steps. Developing a sales script is an iterative process, but it begins with research. Know your offering and how it fits into the market, and convey that as simply as possible to the customer. Your sales script needs to incorporate your qualifying questions, common pain points, and benefits around which to position your solution.
Establish a Conversion Funnel
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 yourself how many active opportunities or deals you need to qualify in order to achieve that goal. This is called a conversion rate. 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 and emails, or leads generated, you need each week in order to schedule that target amount of calls. 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.
Sales doesn’t end with the close. As a salesperson, you need to make sure that the customer is successfully integrated. This means a clean hand-off to your sales support team. As a founder, you’ll quickly find out ways to improve your sales 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!
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 sales script is still a bit clunky, emails don’t generate the response rates you’d like, or your conversion rates 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 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, can you confidently hand off sales to a director that can refine the process even more.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Steli Efti is the Co-Founder / CEO of Close.io and ElasticSales and an advisor to several startups and entrepreneurs.
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