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Stop Building and Start Selling!

Stop Building and Start Selling!

If you’re a founder at a newly minted SaaS startup with some funding, a small dev team, and big plans- congrats! You’ve got an amazing journey ahead of you.

The idea for your startup came from a problem you identified that you believe can be solved through technology. Sounds awesome. But how do you get started? Which of the following approaches do you take?

  • Build it and They Will Come- build out your solution to what you think the market needs and have a rock star sales team divide and conquer
  • Stop Building and Start Selling- admit that you may not know all of the intricate details and potential hurdles of the industry or problem and are willing to build, sell, iterate, and repeat

With a “Build It And They Will Come” mentality, you may still be able to find success. But the road will be harder and will take longer, cost you valuable resources funding a top notch sales and dev team. Why? Because you’ll be convincing the customer that they have a problem and need your solution, versus meeting their actual needs to ensure their success.

Remember that the devil is truly in the details. Your idea for this solution may not work for even the smallest unforeseen hurdle or nuance.

And you know what- THAT’S OK!

With a “Stop Building and Start Selling” approach, you’ll have a much better chance of success, and in a much faster timeline that will be more cost effective, key for early stage startups with limited resources. Why? Because engaging with potential customers early on in the development of your product will steer it to the true solution and avoid hurdles much more quickly.

Slack infamously pivoted from a video game company to the behemoth communication platform they are today by truly understanding how their customers used the platform the most. The key however was that their leadership team was willing and flexible to pivot towards the solution their customers demanded. Founders must be open to taking a sales and customer driven approach to developing the product.

Beginning Your Go To Market Strategy

As your team starts engaging with potential customers, you’ll inevitably encounter some prospects that want features and solutions that you don’t have yet. This is all part of the journey. It’s impossible you’ll have everything a customer wants before you build an established platform. And you won’t win all of that business…YET.

A winning approach requires gathering as much feedback as possible and translating that into your product roadmap. Sales and business development is absolutely critical for this as they are the front lines with the customer. Keep in mind the following when a prospect tells you “NO” for the first time:

  • You’ve just built a relationship/rapport with that prospect. It’s not never, it’s just not right now
  • If they don’t buy from you then, they will buy down the road if you can meet their needs and solve their problem with your solution
  • That “NO” contains a lot of valuable information. Politely ask your prospect why not, and ask what can be done to get them on board
  • Even in the early stages of you solution, you can still obtain clients through a targeted business development strategy
  • It’s really important not to overbuild in your early phases of your company. You also don’t want to try and build something that only a couple of prospects want. You need a groundswell from the market to tell you a feature or module is valuable to their sector.

Implementing a “Stop Building and Start Selling” Approach

This approach begins with building a coordinated, lean revenue team focused on Lead Generation, Sales (Director or AE), and Customer Success. This could be a team of two individual positions to start- one individual for lead gen, and another to handle sales and customer success. If you’re lucky, you may be able to find one single unicorn hire that can handle all three.

This team needs to understand that the company’s direction relies on their hard work and insight- they can’t just be transactional sellers. They need a strategic mindset and somewhat of a technical understanding of the industry, product, or solution so it can be effectively translated to a product roadmap. Each of these roles needs to take the following steps:

Lead Gen

  • Lead gen needs to start by building a database of every single lead in your target market as quick as possible.
  • Start by focusing on medium sized accounts. They usually have bigger budgets and probably less of an internal or existing solution. Smaller accounts won’t have budget, and larger accounts will have homegrown solutions or skepticism about a new solution.
  • Yet, don’t ignore the largest targets. They have the ultimate pulse on the issues of the industry you’re selling into. If you can get a meeting, the information you’ll gather from them is priceless.
  • After coordinating with the AE or Sales Director on strategic messaging, begin outreach. Start with key targets. The sooner this is started, the better.
  • Don’t be pushy or rude. You’re focus is to build a long term rapport with your prospects, not forcing them to buy.

Sales & Customer Success

  • Start working on your strategic plan in terms of lead gen and outreach, discovery, and your pitch/demonstration
  • Retool your strategy after every customer interaction. What pain points drew their attention? What didn’t?
  • Organize their feedback into a product roadmap. Work with the executive and development team to bring this feedback to reality
  • Keep the initial conversations short- don’t waste your prospects time, and don’t give away all your cards
  • Ask for the business. Best case you close some of the first deals in the company’s history. Worst case they give you an initial “not right now”
  • Building a huge pipeline is a must. It’s purely a numbers game. If you have 100 prospects in your pipeline, and close 10, great! If you have ten and hope to close 10, but end up closing 1, you’re in a bad position. The timeline for a solid pipeline takes about 9 months to a year to close. Start now!
  • If you do land customers, stay on them. Make sure they use the tool, build it into their management process, and provide constant feedback. Handle any support issues right away
  • Relay success and involve the development team on issues from the start. They will be much more in sync in terms of building the next iteration of the product

As a founder, if you follow this approach, you’ll have created enough runway with your sales pipeline while keeping your costs low, all without overbuilding.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to connect with me at dwinbourn@blacksheetadvisors.com or on Linkedin. 

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