A Guide to Creating a Sales Plan for Startup Founders

Highlights from a SalesCollider talk at NXTP Labs in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 

NXTP Labs is the most active early-stage fund for tech companies in Latin America. Having investments in 174 companies in just over 5 years of operations, NXTP Labs is on a mission is to catalyze innovative Latin-American tech founders, and help them achieve full potential by providing them with capital, hands-on support and access to an international community of like-minded entrepreneurs, investors and mentors.

As a founder, you’ve already put a ton of thought into your product.  You’ve spent hours upon hours tinkering with its features and thinking about the things people will use it for.  But how much time, though, have you spent thinking about how you’re going to sell it?  

A huge mistake that I see founders making all the time is focusing solely on building an awesome product.  They think that if all of their focus is put into making something perfect, then eventually people will find them and the product will go viral.  In my experience working with over 200 startups every year, I can tell you that too few founders spent the necessary time building a roadmap around their sales.  Once they have a product to sell, most founders will reach out to friends and family, build a few connections and make a handful of sales.  Eventually, most of them hit a wall.  They come to a point where sales stalls and they don’t know why.  Even worse, they don’t know what to do next.

 Photo: InstaScaler

Photo: InstaScaler

"Make something people want" is great advice.  But this advice can't stand alone.  Founders need to not just make something people want, but they also need a plan for how to sell this product to those who want it.

 

I recently talked to a room of awesome founders at NXTP Argentina about this very problem.  In my talk, I outlined a process that helps founders develop a sales plan that functions as a roadmap to revenue and I wanted to share some key take aways with you here.

 

Know Your Customer

Learning who your customer is shouldn’t feel like throwing darts at a board.  Know their pain.  Understand the problem you’re solving.  Find out what else they’ve purchased, who they purchased it from and how they went about buying it.  Who at the company was involved in the decision?  Who activated the purchase?  What were they interested in? 

Get to know the people that have your problem, and get to know them intimately.  Once you know them, you’re going to know how to communicate with them.  When you ask, “How did you buy this other product and who was involved in the process?” you’ll know whether you can do a cold outreach or you’ll have to take them out to dinner in order to build a relationship.

 

Perfect Your Process

If you sell a phone system to a company that has five offices, there are going to be at least five buyers.  Everyone in the office needs a phone, right?  If it’s a $500k system, you’re not only going to get several division heads, you’re also going to get several layers of management to sign off on that purchase.  The more expensive it gets, the more people the deal draws in.  

Figure out how complex your customer’s buying process is going to be.  You can’t expect a deal to go through every week if it takes two months for your customer to buy something.  Founders just starting out in sales can overlook this and really screw up themselves up.  You need to structure your sales process around theirs, accounting for all of the hoops and ladders that any individual at a company might have to jump through in order to buy your product.  

 

Grow Your Customer

I have a friend (who was once my vendor) that takes the onboarding process so seriously that he onboards every customer like they’re his own mother.  He goes to the office, brings cookies, talks to every user himself and asks them about their experience.  He makes sure that they’re using the product correctly and getting the optimum value out of it.  While this isn’t a scalable process, it’s the best way to know that everyone’s happy and, more importantly, to understand how a happy customer is experiencing his products.

Remember, not all of your customers will be part of your growth strategy.  Even if a customer is bringing in revenue, they might not be your ideal user.  If they aren’t getting the maximum value out of your product, they probably aren’t going to stick with you forever.  As you get closer to your ideal product vision, they’ll have less of a need to work with you and, thus, shouldn’t hold a special place in your expansion plan.

 

Build Your Team

Once you understand the size, needs and general nature of your customers, you’ll need to hire a team that can sell to companies who fit that profile.  Since you’ve taken on the tasks relegated to a VP of sales, you have to figure out how many people it will take to hit your revenue goals.

A good sales team has the right amount of people with the right amount of skills.  Everyone has to be excited about working at a small startup and selling to people you’re going after.  You can’t hire a 10-year veteran of SMB sales and ask them to go sell to a massive corporation.  If they’re used to a 2-3 phone call, one-swipe transaction, they’re going to get pretty tripped up when the VP of finance wants to send them an NDA or set up a meeting with lawyers.  It’s just incompatible.

 

Define Your Challenges

Even after you’ve built a decent sales process, there are things that can go wrong, and things that need to be accounted for as you move forward.  Founders need to ensure that your product has features that continue to meet the needs of your clients.  If you’re adding features to grow customers, make sure that these features are added in a timely manner if you want to make your customers happy.

 J. Ryan Williams @ NXTP offices October, 2017.

J. Ryan Williams @ NXTP offices October, 2017.

Additionally, you’ll have to keep up with your customers.  Pay attention to what they’re doing.  Are they up to things that are going to force a change in your strategy?  And, going off of that, stay on top of your market.  What do you know about it and what do you need to know?  When you expand geographically, is your sales plan going to hold up?  

 

Closing Thought

Even though your vision is going to be the thing that makes your company successful, the second most important thing is mapping out sales and the growth of your organization.  Just like a product in development, it’s something that needs to be revised over and over, until it works right. 

As you experiment with sales and hone in on your target customers, you’ll get a better understanding of the process that works for you.  I, for one, have seen some incredible results from founders that approach their sales process with the same focus and drive that they do to their product development.