I teach difficult subjects in simple language.
Introvert. Had zero friends. Was afraid of talking to strangers. Writing code since I was 11.
Then, I started building businesses and had to sell. I knew I was fucked.
But I soon learned. And I thought, the lessons I learned might help another introvert entrepreneur somewhere in the other corner of the world struggling with selling.
By the way, I am editor of a weekly newsletter, Unmade, which delivers one startup idea to your inboxes.
I’ve had the opportunity to watch several sales teams in action over the years, and as much as I hate to see people lose their jobs, startups today are probably better off doing away with the dedicated sales role — or at least in the way it currently operates at most companies.
Whether your focus is acquisition or retention, your startup would be well advised to focus on perfecting its product and optimizing marketing efforts that drive self-service sales. A great product won’t “sell itself,” but with the right hooks built in and the right lead nurture automation in place, your app can go a long way without any outbound pitching to prospects.
There’s still a place for salespeople. But especially if you’re in the early stages of your company’s life cycle, the role should be more about high-end strategic business partnerships than anything else.
A great product is half the battle won.
Considering the way buyers evaluate their software options today, exploring product specs themselves online and asking trusted contacts for recommendations, your sales process can be structured without a sales team — at least in the traditional sense. And by traditional, I am referring to a group of sharks sitting on the phone all day, trying to persuade prospects, whose reactions hover between indifferent and hostile.
Here are a few ways to streamline your sales strategy without investing in an outdated sales department.
The obvious first step in any marketing effort is to have a great product to market. Before you even attempt to get the word out, you need to have a stellar product that users will pine for.
Find a consumer pain point that can be addressed through products or technology. This way, you can easily create demand for it.
And besides, having a solid product helps you increase your credibility, which makes it easier for your marketing personnel to engage the audience with confidence.
Then, once you have found this niche and launched a credible product, you will need to define your marketing strategy to establish your startup as an authority in your chosen field. This involves hiring credible and capable people who will become storytellers for the business.
If you cannot hire these credible people (because of course, you are a tiny startup), become the credible one yourself.
Remember, storytelling is different from plain old marketing campaigns. It will need people who can take customers along for the journey and evoke that feeling of affinity and satisfaction in them, so they will treat your brand as their own.
Establish a blog as a go-to place for customers not just for company updates, but also for good productivity resources. Once you start engaging the audience with insightful advice, expect them to share the material throughout their own circles. Word-of-mouth marketing needs to start somewhere.
Early-stage startups with small teams should integrate sales as part of your lean marketing efforts. Your sales leads will come from many streams but are generally divided into paid and organic (including referral traffic). However, the source of the conversion should not matter.
Don’t fall into the trap of segmenting the sales lifecycle so granularly that relationships with contacts are handled by different people at every step. That’s not how list segmentation works.
Instead, the key to success is to ensure a consistent and positive customer experience throughout the entire lifecycle. Customers don’t like being tossed around across departments, and having one point person or team to handle them will ensure they get the right guidance and attention they deserve.
Marketing and sales teams’ roles have evolved past simply getting past the customer’s front door. Instead, the marketing, sales and customer service teams are combined, with customers often talking to a single point person all throughout.
If possible, get the developers themselves on the call with the customer. (Note: Proceed with caution.)
Instead of dividing your sales strategy and the consequent sales roles into acquisition and retention, you are better off with automated email campaigns that are sent out to the right leads at the right times.
Your audience likely consists of tech-savvy urbanites who prefer to use their mobile devices for anything but talking. Your best bet to reach them is a smart, personalized email.
Build out a premium downloadable resource, gate it behind a lead capture form and promote it across as many relevant marketing channels as you can viably manage.
If you do this well, you’ll generate plenty of qualified leads to nurture via timed and triggered email sequences. In some cases, cold email can be highly effective as well.
Drip campaigns are reliable and seldom fail. If you are concerned about the lack of human element, take a look at how your competitors handle their messaging. Plenty of companies can have their cake and eat it too, because personalization and automation can co-exist.
Given the integrated approach, you’ll need a person who will be ultimately responsible for the product, including concept, execution, marketing and sales.
It makes no sense for someone head product development, only for someone else to be responsible for actually selling it. Your marketing product manager should know the ins and outs of the product, what clicks with customers and what exactly makes your brand stand out.
Large companies are often burdened by organizational inefficiencies across product, marketing and sales departments, not to mention after-sales support teams. Each team might have a different vision or approach to the product.
By giving operational oversight over all of these activities to one person, you can be more confident that there is cohesion among people with different responsibilities.
This can be even easier for startups with small or growing teams. This person can either be your CMO or a product manager, who must first have in-depth knowledge of your product and a good understanding of the industry. For the most part, such a person will need to have both the skills of a good engineer and a capable communicator.
You might encounter a few hurdles to managing the development, marketing and sales efforts jointly. However, many of these challenges can be overcome with technology, particularly through collaboration solutions that can help break down the silos in your workflow.
Marketing automation can streamline otherwise tedious and mind-numbing tasks, including cold outreach, sifting through customer communication and feedback, analyzing conversion funnels (including clickthroughs, purchases and most popular sources of conversion), and identifying top causes of churn.
Aside from adopting technologies to ease the marketing process, you should also apply analytics to virtually everything that involves customer retention.
Make sure you actually interpret the data that you collect about customers, and then translate it all into actionable insights, so that you can adjust your marketing efforts accordingly.
Without this level of business intelligence, you’ll have no idea whether something you’re doing has a positive effect or not.
Make the onboarding experience as easy as possible, and make it easy for users to sign on.
For example, implementing social login can simplify the entire authentication and signup process. It also makes it easier for you to collect information about customers without requiring them to repeatedly input their own data.
The point here is to ensure that your new signups don’t meet too many roadblocks along the way, making for a good customer experience.
From here onwards, you will need to consistently monitor the customer journey, to ensure satisfaction and to optimize the experience.
After all, the profitability of SaaS platforms relies heavily on recurring revenue rather than a single point-of-sale.
By cultivating your relationship with each customer, you can be assured of that customer’s continued subscription.
The point in all of this is that you don’t have to beat your head against a wall by hiring an expensive sales team for something that you could accomplish with a great tech stack and a decent grasp of funnel optimization techniques.
About the author
He writes regularly for world’s largest publications including HackerNoon, TechCrunch, TheNextWeb, CoinTelegraph among others.
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