I’ve spent enough time talking to startup founders to tell you that many of them can’t stand sales. As a B2B startup founder, though, you’re going to have to do sales whether you like it or not. It just comes with the territory. You might dream about the day where you have a full team out there selling your product while you focus on the tasks you really love, but you’ll have to put that on hold until you’re able to figure out which companies need your product in the first place.
In the sales world, we use the term Ideal Customer Profile (or ICP), to describe the common traits shared by a company’s potential clients. It can be difficult, but identifying your ICP will give you an understanding of the types of companies you (and your future sales army) will spend time going after.
If you’re finding yourself selling to businesses all in the same industry and all with a similar amount of revenue, you’ve already started to develop an idea of what your ICP is. Obviously, if these businesses are buying, they share some problems that your product is able to fix.
Here are the four things you’ll want to understand about your clients in order to start outlining your ICP.
Industries: As a startup founder, you probably already have an idea of the industries want to sell to. Chances are, you don’t make something that works in every industry. In the unlikely case that it does, you’ll want to narrow your focus for the moment and figure out which industries you’re most likely to sell to right now.
Funding/Revenue: This can be a hard one to figure out when you’re selling to private companies, as this information often isn’t publicly available. If you find yourself looking for the revenue of companies that don’t publish it, look at the size of the company itself. The number of employees working at a company directly correlates to how they’re doing financially. Unlike revenue, company size is often publicly available and easy to find.
Location: You might envision your product selling globally, but that would mean putting it out in 74 different language right off the bat. Take a small piece of the market for now and focus on that. The key here is to take a geography where most of the customers are similar in language and buying culture.
Target Buyer Titles: It’s not good enough just to say that “IBM should buy my product”. You want to ask yourself who at the company should buy your product. It could be the CFO, the Director of Finance, or someone else, but being specific about who you want to get in touch with will make the process of finding them much easier.
Developing Your Buyer Persona
Identifying the person you want to be in touch with is largely about asking the question “Who has the problem I can solve?”. As you start to think about what that problem is, you’ll begin to define what marketers call a “buyer persona”. A strongly defined buyer persona means that you know who has these problems and, therefore, who the end-user of this product will be. The end-user, if not buying your product directly, will be the reason for their buyer making the purchase.
In order to gain a strong grasp on the buyer persona you’re looking for, I recommend that you consider the following:
Who has a pain that your product can relieve? You can be sure that there is someone somewhere, right now, complaining to their manager that they don’t have a tool to help them do a certain task. The point of developing a solid buyer persona is to figure out the most efficient ways to get in touch with those people or the people who will purchase the product for them.
Where are they in the totem pole? As pointed out above, the person who needs your product may not always be the person who’s allowed to buy it. You might be selling a product for IT, knowing that individual IT people won’t be able to buy it on their own and the manager has to buy it. Start by targeting the buyers who run teams that are facing your problem. If your product is cheap enough, however, you may be able to sell directly to the people that will be using it. I was in the position once where enough of my strongest sales reps were using YesWare that I was able to justify purchasing it on behalf of the company I worked for.
What is this person managing? No matter the size of the organization, I’ve found that the average person is only able to think about five things at any given time. We all get overwhelmed and even the most cut-throat CEO is only human. For this reason, it helps to be able to address someone’s problem at the moment that they’re facing it.
For example, a CFO might have woken up this morning and thought, “Man, I wish we had accounts receivable software for everyone on the team”. If you have that software, you want to be in touch with that person. However, a CFO has a million things to think about and that thought was probably a fleeting one. If you have the opportunity to speak with the CFO, have them put you in contact with a person that they trust to buy so your deal doesn’t get pushed off to the side.
How do they make decisions? Sometimes, knowing the person you’re selling to is also about knowing how they make decisions. A lot of CFOs, for example, are insanely busy people and don’t have time to think about making small purchases. They might be dealing with a billion dollar real estate deal and wouldn’t think a whole lot about buying $15 software for each person on their accounting team.
As you start to do more and more deals, you’ll find that people in similar roles at companies of a comparable size make decisions in the same way. Each type of buyer you talk to has a different process of making decisions, however, if you pay attention and look for the right things, you’ll find patterns that are valuable to developing your sales process.
Final Tip: Look for Trigger Events
As you’re developing your ICP and wrapping your head around their buying persona, you want to ask yourself what events take place inside of the organization that will make them need your product. If you work in security software, for example, you know that you’ll have a good chance of selling to people who’ve recently been hacked. Ask yourself what happens in a company that will make them say, “Call that person, now!”. It is important for you to know who is in charge of dealing with your trigger event when it happens. Once you find that out, make sure that you’re in touch with them and your name is in their head so they know who to call when shit goes down.
Ultimately, you’ll want to use your ICP and buyer persona to create a “feedback loop” within your sales process where each sale informs how you move forward with prospecting clients. Ask questions and gain as much information as you possibly can while dealing with people in the industries you’re going after. A strong sense of your target customers will enable you to know whether or not you’re sourcing the right prospects. In Part 2 of this article, I’ll discuss how to go about founding customers, but understanding the profile of the people you’re going after (and learning from them along the way) will make it easier for you to build a system for selling to people like them in the future.