The key to any successful startup? Consistently winning and onboarding happy customers.
But we all know that’s easier said than done. To repeatedly close deals and win new customers, you need a process that’s proven to work and that others on your team can follow.
For early stage startups, building this reliable sales process is a challenge for a lot of reasons: your small team is spread thin, you’re still figuring out your messaging, you don’t know where to start.
That’s why we called in the experts! We held a masterclass last week on How to Build a Repeatable Sales Process for Early Stage Startups, with startup sales veterans:
- Josh Weisman, Head of Sales @ Northstar: Led sales at top-tier VC-backed startups Scoop and Chariot
- Carol Malakasis, Managing Partner @ Rampd: Works with early stage startups to take them from 0-$100k ARR
- Max Zuckerman, VP of Sales @ Balance: Advises startups on GTM and built sales at Alooma from zero to acquisition
Watch the full masterclass below, or keep reading for key takeaways from the experts!
Q&A with Startup Sales Veterans on Building a Repeatable Sales Process
1. What do I need before I can start building my repeatable sales process?
Before you figure out your messaging, define your process, and build out your team, the panelists agreed on a key question to ask yourself first: whose problem are you solving?
“You need to decide who you’re going after,” Max said. “It has a dramatic effect on your messaging and how you go to market, based on who your customer profile is.”
Carol’s list of simple questions to help define your ICP:
- What problem are you solving?
- Whose problem are you solving?
- Who else is solving the same problem as you, and how are you better?
If you pursue all the potential customers without narrowing them down, you won’t have any focus in your outreach. By answering the question of who and defining your ICP or buyer personas, you’ll set yourself up for success when building your sales process.
2. When should I start documenting my sales process?
You should start documenting your process from day one, the experts agreed.
“Otherwise, how are you going to know what’s working and what’s not?” said Carol.
Documenting your process doesn’t have to be fancy at first – a Google doc or spreadsheet works. Even if you don’t have a defined process yet, writing down what you’re going to do or say next will give you a starting point for analyzing and building it.
“You need to understand where deals are struggling and make sure you can change that,” said Josh. “Document the good and the bad, so people who join your company can understand what didn’t work as well.”
“Write down what you’re going to tell prospects on the phone. If it works and you get a sale, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, change it!” Carol said.
3. When should I hire my first sales leader, and who should I look for?
The short answer: it depends!
“It depends on how technical your product is, and how involved the sales process is,” Max said.
For example, if you have a very technical product or are selling to enterprise customers, you might need a sales leader with more (or more specific) experience, as opposed to more transactional sales where volume is key.
It also depends on your team’s current expertise. “Understand your strengths – what are you good at and what do you need help with?” said Josh. Look for someone who can fill in the gaps.
4. How do I teach my reps to show value to prospects, instead of just showing features?
You’ve defined your customer profile, started documenting and refining your sales process, and hired your first sales leader. As you scale your team, you need to ensure that your reps are following your repeatable process and delivering true value to prospective customers – not just showing off what your product can do.
“You have to be a trusted advisor to your customer, and in order to do that, you have to understand their business,” Max said. “What problem are they trying to solve?”
It helps when reps have a natural curiosity and want to understand what their prospects are trying to achieve. But more tactically, Max advises finding the best people on your team, recording their sessions with customers, and having new reps watch them. When they can see how your team guides customers, asks questions, and focuses on being advisors rather than just selling, new reps can follow their example.
Pro tip: Mutual action plans (MAPs) are a great way to partner with your customers. Learn all about how & why to use MAPs here (with more expert tips!)
Q: Is there any good “search criteria” for finding someone willing to be a design partner or early adopter? Or is the best way to just talk to a ton of people in your ICP and hope you come across them?
A: Peter Kazanjy, co-founder of Atrium, wrote a great article on building a customer advisory board that I think will really help you here. He dives into what a good CAB looks like, how to assemble your own, and how to build and grow your relationships as you get closer to launch.
Q: Eventually I want to build multiple inbound and outbound channels, but I’m struggling with where to start and how many lead gen channels I should try at first: cold outreach, advertising, content marketing, etc. Any advice?
A: This is a big question that we could give a really long answer to! Like most things, it depends on your company, product, and customer profile.
The reality is that wherever your first 5 sales came from, that's where the next ones are going to come from too. From a practical standpoint, pick one channel, create a hypothesis, and get that up and running first. Don't start five at once, because you'll spread yourself too thin!
You also need to consider the ramp time for each channel, and how long it will take to impact your pipeline. For example, content marketing geared toward SEO and organic traffic is great for long-term pipeline generation, but probably won’t give you short-term revenue results.
A channel that is critical for getting customers at every stage is your existing customer base. Assuming your product is solid and your customers are happy, they are your best demand gen channel!