This is an ongoing series about the life of a startup. This is our internal musings, lessons, reflections, and a peek behind the curtain of our boot-strapped company. It isn’t much of a secret, Cream is a startup. We are die-hard entrepreneurs that are looking to make a living by changing the world and helping a lot of people along the way. Yup, we are real people too. Someday, we will hopefully look back and wonder how we could have been so naïve, and how the ‘old-days’ were so simple and easy.
I spent much of the weekend researching sales process, to ultimately learn that B2B sales processes are totally different from B2C processes. Shocker, I know. In B2C, one person makes the decision and can pull the trigger, but in b2b buying decisions are made by committee. The sheer number of people in b2b purchasing is a huge hurdle. b2b ‘impulse-buys’ are like bigfoot and the Lochness Monster, myth, unlikely, but not entirely impossible. I started looking into b2b sales resources, and most are almost 20 years out of date. There was not internet then, and the business we’ll sell to didn’t exist then either!
I went to clarity.fm – killer resource if you haven’t heard of it – props to Dan Martell for this start-up. I just got off the phone with Joe Fahrner from hot prospect, a veteran in b2b sales that has his own start up www.InboundScore.com. Dude knows his stuff and what he had to say was highly relevant and easily actionable for our company. Of course many of the details of the below will need to be tweaked as we improve and learn more about our customers.
Big point… Sales isn’t about ‘selling’ anymore, rather sale is a numbers game. Volume is king, not ability. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can convince someone to do something, ever. Focus on optimizing your time, and spend it with those that are most engaged.
Our sales process should have milestones that should looks something like this.
1. Intake. It will come from many different sources. For inbound web traffic don’t use an intake form for communication. Split testing typically shows that people more often bail when they see a form as the communication vehicle. Instead, offer a sacrificial but personal looking email, so real accounts aren’t affected by SPAM. I am thinking email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org. It will be fun when our dog or baby gets an offer for a free credit card, or is told they could make 50k a month from home.
2. Is there a good fit? Many times people are just curious, or they don’t have a problem that we can fix, they are looking for something else, are wishy-washy in their engagement. Beware of tire-kickers. We are liable to easily weed out 50% of people right here. This is a good thing; don’t waste time trying to sell people that won’t buy anyway. Instead think of these people as the cause of lost opportunities, because you could have been talking to someone else.
3. Are they engaged? Ask customers to send you something, anything. Make them get back to you with numbers, a job description, a list of positions they are hiring for, whatever. The goal here is to see if they actually get back to you. If they do, then they are engaged. We need customers to be engaged. If they aren’t, then they are less likely to highly value our offerings, less likely to accomplish what is needed to move forward and more likely to bail at the last minute. This can save us tons of lost time and effort.
4. Will they schedule a follow up call? Again… are they engaged. If not, work with someone that is.
5. Do they have an advantageous buying process:
a) What are their buying process steps? Ask them, if they won’t tell you, it is good to know that they are going to be cagey; this will likely obstruct the process later. If they say it is going to take 24 people to sign off on it, don’t waste your time. We could go broke before they buy. Pursue companies that will be transparent and engaged. Don’t bother with anything less.
b) Who are the key people involved? Again, ask, they should want to tell us. In our case, there will be at least three distinct roles. Users will have to implement the tool effectively, typically HR people. Managers and operations will have to work long term with the people we help hire. Finally, someone will have to review the deal and sign off on the expense. Sometime this will be all one person, other times it can be a committee. Less is better, but high engagement is usually more important.
6. Pilot. Set up the expectations properly. Explain: We know that what we have has value, but we are putting a premium on the opportunity to learn from our customers. We are an early stage company, and this insight can help us improve our business. Basically they have an opportunity to save, and it is implied we will eventually want to charge. Don’t ask for contracts for pilots now, they’ll just get in the way. As we develop a detailed and well tested sales system, we’ll definitely build in contracts later.
7. Sell. There is no way to know when we should start charging. Basically ask them to buy only once they have fully realized the products value. Is that after a period of time, a certain amount of usage, or when they have hired someone? We’ll have to test it. I believe that we should look to see how engaged they are with the tool, process, and how much they build it into their work flow. At that point they have pretty well sold themselves.
Organizing prospects. Break them into three groups: Opportunities, pilots and back-burner. Companies in steps 1-5 are an opportunity. Pilots are pilots. The backburner is for any companies that are too good/big to pass on, but they need to get there stuff together and need to become engaged in what we do. Often companies are put on the back burner because they are interested, but the timing is off for them. Check the opportunities and pilot lists daily, but review the backburner every 4-6 weeks. When we get press, a big story, a new big reference client or something, use that info to ping the backburner companies. It would be good to create a backburner mailing list, to make this pinging exceptionally easy.