IEOR 190A Lecture 12: Getting sales for your startup

Today, our guest lecturer, R. Paul Singh, talked about how to find customers for a product. Many startups undervalue the importance of sales during the early stages of their existence, assuming that enough individuals will seek out their product to develop an initial customer base. However, developing an outbound sales process is as crucial to a company’s wellbeing as is developing the product itself; companies can’t assume that customers will independently show up at their doorstep with money in hand. In the early stages of a startup, sales is everyone’s job. In fact, even past these stages, it’s still ultimately management’s job to handle the sales process. Anyone in a company should have the adequate tools to pitch their product , whether it’s a CEO or an engineer.

Singh described the outbound sales process as having four levels:

Find Suspects > Qualification Wall > Discern Prospects > Follow-up Wall > Get Customers > Love Wall > Successful Sale.

The first step of the outbound sales process is finding customers. This can be done in a number of ways.

  1. Look through your own address book / social network
  2. Look through your potential customers’ social networks (Quora, Facebook ads, LinkedIn groups, Twitter)
  3. Get out of the office (Go to Trade Shows, conferences, and meetups)
  4. In-bound marketing

Once you have found potential suspects, the next step is to convert them into prospects by engaging with them. Securing a first meeting is an important part of this step. If your first method of contact is an email, make sure to include a meaningful and thoughtful subject — the suspect will be more likely to open the email. Furthermore, a focused body will elicit a better response. To do this, put yourself in the customer’s shoes and keep the content short and focus on one item at a time with the intention of setting up a meeting.

When in a meeting, keep track of the customer’s body language; this is one thing that is lost during online meetings, so try to arrange your first meeting in person. The first meeting is where you’re selling your idea, so know what it is inside and out. Don’t rely on a powerpoint to teleprompt you through your presentation. Slides are the least important part of your presentation, and should have minimal content so that the focus is on you and your message, not the screen.

The follow-up wall is where most people get hung up; The average person gives up after sending one follow-up email, but it can take up to seven emails to successfully follow-up on a meeting. A proper salesperson will never give up, doing whatever it takes to follow up.

Finally, the love wall is what seals the sales deal. Love is something that should be built into the product; the customer should feel welcomed with on-time and easy to access support. The customer’s love and appreciation for your product is something that cannot be bought; it must be built and nurtured. Love, will ultimately make or break your product. Products that are “liked” by all, but not loved, will fail because they will fail to accrue a loyal customer base to sustain their business.