“But we can’t afford Gartner and steak dinners.” Prospecting as a tech startup
“But we can’t afford Gartner and steak dinners,” a tech startup founder said to me at one of our Increase Sales (Fast) as a Startup workshops.
If you’re a startup, you need to think differently about how you prospect and sell. This is especially true if you are from a corporate technology background and always think about tradeshows with a five-figure price tag attached, or briefing industry analysts by being a client, or are accustomed to an internal prospecting team or a far-reaching field sales team.
If you are used to corporate marketing — and the large corporate marketing budgets that go along with it — as a startup, you’re going to have to switch gears.
Some examples of what this looks like in various sales and prospecting activities:
– Focus. Every business needs to focus on relevant prospects. As a startup you don’t have the time, resources or budget to waste. You need to be laser-focused on the right prospect — be unwaveringly specific.
– Be clear on what you sell. Again, you don’t have the resources to spread yourself or your team thin here, or to dilute your message. Be clear on what you’re selling so you can build up a base of customers you can reference, gather speed and then expand into other markets and add other products or services.
– Invest in a CRM or SRM. You may not have the budget or need for heavyweight software such as Salesforce or Marketo, but it’s important to get away from spreadsheets and store prospect and customer information in a structured system as early as possible so you can start when you have fewer details to capture and you can have a more organized marketing approach. Short of budget? We’re fans of Pipedrive for straightforward sales tracking.
– Pay for an email marketing system. Email marketing can seem cumbersome, but it’s useful to set up some basic sequences based on your sales process (see “Map out your sales process” below). Cost-effective email systems include Zoho, MailChimp, AWeber and Infusionsoft.
– Host events. Without a budget and resources, events can seem overwhelming or out of reach (take the “Gartner over steak dinners” comment, for example). But events can be a quick, cost-effective way to meet prospects and have sales conversations. With limited resources, it’s important to be specific, focused and to think on the scale that works for you. Whether it’s on-site lunch and learns, workshops, small-group strategy sessions, education sessions or CxO roundtables — there’s a range of options that won’t drain your budget or your team and work well for even the smallest startup. As well as holding your own events, look at other people’s events and where you can attend, sponsor, or add value.
– Asking for references and referrals. A good reference and referral process benefits any technology company, yet is frequently misunderstood to be the bastion of larger vendors. Set up a simple process to ask for references, and be specific about what this looks like and how your customers can support you.
– Don’t discount industry analysts. It’s in an industry analyst’s interest to know what’s happening in their specific area of industry and market. Track relevant analysts, create a document with their background, contact details and anything you can find out about them — then approach them and request to brief them so they know your company, products, capabilities and vision and can reference or refer you to technology purchasers. Meanwhile, ensure you have an analyst presentation which is no more than a dozen slides sharing your vision, experience, direction and ability to execute on that vision.
– Engage with relevant press. You may not have a PR team or agency, but you can still approach the press. It’s important to be focused and to have conversations. You can secure press coverage through news pitching and scheduled editorial opportunities. But do your research: don’t send buckets of random emails to any press without knowing who they are and what they are interested in.
– Know how to sell your own products, services or technologies before you hire someone else to do it. This is something that I feel strongly about; it’s key that as a founder you know how to share your vision, have conversations about your product or service, help prospects to overcome objections, and close sales. When you know how best to do this, then you can hire someone to help you build on that, reach new goals and run your sales.
– Take control of your schedule. As a start-up team, there are so many ways your time is pulled that owning your schedule and setting time aside for sales is a priority. I’m a huge fan of time blocking — whether you use Gmail, Outlook, a day planner — schedule in sales time and commit to it.
– Map out your sales process. This is important, whether you have a product that costs $50 and a two-step sales process or a six- or even seven-figure average sales price with a few dozen steps to close. Think about your ideal sales process and what it looks like and map it out. Not spending time on this means that you are just shooting from the hip in prospecting and sales.
Finally, you need to think differently. Understand that as a startup you are nimble and you can still execute on prospecting, marketing and sales tactics that work for larger vendors — you just need to think laterally and execute them in a different way.
Want some specific advice for your startup? Schedule a free startup strategy call to ask questions about your business and get ideas to help you gain visibility, leads and customers.