Nice thoughts...well written.
My perception is, lots of tech entrepreneurs can handle a customer meeting (these are great tips, though).
The bigger challenge is generating leads, and converting weak phone call leads to in-person meetings where you actually have a chance of establishing a relationship.
I'd love to get your thoughts on how a 7-person startup without a marketing budget or an inside sales team cultivates leads.
I think your article was well written. When we are contacted by a client, they either fit into 2 categories. New client or a A client switching from another provider, however they all have one thing in common, a problem. We start out all conversations with our clients with: What are your needs or what problems are you looking to solve?
We, as technical people, would always balk at someone applying a political solution to a technical problem.... however we often fall for the attempt to solve a political problem with a technical solution.
We need to steer clear of all attempts to resolve a customer internal political conflict with a technical solution. Political conflicts require political solutions. If we try to engineer a technical solution to a political problem we only wind up making the technical solution an arbiter of the political problem which makes the 'loser' in that arbitration hate the technical solution.
Almost all customer problems will have both a technical problem as well as a political one. When you propose the technical solution to the technical problem you also have to be able to provide the political solution to the political problem otherwise the technical solution will be viewed as inadequate and will not be implemented.
Great article; I'm exactly in this boat (technical startup founder selling to companies), and it was a terrific read.
Could you talk a bit more (or dedicate a separate post) to how to et these meetings in the first place?
Many people, wheterh contacted "cold" or introduced by others, just don't want to talk to a startup.
To give you a little background... I have been developing POS/business management software for repair shops for 15 years. I was in the auto repair business for nearly 20 years before that. I am the only "sales person" selling my products. I am "semi-retired" but still work at my software development and sales business pretty much full time. <g> I only sell from my web sites using "contact us" and "evaluation request" forms. You can go there and see what I sell and how I sell my software using those forms. I get about 20-30 leads a month that way.
I have had many, many years of pure outside (cold call) sales experience calling on, and selling mostly high tech stuff to, businesses both very large (John Deere) and very small (various repair shops) before I went into business for myself in the auto repair business in 1971.
My strategy has always been, "Show me a problem you are having difficulty solving and I will see if I can show you how I can solve that problem for you.". I sold welding equipment and supplies and the maintenance personnel would take me out into the factory and show me their problems right away. <g> I myself am an accomplished welder so I could usually show them, or at least tell them, how to solve their problem(s) and then the sale was fort of "automatic".
I actually have considerable more difficulty in selling my software even though I pretty much use the same approach. There seems to be two primary reasons for that difficulty. One is that my business management software can be use for several business "niches" and needs some fairly simple "initial setup" work before it can be used. Another one is that potential customers have no realization that most any database type system needs some setup work and then some ongoing maintenance work and when they find out about it they shy away. IOW, in my estimation, most small business owners are NOT knowledgeable and/or sophisticated managers of their businesses and just "run" their business "helter skelter" off the top of their head as the saying goes. They do not have any "formal" way "set up" to conduct or run their business. This usually turns out to be a big problem when they want to get some software to "computerize" their business. IOW, they don't have any historical experience to call upon to do the "initial setup" in a new computerized system for their business. It is far and away the most common "sale stopper" for selling the type of software I develop and sell. <g>
I have found that my potential customers must already be pretty knowledgeable in how to manage ANY business along with also being fairly "computer literate" or they are very poor prospects.
I also subscribe to a couple of lead generating services and get about 20 leads a month from them. I have been getting those leads for a little over a year and have yet to sell anything to one of those leads. The main reason seems to be the lack of "sophistication" and general knowledge of how to go about managing their business using business management sortware as a TOOL for managing their business instead of a MAGIC BULLET for getting their business "back on track" so they can get back to being "competitive".
So I have listed my sales lead generation and selling problems in the way I see them. I hope you can interpolate them into something usefull in your own sales efforts.
This is to reply to Mr. Thomas H. Ptacek:
I had exactly the same problem and found that there are actually people who LIKE to generate leads. I hired a small company which does exactly that. I pay them per generated "good" lead, and we agreed on what a "good" lead is. They also support our sales efforts somewhat but essentially, they do the list generation, cold calling and first contact.
Of course, we trained them quite a bit, they have some science background (as ours is a biomedical application) and we focused a lot of attention on the initial leads they generated. We even listened in to several calls etc.
For this to work, you will need to spend time preparing, but I find it much more useful than having an in-house sales person. We're so small that large volume of "sales calls" would kill our R&D, so 2-4 a week are perfect for us.
Well, it took my software startup several years to achieve $10m sales, so perhaps I'm less qualified. We sold shrink-wrap with possible customisation, and my selling was mostly around the customisation. On the other hand, once I sold out of that business I made a decent living selling fixed-price consultancy service (not specially related to my former software products).
My perception is that startups typically lack the confidence to demand committment from the customer.
It doesn't have to be a sale- that will come later. Just a two way commitment- "You will do this by then, and then we will do that".
Something like "You will feed back on your current product by month end, then we will respond to your comments by a week later and aim to deliver an updated evaluation copy by this time next month".
Or "You will list your top 3 business issues by mid month and we will mock up a potential solution to at least one by mid next month".
The important feature sof this agreement are: they have to take the next step (your current prouct) and deadlines, both ways.
Look your customer in the eye, state the agreement and get at least a nod back, leave immediately (shake hands on the way out) then write them a letter (as well as an email) confirmiing it when you get back home. It doesn't matter whether they reply.
If they fail to meet their modest target, forget them and move on.
If they meet their target, ramp up your approach to them.
I found this mail especially useful.Its fabulos to find them here,even as i already knew of some i still found them insightful.Thanks