I was really impressed to see that the number of high-potential startups – great teams driving meaningful concepts addressing large market opportunities – was much higher than the number of average or not-so-good startups. The startup eco-system in India is certainly moving in the right direction.
Most entrepreneurs with online businesses focus only on online marketing for customer acquisition. However, even if your business is online, your consumers live in the real world.
In many cases, especially for the initial user base, it is possible to use off-line marketing. E.g. offering it to a employee base of a company with some incentive, doing posters and leaflets on campuses, etc.
In countries like India, where the cost of customer acquisition for e-commerce sites is estimated to be around INR 1500 [USD 30], a few companies have successfully experimented with passing on a part of the customer acquisition cost to the user. E.g. Offering an INR 500 or USD 10 voucher to just signup, etc. The likely result will be higher conversions.
These methods may not be scalable or sustainable in the long run, but they can give you a decent start.
Apart from direct sales, here are things that you could do to strengthen your sales prospects:
- Be present in conferences and seminars where your customers are present – ideally, try to get a speaking slot on a panel
- Write a blog or a ‘through leadership’ piece in an industry relevant publication
- Make sensible and meaningful comments or give insightful answers to questions on LinkedIn groups
- Use PR well… Celebrate your early successes…early adopters are the most difficult to get, but post that, many more customers are usually comfortable trying out a solution when they know that others have tried)
- Request your initial customers to be your brand ambassadors – get testimonials – publish those with their photographs on LinkedIn and your official Facebook page – tag these early customers – of course with their permission
- Ask for warm introductions from early customers… even from those who do not buy from you but were impressed with the product/solution
- Ask for warm introductions from ALL your relevant contacts – father-in-law, neighbors brother’s uncle, ex-bosses, ex-clients, ex-vendors, etc. – literally anyone who you think may be able to make a warm introduction should be requested to make one. You never know which particular contact could change the fortunes of your startup.
Invest in creating well-designed communication material – digital or printed. Practice your pitch well – focus on the value proposition, not just product features.
The entrepreneur is the most important sales person of the company, even if he/she is not heading the sales department.
By the way, while we are discussing enterprise sales in this article, in its entirety selling is not restricted to customers as the entrepreneur has to also ‘sell the concept or business case’ to potential employees, vendors, trade associations and media.
As with any other sales person, the entrepreneur has to be extremely passionate and excited about the company and product/service. Enthusiasm is infectious. People usually are more attentive while listening to a person who is enthusiastic about what he/she is talking.
Large customers usually do not buy from startups. Largely because the perceived risk of buying from startups is higher. And the perceived risk is not just about product quality. It is usually a doubt about whether the startup would be able to provide after sales service, updates, and also whether the startup will survive or, as is the case with many startups, wind up after trying a bit.
How important is the role of PR and Marketing in acquiring customers? Tune in as Prajakt Raut discusses how you can plan your PR and Marketing roadmap.
The answer to this question depends on the stage of the startup, the nature of the industry, the current team’s capabilities and competencies and the resources available for hiring and retaining the appropriate sales person.
Sales people typically like to work with companies where the processes are well defined, the value proposition has been proven and the marketing material and sales packages are all working smoothly. They usually like to achieve their numbers and targets, measuring themselves against their peers and their own achievements on the basis of how well they have achieved their targets. Hardcore sales folks do NOT typically like to be trapped in working and reworking processes, strategy, pricing, sale packages or even experimenting with different value propositions to different customer segments.
Ideally, you should hire a sales person (senior or junior), when some of the uncertainties of the business have been tested and proven.
In the initial phase of the business, you will not / cannot know what price points will work, which audience segments will respond better or what communication messages will deliver better results. As a result, a new sales team tends to interpret this phase of ‘experimenting’ as “the management is undecided and unclear about what they want to do”, and hence start looking around for more stable opportunities. A sales team or the head of sales, leaving the company soon after joining, sends a wrong signal to the market – not just to other sales folks, but also to other members of the team, customers, vendors and investors.
Also, if you don’t have a challenge big enough for your sales head, he may not enjoy the work. You should therefore start hiring sales folks when the organization is really ready to leverage their skills and competencies, and provide them enough motivation and material to go and win in the market.
However, it’s not always possible to wait for things to settle down, before you hire a sales team.
So, if you really do need a sales person at the early-stages of your journey, make sure that you explain the current stage to the sales person, clearly define what his or her roles and responsibilities will be in this phase (e.g. could be – to help define the marketing and sales packages/programs) and honestly apprise them on the role that they will have to perform in the initial phase. Enlighten them that every startup goes through this phase of discovery, and emphasize the FACT that they will learn a lot from this phase than they would in just any sales management role. Position it as a positive and do not be defensive about it.
Even if you – an entrepreneur, are not a sales person, recognize and appreciate that the sales people are motivated differently and that you need to understand their mindset to be able to challenge them, motivate them, encourage them and reward them.
Happy Hiring !
In the context of a founder or entrepreneur, sales are not just about selling to customers or consumers. And it is not about just a transaction.
For a founder, ‘selling’ will have many dimensions, and in most cases it will involve selling the vision, aspirations and competencies of the startup to a whole bunch of stakeholders. These stakeholders could be family/spouse or potential investors, employees, landlords, vendors, partners AND customers/consumers.
For example, when you meet potential employees (or when you are interacting with an individual or a group of people who could be potential employees), the entrepreneur should aim to convince the person that what their startup aims to do is compelling and has a large potential, that they have a sensible plan, and the competence and resources to implement that plan in the market. The entrepreneur has to convince the potential employee, that they have the resources to take care of salaries and investments required to get into the market. In other words, the entrepreneur has to ‘sell’ the startup to the employee.
One of the areas in which the sales skills of an entrepreneur will be tested is when they pitch to investors. Primarily because what they present to investors will be largely about the future that they want to create and not just showcase what they have currently done or achieved. This is where fundamentals of selling – understanding the audience, presenting a sharp case, articulating it well, communicating it effectively, exuding confidence without appearing arrogant, giving the comfort of trust and reliability, etc – will all have to be brought into play.
Yes. An entrepreneur must have selling skills.
However, an entrepreneur may not enjoy doing customer/consumer sales, or may not be good at say cold calling, or negotiating, or paper work, etc…. and that’s acceptable. As long as you acknowledge what you can and cannot do, or are not keen to do, an entrepreneur could be excused from the sales function. However, in the initial phases of the startup, there will be none better than the entrepreneur to passionately communicate the value proposition of the product/service, and give the potential customers the confidence that his team will deliver. Hence, in the initial phases, entrepreneurs must lead the sales process, or at least be the face of the organization, even if another employee is leading the sales efforts operationally.
Moreover, whether the entrepreneur does the actual sale process, or has a team that does sales, one of the founders MUST be responsible for meeting the sales numbers.
Happy Selling !!!