Sales is a skill that can be developed like any other craft. In this article, Neeraj Mathur shares 8 tips for early stage founders to develop their craft of sales. The following are direct quotes and key takeaways from our conversation with Neeraj in a live Twitter space on March 23, 2022.
Sales is a skill that can be developed like any other craft. You don’t get great at what you’re doing without practice. The same thing applies to sales, it just requires experience and you can get really good at it with practice.
Whether you’re in B2C or B2B, always look at sales as a process. Because particularly in SaaS, what you try to do is have them open up their wallet the first time, for the first month, for the first quarter, for the first 6 months, one year- but your goal is to eventually have them pay for a multi-year contract.
If you just go into it with the mindset of “I’ll just get the first month or six months from this user and deal with it later”, that later is not going to happen. If you don’t engage and don’t understand why people are opening their wallets to buy what you’re selling, then you’ve actually already missed the boat.
If you look at sales as a transaction, renewals become hard. Instead you should be looking at sales as a continuous process where you continue to deliver value. Then you are building a SaaS recurring revenue model and fewer questions will be asked when it comes time for renewal, either annually or monthly.
Early stage founders shouldn’t be focused solely on revenue, however.
What you’re trying to do is figure out a way to make sure that the problem your solution is built for is indeed the problem that the potential buyer is willing to pay for. Because if they don’t understand what it is they’re paying for the first time, rest assured renewals are not going to happen, whether it’s monthly or yearly.
Understand the problem, not just as good, but even better than the person you’re selling to. Make sure you understand the problem and how much they’re willing to pay for that problem to go away.
If you understand it from their perspective better than them, the conversation becomes so much easier.
Most founders will come out and say that they are very close to the problem of their end users. One part of sales is to have a good understanding of that problem, but also of the person whom you’re trying to actually get to open up the checkbook or their wallets. Is this the problem they have, too?
And many times it could be an adjacent problem or it could be something different, or a slight tweak to messaging. And sometimes the problem is to understand both sides. But how you’re delivering this from a messaging and delivery standpoint is very different, and it’s a very critical thing for founders, particularly those not familiar with the sales process.
We have an advantage as product and UX professionals because we are very good at asking probing questions. We’ve been trained to ask questions, keep our ego aside, and listen.
Everyone loves to talk, but don’t get ahead of your skis. Especially when you’re in a 30 minute conversation. Most founders who go into fundraising know that your job for the first meeting is to get the next meeting. In the sales process when you’re pitching your solution to someone, you’re trying to ask those open-ended questions about your solution and how that solution might help them solve their problem.
You ask open ended questions, and wait for them to start talking, and then take copious notes. They will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the problems they’re having. And now, you can build themes and learn how to position your product or your solution to the problems that make it relatable to them.
It’s important to figure out the economic buyer who has the authority to write the check and forge the shortest path to get to them. Because the longer you take to get to them, the harder it is going to be for you to actually get that revenue coming into your company.
When you have a different economic buyer from the actual user, what you’re trying to figure out is how close they are to the pain points and the problem that you want to solve for them. And then thinking about how close they are to push this up the ladder to be able to become a champion.
It’s important to identify the person you’re speaking with either has the pain point or is the person who is willing to pay. Otherwise you’re wasting your time.
The idea behind taking losses every day is that you're building that mentality of understanding what you may perceive as a loss, like not hearing back from your sales lead, it's just one step closer to actually getting to that “yes.”
So much of sales is similar to fundraising. And if you’re an early stage founder then you’re probably familiar with hearing “no.” Each “no” is getting you closer to the why. Getting to “no” is very important.
Getting told “no” or that your idea is crap is going to happen sometimes. And the sooner that happens, the better, because as a product person you have to have thick skin. Not everyone is going to fall in love with your features and capabilities. And similar to sales, not every customer is going to find the value in what you’re selling.
Start selling the moment you have an idea. Whether it’s a paper concept or MVP of your product, start selling early on. Identify your target market very narrowly first. Everyone does this TAM (Total Addressable Market), SAM (Serviceable Available Market), SOM (Serviceable Obtainable Market), but actually have a very small, targeted list to begin with.
Be very maniacal with your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) and as specific as possible. In that very specific population and sized company segment, we can find out about the problem that we believe needs to be solved. Are they actually buying it this year? Are they willing to pay the cost? What are they willing to pay?
Founders who don’t come from a sales background or who have a UX background will need to build a thicker skin when selling. It’s easy to fall in love with the solution, but don’t take the “nos” personally. This is where sales and fundraising become very similar. Building the thick skin, continuing to reach out until they come back and say they’re not interested and ask probing questions.
So as you're honing your craft in sales as an early stage founder, remember these 7 tips: