The Sales and Partnerships Playbook: Your Guide to Early Growth

Business development is one of the most elusive terms in the startup world. There’s always the technical co-founder, and the “other founder” that has to find a way to be good at marketing, accounting, fundraising and “biz dev.”

Founding teams always put a high price on technical co-founders, but being the non technical one is no walk in the park.

With all of the responsibility that you have to juggle in this role, sooner or later making sales and partnerships to grow the business will become a priority. Many even argue that as long as you can make sales, the rest of your business will fall into place.

So how do sales and partnerships tie into your role of business development?

To answer that, let’s first define the term “business development.”

In an article titled What, Exactly, Is Business Development by Scott Pollack, contributor to Forbes, defines it:

“Business development is the creation of long-term value for an organization from customers, markets, and relationships.”

This has become the widely accepted definition of business development - especially in startups.

Therefore, sales and partnerships will take up a large portion of your business development duties at your startup. Here’s how to get good at it.

Relationships Are Key

At the base of making sales and partnerships, is relationships with your prospects. The second someone hears about your company, your relationship starts.

What happens next, is up to you.

Your online presence is the most important tool to help you create and build relationships with prospects. Here is a list of some tools that you can use to your advantage to help you build better relationships with your potential clients and partners.

  • Content

  • Testimonials/Reviews

  • Personal Emails

  • Social Media

  • Newsletter

Using tools like these will not only help you to build better relationships with your prospects, but it will also maximize your chances of being found by your ideal prospects.

Sales

Getting Noticed and Generating Leads

Let’s focus on one of the best inbound tools for you to get noticed by your potential prospects - content.

As far as early sales go, you need to have leads. So we will cover generating leads briefly, because this will continue to fill up your sales funnel.

Investing in creating some great content can be one of the best moves that you make.

The key is not to make a large volume of content, but a smaller amount of really great content.

Content that will make influencers in your niche want to link to your content and refer you more customers.

Content that will make your visitors tweet it or share it on facebook.

Content that will make prospects that read it want to pick up the phone and call you to ask about your product.

Content that will get your potential customers to actually take action and sign up for your newsletter or explore your site further.

This article, titled “The Guide to Sales and Marketing for Technical Startup People” by Greg Skloot is not only a great example of premium content, but also outlines what it takes to create content that will be a useful inbound lead generation tool for you.

That’s the kind of content that you need to invest in. 1 piece of content like this is better than 10 pieces of generic content.

But if all of this is true, then why does so much content that companies produce still fall into the category of run of the mill 500 word articles?

It’s because creating great content is hard. It’s really hard, and it takes a lot of time. And most founders and teams aren’t willing to invest that much into a single piece of content.

This creates a formula for their content to be the exact opposite of the great piece of content described above. These generic pieces of content aren’t compelling, don’t inspire confidence to the reader, don’t get noticed by influencers, and definitely don’t encourage visitors to want to buy your product.

But this is good news for you, because you can use this to your advantage. Remember, in order to make sales, you need to stand out.

Do what everyone else isn’t/stand out

If you’ve read the previous blog post titled “Before You Create Your Product, Create Your Value Proposition” you’ll understand a basic and straightforward customer development technique which allows you to identify how your customer is currently solving the problem that your product solves.

Either way, if you’ve done some customer development properly, you’ll know the products and services that your potential customers use. If you differentiate yourself and show how your solution is better, then you are on the right track.

Now, you need to target the people that are currently using these solutions to convert them over to using your solution. If you have a compelling USP, then it shouldn’t be a problem for you. Some aspects of your USP can include:

  • A better price point than your customer’s current solution

  • Better features/more narrow focus to solve their problems

  • Better UX or time saving features

  • Better customer support

  • Your product gets better results than the competitors

This will all tie into your value proposition, which you can learn more about in "How to Have Your Customer Build Your Product for You"

Target Your Ideal Customer

After you’ve ensured that your product stands out from existing solutions in the field, you’ll want to make sure that you target your ideal customer. For early sales, your ideal customer will have these 2 qualities:

  • Currently pays for a solution to your problem

  • Is under satisfied with that product/your product is a better fit for them

These prospects will be the “low hanging fruit” so to speak. They are already paying for a solution, and need a better solution. They are most likely to be willing to pay for your product, as long as they are not locked into a contract with their current solution.

To reach them you can target promotions to reach communities where they are located. For instance, if your product targets a more specific segment of Salesforce’s CRM market, and your ideal customers already use Salesforce, you could take out PPC ads on search engines for their keywords or perhaps you could target the Salesforce community on Reddit. Or on Linkedin you could target business owners who use Salesforce.

At any rate, once you have your ideal customer in mind, you can start offering your unique solution to them through your content, outreach and marketing, which will ultimately lead to sales.

Be persistent

80% of sales are made after the 5th interaction with the customer.

