Our fireside chat-style dialogue resulted in these top 7 lessons:
1. Hire for entrepreneurial attitude and demand generation
Your first sales hire should be more entrepreneur than “Mr. Dashboard VP Sales” that is willing & capable to get her hands dirty to fill your lead pipeline quickly. Many founders make the mistake of hiring a senior account executive too early, resulting in frustration for everybody involved as there are no qualified leads to convert and close and the last time the hire picked up the phone for cold calling and in general prospecting was years ago.
2. Go out of a candidate’s - and your - comfort zone when evaluating candidates
Avoid generic questions like “How would you build your lead generation funnel?” and instead ask much more specific questions like
- Which key metrics do you aim for in cold email campaigns? (open, click, reply, booking...what are you aiming for? How many contacts per campaign)?
- Share 3 quick wins few people use to leverage LinkedIn for lead generation?
- How do you handle prospects ignoring you after 3 outreach attempts?
In addition ask hard questions to evaluate cultural fit and key traits such as urgent curiosity, competitiveness, resilience and coachability.
3. Seek to understand before being understood
Leave your slide deck at home for at least the first discovery & qualification call, aim to listen at least 60% of the time, interrupt only to ask clarifying questions. Aim to “be a doctor”, ask questions until you really understand before you “prescribe medication” (aka your offer with the best fit).
4. Aim to get tons of “No’s” and stop “hunting for Yes”
“No” is great: Because you get the other party to clarify what they really want, not what they do not want. A classic case for this is asking after your demo if there are any questions, to which the prospect’s answer is often “No”. Then follow up with a trigger along the lines of “Well, then we can commit to a collaboration today and start tomorrow, right?” Then listen actively and invest into proactively unveiling concerns why a prospect is not yet ready to buy.
5. Invest to identify and win champions
How do you get to the real decision maker fast? By having a champion inside your buyer’s company who is “co-selling” with you. Equip the champion and test him before a crucial internal meeting where you can’t go. Also differentiate carefully between an internal coach who can tell you what needs to be done and a champion who can get these things done.
6. Become a decision architect to shorten sales cycles
Long buying cycles are bad for your cash flow, conversion rate and quite frankly risky.
Avoid Proof of Concepts where you can and accelerate trust building by other mechanisms such as case studies, reference calls and action-based money-back guarantees. If a prospect still insists on “evaluating your solution internally and getting back to you if interesting”, you need to go (way) back into discovery & qualification before making an offer.
7. Deconstruct the decision-making process
Avoid letting prospects “off the hook” too easily if they argue “they do not have the time / money / resources available right now”. If cash-out is the issue, offer better payment terms. If resources are the issue, offer to start at a later date if improvements are predictable or to support the implementation from your side. You also book a flight ticket today to go on vacation months later right?
In summary, the importance of building up B2B sales as a core competency as a startup cannot be overstated as market traction is the primary value driver to build a successful company, hire top talent and also get future funding at favourable terms.
Put simply: Startups that sell are startups that scale!