Sales can be hard, but building a proper sales process for your start-up can make it a lot easier.
As the solo founder of my company, CodeSpeak Labs, I used to do all the sales and business development, just hustling from one conversation to another and sometimes taking notes along the way.
As the company doubled in size over the course of last year, I realized that this wasn’t sustainable, and I reached out to the awesome coaches in the 4.0 Schools network to get their guidance on how to systematize the process, make it more efficient and effective, and enable me to onboard others to help out.
From those conversations emerged this list of things that you need to do to build your sales process, including a concrete initial baby step. Some are deliverables that you just need to do, some are habits you need to form, and some are both. A lot aren’t fun to do, so it helps if you have some sort of Accountability Partner and/or deadline to keep you on task.
1. Target customer profile → Write a list of 5 potential new customers.
This task gets you to do something you can immediately follow-up on as well as gets you to reflect big picture on the type of customer you want.
Profiles can change over time. For instance, as a new edtech company, your target customer might be schools that are not already subscribed to your competitor — you might not be ready to compete head-to-head. But over time, once you’re convinced your product is superior, these customers who are subscribed to competitors may become the new target customer, since they have already made space for this type of product in their budget.
CodeSpeak Labs’ target customers are school administrators who broadly understand what coding is and know it’s important for students to learn, but don’t have the staff with the knowledge/skills to do it in-house, that’s why they bring in our people and resources. Tell-tale signs of potential target schools are ones whose websites include info about their Innovation Lab or one-to-one Chromebooks on their websites — this shows they understand technology is important for 21st Century Learning. A sign that a school is not a good fit is if their staff list has a full-time CS teacher already — they likely don’t need us.
2. CRM system→ Input the 10 potential new customers and your current conversations along your sales funnel. Extra credit: Defined next step for each.
CRM stands for “customer relationship management”; a CRM system is something that stores all your data on leads, deals, etc. As a solo founder, I was using a Google spreadsheet, sort of. Reality was more like I was relying on my memory and searches through my email.
It’s really obvious that as you have more leads and customers, you need to organize that data, but most people hate setting it up. JUST DO IT.
Ryan Hoch of Overgrad runs a tight sales ship. He told me about the CRM software Pipedrive, which costs $12 per user per month. It’s super easy to use and centers around a dashboard that matches your sales funnel exactly. You can very quickly see what your next steps are and how your overall pipeline is looking. Salesforce is the big player in the space, but there’s a ton of extra functionality that many start-ups don’t really need and a steeper learning curve to make it usable.
In your CRM system, your funnel might include things like cold contact, phone calls, in-person meeting, and proposal submitted.
Half the work is setting it up. The other half is developing a habit of actually updating it after meetings, etc. Pipedrive helps with that by automatically tying emails with leads to the relevant deal). A spreadsheet can work, but it requires extra discipline to keep it organized and updated.
3. Pricing Sheet → Make it and bring it to your next meeting.
One of the first things Amy Vreeland of TrueSchool Studio asked me was, “So how much does your product cost?” When I said, “It depends..” and went off on a really long run-on explaining different scenarios, she quickly stopped me and told me to write down a one-page pricing sheet.
My pricing sheet now has 4 different service options and an explanation of the bulk purchase discount rate, so while the price still depends on what the customer wants, there’s a clear starting point for the conversation.
4. Content marketing → Write 1 evergreen blog post.
Lloyd Nimetz of Uni Prep discussed the pros and cons of content marketing with me. He noted he thinks it’s “not a priority but something that should be done. It gives you the reputation of being a thought leader, as you slowly build community and content. You shouldn’t expect it to lead to direct results and it’s time consuming, but I do think it pays off. If you didn’t do it, it wouldn’t make or break the business, so cut it off if it’s distracting you.”
I have found that when I go into meetings, a lot of potential customers will have taken a look at my website and skimmed my blog, so I recommend having at least a few evergreen blog posts up there.
The two most popular and easy topics are Origin Story — the story of how and why you started your venture — and Ultimate Guide to X — an explanation about a topic that’s your company’s area of expertise. People love origin stories because they’re great human interest stories and help get people rooting for you and your mission. (After Origin Story, Day-in-the-Life posts are also popular). People also like reading Ultimate Guides because they give concrete steps to people who are interested in the topic, and it establishes your credibility in your area.
5. Expanding your sales channels → Pick 3 channels you’re going to test in the next quarter.
Eric Nelson of FANSchool shared this blog post covering “19 Channels You Can Use to Get Traction”. His “most successful bootstrapping strategy has been figuring out our top 3 distribution channels (email, social media, social studies conferences for us).”
For CodeSpeak Labs, we’re aiming to expand our sales channels for our newest initiative: children’s books and activity kits. We’re currently experimenting with other platforms — for example, you can buy one of our PreK-level books on Amazon (Learn to code: Robot Train’s Surprise Birthday Party) and we raised $25K on Kickstarter this summer for How to Turn Your Grown-Up into a Robot and Other Coding Stories, our hardcover book with 3 stories that range in complexity for kids 3–8.
Our next tests will be partnering with other platforms — some of them smaller but with very targeted audiences — as the distribution channels. For example, we’re partnering with Lock Paper Scissors, a platform for DIY Escape Room Kids, which sells our a “Hack the Room” kit that anyone can buy to use in their class or kids party.
We also just launched an “Hour of Code” resource portal, after being approved by Code.org and CSEdWeek as a recommended resources.
I focused this post mostly on specific, tangible tasks you need to do. I didn’t cover the critical piece of how you actually communicate with potential customers. Nimetz defined the core of this as “Mastering Objections: writing down and validating the most common customer objections (that blocks a sale) and having clear and compelling answer for all of them.” While this topic is deserving of a whole post of it’s own, I wanted to share his highlights here to help you to start thinking about it:
The 4 No’s to Overcome When Selling
1) No need: Tell them what they get. Is the value proposition compelling?
2) No help: Tell them what you do. Is it clear how it works?
3) No trust: Convince them you’re legit, reliable and better than the competition.
4) No hurry: Have a call to action that they can say yes to immediately to move the sale forward. i.e., If it’s a big sale, start with something that’s smaller like a free trial, a follow up meeting, etc.
That’s it! Good luck and go get started!