Sales is a lot like golf.
If you focus only on sales quotas or revenue numbers, rather than the entire startup sales process, you’ll likely hit plateaus and miss opportunities to improve.
In golf, it’s easy to get locked in on your scorecard. Ignoring the swing, technique and strategy, all the things that lead to that final score, will make it equally difficult to improve your game long-term.
I’ve been selling SaaS for nearly 20 years, for tiny startups and large companies. I’ve played golf for nearly as long. In both sales and golf, I’ve learned that constant improvement is more important than achieving a one-time number.
If you’re obsessed with hitting a quarterly quota or a yearly revenue goal, you’ll likely spend too much time closing your existing pipeline. When you’ve churned those prospects, you’re stuck. Losing sight of the process means you’re not learning from your customers.
Sales efforts at early-stage startups are often led by the founder or a sales leader with a small team. Revenue keeps your company alive, and you also have the flexibility to adapt and tweak your pitch as you scale. Sellers who completely immerse themselves in the startup sales process are able to constantly improve, build and sculpt their sales muscles. That might mean a new set of marketing materials, training sellers to compete in a more competitive environment, establishing new partnerships that will set up long-term success, etc.
By being proactive, reactive and adaptive, sales teams at early-stage startups can build a foundation for long-term success.
5 Tips to Refine Your Startup Sales Process
Let’s say I’m trying to improve my golf game this summer. I really want to take fewer than 80 strokes in a round. Without a plan, I might get lucky and shoot a 78. I’m happy with the result, but I didn’t actually do anything to improve for next time.
Instead, I’d set out with a specific goal — hit more fairways, stop three-putting, etc. — to strengthen parts of my game. I might not break 80 right away, but over time I should be a better golfer, with fewer weak parts of my game. That means next summer, those 78s will start to stack up consistently.
I’m not saying to never focus on your numbers. That would be extreme.
Every salesperson and entrepreneur knows that their company’s success — and their earning potential — is directly tied to hitting their goals. Too often, though, I’ve seen salespeople focus on a target number without accounting for the necessary steps to produce that result.
To ultimately be better, you have to understand why you’re winning or losing customers. Here’s how:
1. Continuously Evaluate Your Sales Pitch
This is why we’re talking about a startup sales process. It’s very rare that you or your company will go to market with a perfect formula for all those magical “P’s” – product, presentation, pricing and packaging, etc.
Markets change. Customer preferences change. And yes, your offering will change. A pitch that worked for Customer A probably won’t work for Customer B.
Whether you’re on track or behind your targets, ask yourself the tough questions. Is my pricing reasonable? Am I targeting the right personas? Are the features I’m talking about relevant to my prospects?
These things may seem obvious, but many sales teams fall in love with their pitch and are afraid to pivot.
2. Conduct Market Research
Perhaps you’re selling cybersecurity software, and you find out that FinTech companies have experienced an uptick in phishing emails. Boom: You’ve got a great conversation point to show prospects that you’re plugged into their needs.
A tool such as York IE Fuel can help you track industry trends, follow news about new company funding and understand what your prospects are focusing on through their owned and earned content.
Online tools are just one means of conducting market research. Set up a casual call with a trusted client or former colleague in your industry. Reach out to companies with a similar target audience to learn about trends. The more you learn, the more prepared you’ll be.
3. Actively Engage with Sales Prospects
As companies grow, founders and other leaders are often driven further away from customers and the sales process. You become focused on other aspects of the business, rather than getting in the trenches with your prospects and understanding product market fit.
All startup leaders should schedule regular calls with their customers and join prospect calls when they can. It’s easy to get caught in an echo chamber, but real-life customer insights will help you tailor your offering to the people who need it the most.
4. Don’t Overlook Non-Traditional Prospects
You might have an idea of who “should” buy your product or service. But there are likely several other markets or personas that could really benefit from your offering. Don’t let your own bias overshadow them!
In my days selling digital advertising software, I’ve worked with products designed specifically for physical retail locations. As it turns out, ecommerce websites also loved our product. If we’d stuck to the script of a traditional customer profile, we’d be missing out on so many opportunities to win new customers.
5. Pretend Your Customer Has a Magic Wand
I don’t like to talk about upselling. I prefer to think of finding new opportunities to help my customers increase efficiency and save money.
If you’re doing it right, that’s not just sales speak. Listening to the needs of your prospects and customers is the foundation of a great relationship. One of my favorite questions is: If you had a magic wand, what would our solution look like?
Perhaps they’re paying for a service from your company, but you have another offering that would actually be a better fit. Maybe adding one feature to your tool will open up a new revenue stream. Have the conversation!
Focus On the Startup Sales Process and Results Will Follow
There are a million reasons why you might not hit your sales goals: an inconsistent pitch, non-competitive pricing, lack of product market fit, etc.
Whether things are going well or not, it’s important to focus on the startup sales process instead of the goal itself. Doing so will help you experiment. You might develop a new pitch or expand your product set to new potential buyers.
You won’t break 80 if you keep missing fairways and three-putting. In the same way, you won’t hit your sales goals if you’re not willing to adapt how you sell.