5 sales mistakes to avoid as an early-stage B2B startup

“Success is failure turned inside out.”

– Anne Herbert, author of “Success and Failure: A Book about Facing the Facts”

Steve Blank, a retired serial entrepreneur and now Silicon Valley marketing professor, used to tell startup founders in his entrepreneurship classes that they will fail many times before having any measure of success. That he learned in a conversation with Tandem Computer founder James Trey big whose company had an 80-90% failure rate when trying to bring their computer systems to market [1].

Itn my career as a SaaS salesperson I have been part of teams that have had both great success and great failures. In hindsight it seems obvious why we succeeded in some cases and failed miserably in others. this post I will look at 5 mistakes to avoid when starting out in the early stages of building your startup.

Not having a process for qualified lead generation

Whether you are just getting started or have been working on your product long enough that you need to invest in go-to-market activities, it is crucial that you have a way of generating leads that are likely to become customers before you begin any outreach efforts. Clearly define what problem your product solves and identify the type of companies who would benefit most from using it.

This information can be obtained through searching Google with keywords relevant to what problem your product aims to solve, talking with potential customers currently using similar products or conducting surveys asking them about their challenges and how they would rate their current situation in comparison with potential alternatives.

Once you know what problem you are solving and who your customers are, there is a set of characteristics that companies will need to have for them to be eligible leads:

A budget large enough to justify the cost of your product; A decision maker who can sign off on the purchase; A person in charge of making the buying decision at their company; The level of urgency or importance your product solves for them is high enough that they will consider (and hopefully implement) it.

Not having an effective way to reach out and engage with prospects

Now that you have defined what kind of companies should be engaging with your solution, go ahead and create a list of all possible contact methods (email, phone, social media) and the best way to contact each company you compiled during your research. You might reach out via email to start a conversation with some of them, others may only answer the phone while some prefer not to receive unsolicited calls.

A lack of email tracking best practices and follow-up

I have seen many startups like eWorldtrade use one generic template when reaching out for the first time, either by email or phone. Not considering that there are different people at companies who handle sales requests depending on their level within the organization is a mistake I’ve seen often in early stage startup email outreach efforts.  Understanding how decision makers operate will help move conversations forward faster since they know what information prospects need before making a buying decision.

In my experience, prospects respond better to personalized emails that mention a previous conversation or a shared connection. When reaching out for the first time it is usually a good idea to propose a quick call instead of trying to have a detailed email exchange before knowing whether there might be potential for working together.

Scheduling meetings with several different people at the same company you are targeting will increase your chances of not getting lost in communication as opposed to focusing on one specific person who can make or break your deal. Remember, if they only need their boss’ approval and never get back to you, you will not be able to close any deal no matter how many times you reach out.

The story doesn’t end after the demo

Your potential customer is either ready to move forward or not and receiving a “no” can be disappointing. However, when you end a conversation with a prospect that has been in the pipeline for weeks or months without any outcome, it usually means that something went wrong despite all efforts deployed up until this point.

In most cases when companies tell you they are still considering your solution but no decision has been made yet, it is because they have found out about a competitor who offers a similar product at a lower cost.

Either the salesperson representing your company did not mention pricing in their last email/phone call/in-person meeting with them or there was confusion around which product team within the organization is going to make the buying decision.

Another possible reason is that they are unhappy with the capabilities or characteristics of your product. They may not realize you can adapt it to their needs but instead think it doesn’t solve their problem entirely.

Whatever reason there is behind a stalled prospect, remember to always ask for feedback on how the sales process went and what you can do better next time. You’ll be surprised by how much valuable information you will receive!

Not having an effective way to track progress

Saving everyone’s calendars in one single shared spreadsheet has worked pretty well for me so far. Having your pipeline synced across different devices makes it easy for teams to follow up even when they are not sitting at their desks.

I encourage people within my organization to mark a prospect as “happy” when a meeting has been confirmed and there is a clear next step to move forward. If a meeting ends without any feedback from the prospect, it means that nothing conclusive was discussed and the deal may be stalled.

In order for your team to stay focused on pipeline opportunities that are most likely going to turn into closed deals, I recommend you avoid following up too often with prospects who have not responded in a timely fashion. Sending an update email every 1-2 months is enough to show your commitment while still respecting their time and not being annoying.

Saving everyone’s calendars in one single shared spreadsheet has worked pretty well for me so far Click to Tweet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.