Often, if you are tasked with generating sales for your startup, it will involve collecting leads, and then “selling” your product to them. Whether you choose to use content to collect your leads or not, if you find yourself having to make sales at a startup, you’ll find yourself sitting in front of a spreadsheet full of email addresses at some point. They are your leads.

Your job is to email them, call them, and continue making contact with them until they buy from you, or give you a hard no. Interestingly enough, this is also very similar to the not so well known dance that you have to do with investors to get funding.

Between 8-10% of salespeople make 80% of the sales, purely because they are willing to go the extra mile and relentlessly follow up with their prospects beyond the 5th interaction

Once again, if you’re willing to go beyond what most people are willing to do you can achieve better results with your prospects.

When All Else Fails, Go Back to the Basics

If you aren’t generating the quality leads that you need, go back to the basics of selling. Hit the pavement with some solid prospects in mind and cold call, email and build relationships with them. Don’t be afraid to reach into your network and ask for introductions to people that might be interested in your product.

In an article by Matthew Bellows, CEO of Yesware, he outlines 13 tactics that you can use to land customers for your startup. Use these tactics if your marketing is under performing, or you find your lead sources turning up dry.

Partnerships

Striking up successful partnerships can be extremely beneficial to your business. One valuable partnership can result in thousands of new customers for you or can become the one business relationship that will play a pivotal role in making your business succeed.

The process of striking up a partnership is very similar to that of making sales. It takes the same amount of persistence, but you just need to tailor your opportunity so that it makes perfect sense to whatever business you want to partner with.

Your number one priority when striking up a partnership should be to add unique value to your prospect company.

Here are a few steps that will help you make good partnerships.

When reaching out to a potential partner, it will really help your chances of getting a response if you see your situation from their perspective. Here are some ways to maximize your chances of getting responses from your partnership prospects.

Take very little time

Everyone is busy. When sending an email remember to keep it short and to the point. Too often founders get caught up in telling their life story, when in reality all you should be trying to do is open up a dialogue with your partnership prospect.

If you make your offer sound very intriguing and like it will solve their problem, less is more when sending your first outreach emails. Save your life story for when you get them on the phone.

Make it as easy as possible to deal with you

When dealing with a prospect, you’ll want to put as little effort as possible on their part. Whatever you can do, whether it be suggesting times to set up a call, providing a link to additional information, or making additional suggestions on how your companies could work together, the easier you are to deal with, the more likely you’ll be to create better partnerships.

Know Your Prospect

Tying in with the previous point, the more you know about how your prospect’s company the easier you’ll be able to suggest solutions that will work for them.

Do as much research as possible on their company and you’ll set yourself apart from all of the other requests that they are getting.

Create a great offer that will solve a problem for them

If you know your prospect, you should be able to identify some problems that they are facing. The bigger problem that you solve for them, the more they’ll be eager to work with you. As companies face more and more pressure to be resource efficient, they’ll consider allowing you to solve the problem for them.

Talk to a person, not to the company

To many, this may seem like a given. But still every day founders send out emails to companies without addressing the individual that they are talking to.

Follow up, Follow up, Follow up. Maintain your relationship

Just like with making sales, you are likely to not strike a partnership until after the 5th interaction. You need to develop your relationship with whoever you are dealing with at the company that you want to partner with.

Remember that above all else, your number 1 priority is to add unique value.

Iterate and Grow

Testing Your Process

Probably one of the most important aspects of the process of generating sales and partnerships is learning from your actions. Many salespeople, especially in startups, may start by getting underwhelming conversions.

This is a common and expected problem, which is why testing your process and getting feedback from your first customers is crucial. Winning your first sales and partnerships is a tough task, which is why as you continue, you need to tweak your process to make things easier for you in the future, and eventually scale.

This is why you should be testing different aspects of your sales pitch, whether it be your emails, presentations, price points, special offers etc. to see which variations work better. This will allow to you to become more efficient and increase your conversions as you grow.

Getting Feedback from Your Customer’s and Partner’s Perspective

By getting feedback from your customers and partners, you will be able to discover pain points as well as better ways to communicate with future prospects, which will ultimately make you better at selling.

Once you convert a lead to sale, you can begin to leverage this relationship to help you get more sales.

You can do this by surveying them to understand your customer better, which will have multiple benefits for your product, but will also help you sell better. You can also implement techniques such as referral programs that will help you turn your existing customers, into more customers.

Whatever you choose to do to leverage your first customers, make sure you don’t neglect to leverage your customer and partner relationships to help you get new ones.

Conclusion

Although there is plenty of content on the internet about what it takes to make a sale, rarely do I see a guide that helps you set up a sales system for your young company.

Whether you need to generate leads, get customer feedback, or actually close sales, you need a system that will work for you. Too often in startups is this process fragmented, and all of the moving parts of making sales (including marketing) end up working against each other. Hopefully, by reading this guide it has helped give you a better look at all that it takes to generate sales and partnerships in your startup.

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