Saturday, November 8, 2014

#Startups: The #Founder is the best #sales person

Many Entrepreneurs I have met in the last few days have come with one major challenge - how to improve market reach for their products or services. There are many ways to do it. But the key factor is the involvement of the founder in sales.
Founder should lead sales
Founder is a techie: Many times, the founder is a technical person. He is a tech wiz, who has found a solution to a problem he was passionate of solving. Now, he has a product in hand. The product is perhaps unique. But, still the prospect has to know about it. The techie founder typically grapples with the market jigsaw.
There is only one founder: This is a case of one person doing everything. Solo-preneurs, even if they have the knack to sell, cannot sell because of lack of time. He/she is the salesperson, delivery, quality assurance, management, administration all rolled into one. This is a big challenge. Chaos reigns.
Reluctance to network: This is a unique, but not an uncommon situation. The founder is an introvert - means, he would not mingle and network at all, or be shy about talking business with his '1st and 2nd connections'. Another type is absolutely averse to building network, let alone leveraging them.
Social media averse: I found this discovery a little bit surprising. There are some founders of SMEs not present in social media at all. For them, it is 'waste of time'. This is indeed baffling. They say ' in my country, all sales happen face to face'.
Loss of appetite: This is again a distinct, but not uncommon reason. Sales requires enormous appetite and tireless pursuit to build the pipeline. One or two large customers or good quarters may make the founder get into a 'consolidation mode' and then they will start focusing on 'delivery'. This is dangerous, as when the next cycle of sales comes, either the product is outdated, or there is competition staring at your face.
Now, here are some suggestions and facts about founder-sales.
  1. Founders are the most passionate about their product. Their product is basically a problem solver or a game changer, at least of all people, they believe. Therefore they become the best story tellers.
  2. At the start, any sales team becomes a liability, unless there is an investment plan to back it up. Bootstrapped organizations should focus on using existing resources, that is the founder(s) turning up to sell, day in and day out.
  3. Since most products are new concepts, objection handling is a major task in breaking the entry barrier or bringing around the prospect to believe. So even if the founder is a techie, he is still the best person to do this. An employee or an outsourced sales team cannot handle objections, prima facie.
  4. Relationships are an important part of sales. Hence the founder's immediate network play a very important role in early success.
  5. It is important that one of the founders become a focused sales function head. With time being a premium, focus is the biggest challenge for any function, especially sales.
  6. Social media plays a very important role in spreading the word. Leveraging social media is key for continued success.
  7. Finally, sustained sales efforts are important to realize the growth opportunities for the product or service. Such efforts will also be a continuous feedback mechanism for improving the product or service. As they say, it is about 'always keeping eye on the ball'.
Founders are the best people to narrate their stories. Therefore we have launched a simple story sharing magazine called I would invite readers to visit this e-magazine to read some of the stories of founders.
-Ashok Subramanian

Sunday, November 2, 2014

#Startups: The Reluctant Customer: 5 ways to find out

I was reviewing a sales report the other day of a startup; I wondered over more than 50% of customers engaged actively during a sales cycle had gone into silence - it is a big challenge for a startup, which has only its senior folks to look up to for sales..
They had said a yes, but then there was a silence or hesitation forever. Should the case appear in the funnel? How long one should follow up?
Reluctant Customers :  5 ways to find out 
This is a classical dilemma. There are legendary stories of tenacity, by sheer grit, sales teams turning around deals which were hitherto written off. There are on the other hand, the entire organization cajoled and brought to force only to reach a point of silence.
There are two schools of thought - sales as art, and sales as science. As I explored the entire funnel, and discussed with the stakeholders, it was evident that there was no more than one reason for the 'reluctant customer'.
a) The customer was just exploring - Some customers have the habit of exploring to just learn. May be it is an idea to them, but at some point, they scout and create interest in the vendors. The more spiked the interest it, the more vendors respond. Sales meetings turn to knowledge seeking meetings, and proposals into literature.
The only way to avoid that is to find out if the customer representative has the need, budget and authority ( NBA) to talk. If we know that there is no budget, then we need to qualify if the non-budgeted project has overwhelming need. That will help us clear the air upfront in terms of whether to put commensurate effort or not.
b) The customer has options and you are not the preferred: Some customers are open enough to tell your position in the race. And significantly you are not in pole position. That gives us the position that you are entering and holding the position as an also ran, but in fact will also suggest what you need to do to reach a better position or a position of contention.
Most customers are ready to talk about this, but may not reveal much of competition details, these customers can be worked upon.
c) The customer has a big brother: There are employees / executives on the customer side who do the leg work. They can be your information source, interaction point - but rarely they may be the decision maker. The decision maker is typically a CFO or a business head, shielded from vendor approaches, and who focuses on the problem, and the solution. They generally go by either prior experience, or an analysis presented to them.
Small companies who are into products or services that are not niche will end up facing the lower rung - unless the decision maker for significant reasons involves himself in vendor interaction in the evaluation stage.
d) The customer has been just swept of his feet by competition : This will depend on how the customer has seen you vs the others. It is purely a confidence issue. The customer believes that you were not the best. The competition was better. It is important to be as professional during the first impression you make, and so an overall understanding of the customer is important.
Another aspect is competition might have shown more options, have been more affordable, and probably have some mind-catching thought process.
e) You were an overkill - sometimes, when you pitch for a story, there is a tendency to go overboard, and create an impression that you are bigger than they need, or costlier that they can afford. This can be a classical case of overselling.
The only way to mitigate that is by listening to the customer and understanding what direction he is going. Your proposal should be right in content, proposed at the right time to the right person, and finally, at the right price. If you discover soon enough the customer had made up his mind that you are an overkill.
Customers can always spring a surprise on us. And the sales success stories are sometimes due to sheer grit of the sales person, when even his/ her organization had lost hope on closing a deal.
But in many cases, we should let go of customers who are fighting you. This saves precious sales hours. The choice is difficult, but it gives lot of mileage in the long term.
The few scenarios that I have shared are my two cents. I would love to hear from you on how you have identified and handled, even better, turned around a 'reluctant' customer.
- Ashok Subramanian