Within moments of meeting you, people are forming an impression. We can’t seem to help ourselves. So what, exactly, are we weighing? Things like intelligence, trustworthiness, dominance, success, and competence. We do the same thing when it comes to giving our business to a company, and for most startups, the sales process is very much about first impressions.
That’s why it’s so important to define a sales process that best fits you and your company. Whether you’re selling direct to consumers to working with other businesses, don’t forget that your sales efforts may be the very first time someone has direct contact with your organization. You want to build an individual relationship with your potential clients while taking the time to establish credibility, expertise, and most importantly, a clear understanding of what the customer needs.
Let’s assume you have an amazing product or service. But if no one knows about it, things can get tricky fast. Time after time, we’ve seen startups make this common mistake. They have something customers would buy, but they lack a sales plan, a process, and a methodology to help close the deal. Without this framework, it’s difficult to spread the word about your business.
So when we say plan, process, and methodology, what does that mean in practice?
Start With a Plan
The foundation of your sales plan needs to focus on time. In the beginning, you may feel like you need to sell to everyone to get traction. But as the leads start to come in, they can overwhelm you. Your plan needs to help you manage those leads effectively and keep you and your team focused on the leads that show the most promise.
Understand Your Process
Then it’s time to look at your sales process. Many times, people confuse process with methodology. For this discussion, think of a process as how a salesperson advances an opportunity from and unqualified lead to a close to a post-sale relationship.To better define this journey, think through some basic questions:
- What do want as the end result? Don’t get stuck on that first contact. Work your way through to the desired outcome. For many organizations, the big one will be loyal customers who keep coming back. You can include others end goals in this process, too, like getting an email address or closing a single sale. Whatever the end result, start from where you want to go and work backwards to identify different steps along the way.
- How will they find you? You have a target and an idea of how you’ll connect (e.g., online, in person). Now you need to figure out how to engage and start the conversation. At this moment, you’re sitting at the top of the funnel. One of two things tends to happen: (1) potential customers know they have a problem and are looking for a solution; or (2) the potential customer has no idea they have a problem and they aren’t looking for a solution. In both cases, you need to make an effort to educate both types of customers to create a potential connection.
- Where are you sending them? You can engage, engage, and engage some more. But if you don’t have a place to send people for more information, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. Know exactly where you want people to go after their first, second, and third contact. Maybe it’s to your website. Maybe it’s to talk to your team’s technical expert. Pick the next step in the sales channel that’s right for your lead.
- How can you simplify the funnel? Try to avoid getting stuck in a marketing/sales loop.Diagram out all of the possible sales channels and test how people go through each process. Then, ask for feedback. What was the experience like? Where were the hang ups? Did you want to buy at all? If not, why? What questions do you still have? Use the data from this feedback to help you refine your process and ensure that once people enter the funnel, they’re having a meaningful experience.
- How do you continue the experience? The process doesn’t end because the sale happened. Once someone raises a hand and becomes a customer for the first time, your sales process needs to follow through. How will you keep that customer engaged both now and into the future.
Get Clear On Your Methodology
After you have a plan and a process, it’s helpful to identify methods for meeting your goals. In The Startup Equation, we focused on Mark Suster’s PUCCKA methodology. An investment partner at Upfront Ventures, Mark wanted to create a common sales language for his teams. So what does PUCCKA stand for?
- Pain: Identify the business problem of a prospect and gain acceptance that there’s a need for a solution to the pain.
- Unique Selling Proposition: What unique solution does your product or service provide?
- Compelling Event: Answers the question of, “Why buy now?” What will encourage your prospect to make a decision immediately?
- Champion: Who will drive through the approval for your product or company. You need to identify the person who take a risk on you and has the authority to see the project to completion.
- Key Players: Who are the members of your team? This includes technical experts, sponsors, and even the people who are against you. The most telling sign of an inexperienced salesperson is that meet with only one person in the organization. Those solitary relationships rarely lead to new business.
- Aligned Purchasing Process: Is your potential customer ready to buy when you’re ready to sell?
Over time, you’ll refine, add to, and subtract from your sales plan, process, and methodology. You’ll move back and forth between online methods, a sales team, or a mixture of both. Whatever the combination, treat your sales efforts as a living, breathing thing that will help you build and sustain your business in the long term. And don’t ever forget that the first time you meet with a prospect may be your last if you don’t take steps to ensure a fantastic first impression.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn on April 12, 2016. To learn more about the ins and outs of setting up your plan, process and methodology, check out The Startup Equation by Steve Fisher & Ja-Nae Duane.