Friday, June 21, 2013

Show Up and Throw Up: Discovery process killers..

Most sales teams have a listening problem. And boy do they love to tell the prospect all the details about their product. That approach seldom works... Here's my recommendation for the discovery process do's and don'ts.. and the killers!!

Discovery process killers: For your discovery session to be successful, you have to take care of these things proactively.

  1. Team mates who can't shut up.The experts on your team who want to prove themselves. Make a deal with them, they will only talk in reference to a related client problem we have solved. No deep end technology of solutions discussions, please! 
  2. Develop and agree upon the "shut up" signal. This is critical rule; It should be well publicized to the sales team, that non adherence to the rule should have disastrous consequences. My rule is, I want my team mates to look at me once each minute to get my clues. 
  3. Jumping to conclusions; Don't assume The process could take several sessions. It could take  months across several client players, if you include ROI in the process.
  4. Have umbrella questions ready: Every time we get a point in meeting when there's uncomfortable moment. Have some umbrella questions. 2-3 of them. For example, "can you give me another example". OR "You mentioned earlier this thing, can you help me understand a little more". If nothing else, ask the killer sales questions. 

Have a focus to understand the business: See the discovery process as a science project. Get their facts clear.. Make sure you can articulate, Why would they buy from me? Focus on "why buy at all" and more importantly "why now"? Reaffirm your thoughts with the client..

Avoid product talk as much as possible: Because once you start with your product talk you are in selling mode.. Can't do that too early... The client's mental door shuts down, or the perspective changes significantly after that. Also if the client brings up "Tell me what your product does" too early, have a way to get out of that quickly. You could say things like.. Before I make recommendation. , I need to understand business problems a little more.

Carefully answer the "tell me a little about your company" question: Another key aspect of opening is when they ask "tell me  little about your company". Tell them a value proposition related to their industry, like for example I'd say for my current product... "We are a consumer predictive analytics company that helps healthcare companies like yours, better market health plans to their existing and prospective members, leading to higher member satisfaction and reduced churn. Our founders were the core team for Yahoo!'s analytics products and they identified a need for enterprises to want to provide it's consumers a similar buying experience as that what Yahoo! did for millions of users. Hence they started InsightsOne". Versus "We are a big data predictive analytics silicon valley startup providing targeting, recommendations and churn predictions for enterprises". Focus on why you do what you, and the uniqueness in the how, versus company profile which can potentially distract the client with biases. Then quickly get back to discovery. 

Be prepared to sell them on value of investing time in the discovery: That shows you are unique. Selling why they should invest time with you. Paint them a vision of how you walked a client through the process and the end outcome. Ask with the problem areas identified at other clients, if they have similar situation.

Happy Selling :-) 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Shake them up; before you say "I do"

Hiring the right sales person with acumen is critically important to a startup. There's a lot at stake and you need to be prepared to handle them when they come onboard.. For more on the significance and the preparation, read my other blog article on the subject of making your first sales hire.

It's important to have a frame of reference when technical founders interview sales reps. Here are my top-10 in no particular order..
  1. Prod their past Ask them about their childhood.. bumps in their career; how they recovered, where they grew up, how did they handle adversities and failure in the early defining stages of life. You want your sales rep to be a true hustler.
  2. Rile them up; challenge them, throw something new at them, like a puzzle. See how well they take to unchartered waters, rejection.
  3. Reject them: Tell them in the interview you don't think they'd make a good fit for what ever reason. See how they handle that; a good sales rep should roll with the punches and recover quickly.
  4. Observe their inter personal skills. Do they take interest in your life? would you want to meet this person over a drink? 
  5. How entertaining, well read is the rep? You don't want a comedian, but an aggressive shark without a funny streak or a well read perspective is of little use.
  6. Is he a closer: Did the rep ask direct questions on your thoughts on their prospects; did it sound offending, how well did they handle objections, did they manage to keep the door open to come back in.. see how balanced they stood on aggression and compassion.
  7. What kind of sports does he play? Does he/she sharpen his competitive edge each day.. Being physically very fit is a very important part of the job so as to pounce on the sale opportunity as and when it presents itself.
  8. Change the environment: Take the rep for a walk. See how they react to a new environment. 
  9. Test their extempore skills. Ask them to present an idea using a white board. 
  10. Make them wait before you start the interview.. observe what they do when left alone. 

Put that coffee down; customer conferences are for closers..

Customer conferences are great launch pads for young companies. That's where prospects are most relaxed, open to newer ideas and with giving advice. Yet few sales teams land quality leads at conferences. It's perhaps the lack of event ownership (marketing calls the shots) that leads to the typical shotgun sales approach. Sales can do better. If they choose to "co-own" the event and assume accountability.
To maximize your chance of getting quality leads, sales has to start by selecting the right team on the floor. The common trait needed in each member on your team is ..

  1. Aggression, devising unique ways to finding true prospects 
  2. Focus at forging a common bonding style with prospects and 
  3. Most importantly, at securing the follow on meeting at the conference or in person at prospect's office.
Note: Being well dressed, confident, and good looks are table stakes.

Pre-planning: You should start planning ~2-months in advance. By the time your team gets to the conference, you all should have the prospect hit list (memorized) by names, titles, backgrounds etc. Ideally, your team would have reached out to the hit list with targeted pitches and invites.

  • Use the attendee list: To gauge the audience types, identify your target sales plays and marketing campaigns that appeal to the select audiences. Contact the attendees, invite to pre conference webinars, surveys. If you don't have the current year, use last year's list.   

