9 Sales Tips for Early Stage B2B Startups

For the past 5 years I’ve been working with/and advising several (early stage) B2B startups and came across the same challenges. In this post I just want to share 9 basic tips (in random orders). Please also share your tips in the comments!

1 - Sell your vision, not your product

There is nothing more boring than a features-oriented sales pitch. Just stick to the Lean startup basics and remember that your MVP is just your interpretation of your vision. At the end of the day, your clients will help you to shape your product while you are lifting up your vision. Simon Sinek puts it well in 1 sentence in his TED talk: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

2 - Always set low expectations

This point is critical if you don’t want to deal with unhappy clients and eventually, spend most of your time doing support — simply because you wanted to close leads without setting the right expectations upfront. If you’re a B2B SaaS startup, you most likely offer a free trial or a pilot project before they’re ready to buy into your vision with a yearly contract. There’s one big “but” here, though: the Free Trial or Pilot extra step is actually increasing your sales cycle and can become very distracting if you don’t set the right goals upfront. Bottom line, even if your clients buy your vision, remember that they still expect to achieve results with your product. By setting low expectations, you’re giving yourself more wiggle room to reach and exceed them. If you are unable to reach the expectations they have, then update your CRM accordingly (prior to the trial/pilot) and ensure you hit them once your product has evolved.

3 - Don’t forget to shut-up

Here we are, you finally succeeded to reach a potential client and have this amazing opportunity to talk about your vision. Everyone loves to talk about themselves, and so do you… But guess what, most probably your clients like it too. Start with a very simple, yet challenging exercise and try to pitch your vision in 7 words or less. Remember that the aim of your elevator pitch is to make your prospect curious. Afterwards, you should have a list of qualifying and discovery questions to immediately determine if your client matches your Ideal Customer Profile (see this ICP template with eg. here). Once you understand better what your client’s KPIs are, your questions should be challenging and pain-oriented to place your product as the painkiller.

4 — Never down-sell competition

Competition is great. It confirms that your idea wasn’t so ludicrous after all and that there is a market for your vision. Competition will also put pressure on the product team to always be open to client feedback and constantly innovate with new features. However, I see many startup founders and sales people becoming very emotional once we start talking about competition. Just keep in mind that your client might already have a trustworthy relationship or have a good opinion about your competitors. By trying to down-sell them, the only message you communicate is fear. I remember when I was working at Trustpilot, 50% of our inbound leads used to come in right after talking to one of our competitors, who was constantly down-selling us. We were very good at closing those leads.

5 — You don’t need a marketing budget

I hear this one too often: “Sales are not picking up as we don’t have any marketing budget”. Excuse my French, but this is a very lame, full of sh*@! excuse. When you are an early stage startup, your main goal is to get a product-market fit. The only budget you should have is for VOIP phone service provider and be on the phone (at least) 50% of your time — talking to prospects and clients. There is no gratitude in outbound sales; it’s tough and very time-consuming, but there is no other way to get the feedback you need from your potential clients.

6 — It’s (very) OK to copy others

Seriously, I think our generation is blessed. Our job is a ton easier since we have the Internet. You don’t need to spend countless hours designing a landing page or a pricing page, as you have plenty of examples and templates available out there. And let’s be honest,most of your visits are from your team and your Mum anyway. You can also follow plenty of rock-star blogs (Yesware, Datanize, close.io, Nick Persico, Predictable Revenue) that share great tips and cold email templates, which you can tweak for your email outreach campaigns and follow-ups. So, please, use and abuse all of these resources.

7 — Get ready for your new job

This point can be a rather sensitive spot for many startup founders and early stage sales employees. The truth is, you did an amazing job when the company needed to get the first clients on-board and confirm the product-market fit, etc. Now you need to setup commission plan based on sales targets and hire/manage sales reps who can work with the support team and, whether you like it or not, this is a completely new story. You (or the sales guy in your team) need to be ready to step-up at any moment to make sure you constantly have the best talent in your team!

8 — Understand your sales funnel

All too often startups work very hard but forget to measure what they do. So, when you ask the founders how they did what they did, they typically say something along the lines of: “We worked very hard and then something happened”. And when asked if they know how to repeat their success, they most commonly say they are going to work very hard again. There is nothing wrong with working hard; but in order to be able to to repeat your success, you need to understand your sales funnel and have as many data points from your ICP in the CRM as possible. So when you do your sales report and look at the bottom of the funnel, you can see what type of clients are moving down and add more of these leads to the top of the funnel!

9 — Systemize repeatable tasks

The rule is simple — if you do something more than twice, systemize it. For example, as soon as you start moving your leads down in the sales funnel, you will need a call summary, different offers and follow-up emails. You can create templates for all of them and systemize these steps. I highly recommend to use tools like Yesware for this, as you can also measure the reply rate and share those templates with your team.