The first years of a startup are the hardest, as it is make-or-break time.
In trying to sell a new tech idea, product, or service, many startups follow the classic path of building a sales team from day one — with salespeople, key performance indicators, quotas, commissions, conversion rates, and so on.
But if you're selling something unprecedented, the classic approach to sales won’t always work. You need salespeople who not only know how to sell but who have the vision, understanding, and knowledge of technology to make the case for something potential customers don't even know they need yet.
In short, what you need are actually those who know the company’s technology well to go out and sell.
The First Customers Are Actually Beta Customers
The most effective sales method is proving that your solution works for specific challenges.
Companies should therefore focus more on bringing real value to their customers and should focus less on the numbers. To do that, it’s essential to have these three components:
- A clear product-market fit.
- Solid key messages and clear value.
- Customer success stories.
This is especially true if you're a startup venturing into an area like software-as-a-service (SaaS). While your team may have mostly finished development on the first product iteration and can offer customers a full product, it remains to be seen if that product can properly meet your target customer’s needs and expectations.
Because early stage startups are often still developing and tweaking their product, your first customers are actually beta customers. And with their feedback on your minimum viable product you can monitor how they are using it.
Using questionnaires, feedback forms, and interviews you can gather feedback in an organized manner. Compiled data can then be examined in order to determine whether the solution being offered is meeting market needs — and what changes need to be made to ensure that it is, in fact, meeting those needs.
That’s where a sales team with people who know the company’s technology well come in. In order for this process to work properly, you need salespeople who understand the tech, have worked on it from its very inception and have the best grasp of how it can be used most successfully and effectively. These are people who not only have to convince customers that they will be better off with your product or service, but also that they will be doing the smart thing by becoming beta customers.
How to Build a Tech-Based Sales Team
Often those who best understand the tech, however, don't have the requisite sales skills. That’s why you need to mold team members into sales professionals. Those members who will be doing sales need to be trained in sales techniques — like how to identify a customer’s pain points, how to present the company's solution in different contexts, and how to apply the solution to customers from different backgrounds.
If you’re thinking this might slow your sales process down, consider this: It’s much more difficult to acquire technical knowledge than sales skills. All that’s missing at this point from your team are sales skills.
To provide those, companies can bring in a professional salesperson to run seminars or workshops, teaching team members the required skills. When those skills match the knowledge they have about their company's solutions and technology, the startup will have a far more effective sales force than if they had gone with the traditional sales route.
Ensuring clarity of purpose and messaging — including understanding the intricacies of the company's solution, why it is important, and how it works — will help techies-turned-salespeople convince potential customers.
A Sales Team That Thinks Like a Founder
Using a tech-based sales team has helped CYE understand how best to sell our product even after our initial sales. The original plan was to ramp up from founder-led sales to “regular” sales, but using members of staff who understood the technology as well as the founders did. After developing a method that worked, we realized that indeed the most effective form of sales for the technical service we were offering was this approach.
That means having in-depth meetings with customers about their needs, helping them thoroughly understand the advantages and disadvantages of their current systems versus what we offer. Our sales presentations, for instance, are actually security seminars, where we help potential customers arrive at a clear understanding of the value of our offering by providing in-depth information about our value proposition.
Sales, of course, are the lifeblood of any business, and for startups, developing an effective sales staff is second only to ensuring that the tech staff is able to build a winning product or service. It’s for that reason that startups hire professional sales teams.
The most effective sales team, however, may be right there among the tech staff itself — staff that understands what the technology can do for the people they are building it for, just as the founders of the company would.
By building a sales team that thinks like a founder, you can ensure that your customers not only get the products they need, but that they also get the confidence that comes with fully understanding what they are spending their money on, and why they need your product — now and in the future.