Throw a private party: Most important part of a conference! Sponsor a private party in the evening. Have a theme that relates to your solution; hand deliver the invitation; use personalized videos; use pretty faces to deliver the note; make sure prospects can't say no. A partner last year held their party off the conference on a boat, called in a standup comedian and had a reference customer give a sales talk on their experiences.
Invite the prospects through all possible channels; 1:1 meeting, snail mail, emails and phone call campaigns. When they call back, qualify the prospect. The goal is to filter out the A-list of prospects, ones you'd want to have your CEO, CTO invest time with at the party.

The hook; when show time is ON: You'd have a client's attention only if you solve their immediate needs. Time matters, so stand in strategic places in your booth; from where it's easy to read names on badges. Make sure prospects can easily spot exciting goodies first (raffles, alcohol, food, water, golf balls etc ) so they are drawn in.. As they review your marketing banners,  quickly decide if further intervention is warranted. Greet prospects by their name. And if the name rings a bell on the prospect hit list, immediately start the conversation. Hand them the party invite.
Never let a prospect leave without an agreement for the next meeting.. Simple things you should get is their cell number, and a quick connect on LinkedIn via the mobile app. Then do the soft talk.. Get their purpose for attending, what they like this year about conference, relevance to your offering and most important .. something personal.. what about life makes them sizzle.. Notice there's little product talk at this point.. Let's save that for the party session in the evening or next week in their office.

Use a speaking engagement to meet prospects: Nothing builds credibility, sells better at conferences like a team member do a speaking gig. Have a catchy title, send invites to potential prospects to attend session, solicit their feedback, connect with them after the session to plan next steps. Make your prospects feel they matter. It helps build trust. I hardly see reps going around the conference room introducing themselves, getting to know attendees and their interests in attending your session. Give the attendees goodies at the session; it helps ease the process of breaking the ice.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dare to build a sales team at a startup??

Dear Startup CEO:
If I were creating a field sales organization for my own company, I'd plan the sales strategy knowing the following:
  1. The stakes are significantly higher that a usual technical hire.. The cost of failure is significant at both ends. To some on your dev team or to your VCs, a sales person's success, could be a litmus test indicator if the company will succeed or not.. 
  2. Hire for sales structure, process and NOT the rolodex: Most reps have good contacts and that's a given. But that's not what will close your sale. Hire your founding sales team to create repetitive sales processes, to shorten sales cycles, create synergies with marketing campaigns, to establish sales models that require minimal involvement from precious dev resources to close.
  3. Plan for special needs: Outbound field sales teams have different needs so treat them as such. Their needs are certainly unique from what I suspect you have seen on your current team of marketeers, inbound, inside sales team members. Their motivations, apprehensions are very different from sales wannabe co-founders who've never carried a bag. They (field sales) are like sharks who can cover ground quickly if you can keep up with them.. but they also get tired and de-motivated as easily. They need a path to quickly and meticulously work through their designated territory. Your first sales hire should ideally have a plan for the processes, the tools and has to have this done before the sharks are hired. They need help with 
    1. Resources (comprehensive sales plays, email templates, elevator pitch, competitive analysis), 
    2. Operational metrics discipline (cold calling, research processes)
    3. Accountability (cadence call frameworks like SCOTSMAN). 
  4. Plan for our success or not: Startup sales is freaking hard.. The rolodex is a starting point but can't get you a close.. The career highs are amazing yet few! The lows are many and they can last long.. they can crush sales morale.. So you have to plan for success and (sadly) for failure too.. For the latter have a plan for 25-50% attrition each year.. to get the team to hit the ground running in under 30-days. 
  5. Avoid a shotgun sales strategy aka a generic sales pitch for all industries. Rather tailor the pitch for select verticals and particular use cases. Preferably ones with beachhead synergies to what solution has worked well so far..  Do so by doing the following. 
    1. Identify repeat sales patterns from your current customer base
    2. A barney B2B partnership sales relationship or one with Friends of Management (FOM) is great for a reference client rolodex but is rarely a repeatable deal model
    3. Create a heat map.. Have an A, B an C-list of companies to target in select industries, regions 
    4. Articulate the $$$ impact of the status quo  
    5. the ROI value of a potential Kinvey solution 
  6. Sell the sales person on your product.. With succinct examples, articulate a clear Compelling Reason to Act (CRA) and Why YOU and why not a competitor? What's the cost of non action? a.k.a Startup value proposition? What is the next best alternative to your story? Would someone loose their jobs for choosing the alternative? Those are the killer use cases. Identifying this stuff is not easy, I get it. You'd have to drill deep and be honest. Try selling the solution to the new sales hire prospect. See if he'd bet his new born on the sale? If he doesn't, then do the drill jointly... Ask for his help to come up with the winning model. But don't hire unless they are truly passionate about making the sale.. If the sales guy is skeptical and is raising objections/questions , that is a good thing. Take his perspective seriously and hear them out.. They are playing devil's advocate.. Sales is a team play. There's no one right perspective.
  7. Have a pragmatic pricing model: It can't be I'll take what I can get. To get the large 7-figure deals, you'd have to license differently like ELAs, ACVs deals. Even with that, it's important to identify the value based pricing model. At what price do you walk from a deal? I've created many (good and bad) such OPEX heavy models before so I can give you guidance on the same. 
  8. Double down on the larger sales strategy: To make the above model sticky with newer customers, you'd need at least a couple customers, and a proven execution model before a sales team can succeed on a repeat sales model. Your inside sales pitch, marketing collateral and campaign planning have to all reflect a plan for such deals. 
  9. Keep the comp plan simple, generous yet aggressive: It's possible to hit a balance here. Nothing motivates sales more than hard $$$ incentives. On the same lines, there's no bigger put-off  than a complex plan with inherent gotchas. 
I can go on and on but I'll stop now.. If you like this and want to now more.. it's best to drop me a line at