B2B SaaS: Evolving from founder selling to a sales team

B2B SaaS: Evolving from founder selling to a sales team

For SaaS companies with a somewhat complicated sales model (i.e. sales process that involves a person talking to a prospect in order to close a deal), the sales process should evolve as the company grows. The best way to move through this evolution is to relieve the congestion that naturally occurs in the sales funnel as it builds (and not before that). In my experience, evolving from founder selling to building a sales team too quickly comes with a lot of risk that is easily avoided by making sure you are ready for each new phase in the evolution. Here’s the phases most B2B SaaS companies should pass through and the risks at each step. Phase 1 – Warm referral founder selling In this phase the founder is typically the person that does the “selling”. That’s a good thing because there is still a lot to learn from interacting with customers. Founders will learn works in their value proposition, what the typical objections are that might stall a deal and what really gets a prospect excited. This stage is where you are perfecting your sales pitch and your demo. Also, importantly, you are learning how your prospects like to buy – do they have to get approval from purchasing? What person in the company has authority to do a deal? Are there legal hoops you might have to jump through? How would you qualify a prospect as one that is likely to move forward or not? Leads at this phase are usually coming from working your network for warm referrals. A Phase 1 sales process typically looks like this: Phase 2 –...

Marketing Strategy Hacks Presentation

I gave a talk at the Unbounce Conversion Road Trip this week. It was an awesome event with amazing speakers. I decided to go a bit deeper into my thinking around how you would test the underlying assumptions in your marketing strategy, in particular which buyers you are targeting and what market you are positioned in. There is a bunch of new content here that I’ll blog about in the future but in the meantime, here’s the deck. Marketing Strategy Hacks from April...

A Startup Marketing Framework (version 3)

Years ago when I was consulting for startups, I created something I called “A Startup Marketing Framework“. I used it mainly as a tool to describe the kinds of things that I could help folks with. Startups found it useful and it is still a popular piece of content on this site. Last week I had a startup pull out a printed version of the framework (from 2011 no less!) and I decided there were a couple of changes I wanted to make to it. Below is the new and improved version 3. Framework Assumptions As with previous versions, the framework does not attempt to cover things that I would consider to be more “Product Management” focused (like product roadmap for example). I’m taking a purely marketing point of view here.  The Framework also assumes that you have a product in market, you feel fairly confident that you have a good fit between your market and your offering and you are ready to invest in lead generation. If you aren’t there yet, there are things here you won’t need to (and more importantly, shouldn’t) worry about yet.   Lastly, my background is B2B marketing so like most content on this site, this has a B2B slant to it.  That said, I think most of it applies to a B2C startup. Market Knowledge Market Category and Segments – Based on your interaction with early customers, these are the segments that have the most affinity for your offering and are the target of your marketing efforts.  These need to be well-defined and very specific.  I’ve had folks ask me where buyer/influencer personas fit and I include those here as part...

Laying a Foundation for Startup Growth

I spoke at an awesome startup event this week called Startup Empire. It was a sold-out conference with a great set of speakers including John Baker from Desire2Learn, Dan Debow from Salesforce, Harley Finkelstein from Shopify and Michael Litt from Vidyard and others. You can scroll down for my slides. I decided to focus on what I think of as the “Foundational Elements” for a successful sales and marketing strategy at a startup. As startup people we’ve heard many, many stories of magic marketing tactics had a big impact on the business. We talk less about the daily grind of testing and discarding failed marketing programs that don’t deliver much of anything. As much as we love stories of specific examples of the hacks that grew successful companies, rarely are those tactics applicable to the business we are trying to run right now. In my experience, starting with tactics is the wrong way to go about it. That’s because perfectly executed tactics layered over a flawed foundation will fail. The Foundational Elements are: Deep customer knowledge – A foundation of customer knowledge is really important. This has to go way beyond “we sell to SMB’s” and should include the unique characteristics of your target customers, their big pain points, where these prospects gather and how they learn about new products and solutions. Messaging – Every campaign and sales call relies on your ability to communicate what you do in a way that gets prospects excited to hear more. That messaging needs to describe your unique value in ways that your customers can easily understand, articulates how you are different...

How to Make Prospects 100X More Likely to Talk to You

I’ve managed inside sales teams before and we always had long discussions about when was the best time of day to try and contact a prospect. I had reps swear that first thing in the morning works best while others said lunch worked because folks would eat at their desk and still others theorized that right before 5PM folks were more likely to pick up the phone. Whenever I looked at my own data the only pattern that I could see was that the faster you called a prospect back, the more likely they were to pick up the phone. It turns out I’m not the only one seeing this pattern. Insidesales.com have been doing research on this topic for years. Their data (free registration required) drives home the fact that follow-up time is THE most important factor by far in contacting a lead. Here are 2 key highlights from the original (2007) insidesales.com research: The odds of contacting a lead within 5 minutes versus 30 minutes are 100 times greater The odds of a lead entering into the sales cycle are 21X greater if the lead is called within 5 minutes versus 30 minutes This data has been kicking around for a while. Surely we are getting better at following up with leads by now right? In 2011 they looked at over 3000 companies that were sponsors and attendees at Dreamforce (SalesForce.com’s user show) and submitted a web inquiry during normal business hours to see what the response times/rates looked like. I like this study because many of SalesForce’s customers are small and mid-sized businesses that you would expect to...

The Difference Between Good and Bad Marketing

Marketing is such a misunderstood term because it can be defined so many different ways. Marketing can mean branding, PR, lead generation, inbound, advertising, SEO, Product Marketing and a dozen other things. In larger companies all of these functions are done by separate people in separate groups and when you split them all apart it can be easy to forget why the overall marketing plan existed in the first place. For startup marketers, the biggest problem is staying focused on the things that matter and forgetting about the million things you could be working on that don’t matter to the business. What is the difference between good and bad marketing? Good marketing drives revenue. That’s it. It’s as simple as that. You would think this is obvious to everyone, particularly cash-starved startups but I still see marketing plans going completely off the rails where marketers have lost sight of the real prize. Examples? I’ve seen marketing plans with a large amount of budget dedicated to participating in trade shows that have consistently produced few if any opportunities (“…but it will send a bad message if we don’t show up”). I’ve seen teams dedicate large amounts of time and effort into building social media followings without any plan to drive revenue from that (“…our competitors are doing it”). I’ve seen large amounts of money spent on PR that doesn’t reach the company’s target market (“…but all of our friends read TechCrunch”, “…my mom was so proud when I was in the newspaper”). I’ve found that focus on revenue is also a good benchmark to use when hiring marketing folks. When...
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