How startups sell without a sales team

It's every founder's dream, right? You wake up in the morning, head to a dashboard, and bask in the sweet glow of yesterday's sales.

But a company's management team is more likely to get up in the morning and wait for the customer relationship management (CRM) system to be updated. And wait. And wait. And then at the end of the day, they realize that nothing has been closed. Or maybe it does and it all comes cascading on Friday afternoon.

One of the most difficult functions for any company to account for is the sales funnel. How many potential customers are in the funnel? How many of them are actually qualified leads? What is the probability that leads will be closed at each level? Have any of them closed? Why don't they close?

The answers to these questions, which are usually vague, are even more so when your company is a startup. This lack of clarity cries out for automation.

If car dealers can replace salespeople – and I'm talking about Carvana, TrueCar and the like – any startup can automate the process of selling any product. But automated selling does not occur automatically.

The proliferation of two-sided marketplaces (2SM) makes it seem like any product or service can be traded through a digital intermediary, who takes a much smaller cut of the sale and returns those savings to both the customer and the seller. .

But for every 2SM that is imposed, there are dozens or hundreds more that do not do so. And the reason for this is very simple to explain, but very difficult to overcome.

People, especially entrepreneurs, like to think of sales as a vending machine (looking back at Carvana), with a zero-friction experience. The customer points out what he wants, passes a credit card, receives the product and smiles.

But sales, as any revenue-generating entrepreneur will tell you, is less like a vending machine and more like the much-maligned used car salesman at the discount lot.

And the client is not a smiler and a charlatan. This is a customer who doesn't know what he wants, who isn't sure what he can afford, who has very little idea of ​​how the transaction process works, who definitely has misconceptions about his purchasing power, and who wants everything he wants. You deserve the least you can pay.

Plus, they hate you and don't think you care about not getting any commission for it.

Again, most business owners don't think about the sales process this way. If they did, they would never become founders.

But not immediately.

If you had millions of marketing dollars and a lot of time and failure behind you, you could put cars or treadmills or home mortgages behind a glass wall and turn them into point-and-click products for a smiling customer base.

You probably don't have millions of dollars to run a Super Bowl ad. And if you are an entrepreneur, time is your most valuable asset. Chasing failure is necessary when you're a founder, but despite what all the coaches tell you, the most successful founders are the ones who spend the least time failing.

And the greatest amount of time learning.

You have to start with a sales team, the more experienced the better, but it's okay if it's just you, or your founding or leadership team. It's not okay if it's a makeshift digital marketplace. It's not even okay if it's a group of volunteer college students looking to make money in the summer by doing as little work as possible.

It doesn't have to be a team of used car salespeople, but it does have to be a team that knows the product and the company intimately and can make quick decisions that have a real impact on the sales process.

Although the ultimate goal is to automate part or all of the sales process, your sales team will have to learn to overcome all the problems that the used car salesperson faces on a day-to-day basis on that discount lot.

When selling an unknown product to an ill-defined market, no standard of customer knowledge and expectations can be relied upon. BMW, Mercedes and Porsche salespeople generally know what type of customer comes into their dealership and how much they already know about the vehicle, even if it's just the emotional push of the ads.

Your clients are not there. Still.

Your sales team needs to learn what the customer's level of knowledge is and what their level of expectations is, as well as where the outliers are and how to anticipate and react to them. At a minimum, your sales team should discover, understand, and document the answers to these four questions.

1. Why are your clients interested?

2. What do they already know about your solution?

3. What kind of pain do they feel because of the problem?

4. What are your value and cost expectations?

Digital market platforms and freshmen teams cannot do this. Only people who know the product and the company inside out – as well as the model and the market it addresses – have the knowledge and skills to generate and document these responses.

I find it ironic that I started my technical career because I didn't want to go into sales. At some point in my business journey, I learned to love sales. You wouldn't know it by looking at me or talking to me, but I've gotten pretty good at sales.

Because I had to do it.

Don't go looking for a sales ninja. Not yet. But understand that you and your team have to sell the product, make the product, or both. If you can't sell or if you see that you are not getting any results from your team, go find someone who can get results.

To get to sales automation, you have to define that moment of truth where the product sells itself in the way it is positioned and the way you ship it. There are two ways to do it: one is to guess what that positioning and message should be, and the other is to distill that positioning and message from documented responses of positive sales results.

The guesswork method requires much more money and time than hiring an experienced salesperson.

It starts with the first sale. Sell ​​once, learn to sell again. This is selling in stages. Find out the reasons why your product is not just a cool toy, but a must-have product. Next, learn how to sell that must-have product. You may have to reinvent the entire process and product before stepping on the accelerator.

Once you start getting traction with that process, go back to the four questions I asked earlier and start automating the answers.

1. Why are your clients interested? How can you amplify that interest before they even talk to a salesperson?

2. What do they already know about your solution? How can you turn that into what they need to know about your product to make the purchasing decision?

3. What kind of pain do they feel because of the problem? How can you quantify a reduction in that pain and get that information to them as early in the process as possible?

4. What are your value and cost expectations? How can both expectations be improved so that they see a bargain when presented with the price and pricing model?

Once you've established a sales team that gets results and documents the data of those positive results, you can evolve that team into a business model once the product starts selling itself.

Use one victory to achieve another. Achieve and announce milestones, get testimonials and show them, develop partnerships with great organizations. You may have to redefine all your marketing, your materials, your speech, even your position, but do it and pick up what works and throw away what doesn't.

This turns your stage sale into a steroid. Stack the learning and shape your product positioning and messaging to reduce the time it takes to get from the customer finding out about you to being presented with a credit card form.

Yes, a credit card form. If your product can't be sold by swiping a credit card or entering it online, you need to determine all the reasons why and automate and eliminate or reduce those reasons.

Your best customers will help you sell, so talk to them. Help them individually meet their goals and look for patterns that you can take advantage of. Be transparent with what you are trying to achieve. You'll be surprised how powerful converting individual customer actions into goals can be when compared to the statistics and words aggregated on a website.

Let's go back to that lot of discounted used cars. The problem is not the seller, but the customer. More specifically, it is the lack of knowledge of the customer and the artificial increase of his expectations.

Your automation goal is to address those pain points to turn your prospect into a better prospect before they even reach the sales team, so all they have to do is close. In the end, customers will close themselves, digitally, using the parts of the funnel you've now automated.