This is a real question and answer from Teaching Startup, where members (startup leaders) ask questions about building and growing their business, and the answers are published in a members-only newsletter so that all members can benefit.
Question: I am running [an industry] tech startup. The MVP was launched a little less than 2 months ago. However, to date, I have not been able to get even a single customer on board.
I have tried connecting with them, forwarding them a one-pager, sending a short video of app features, as well a brief description about the app. Still, no traction at all.
Would it be possible for you to guide me where I am going wrong? I am sure the solution I am providing is a requirement for customers because a competitor providing similar services is able to get good customers.
OK, your sales process isn’t working. Now what? Change it. Change anything and everything. There are a billion reasons why you don’t sell a product, and when it’s a new product, it’s a baby-step-and-learn process. There’s just no other way.
But there is a list of potential weak points that you, as a leader, can focus on, so you’re not wasting time running down dead-ends.
I’m going to throw three ideas out, based on what you’ve told me, and I want you to think about these ideas, maybe implement some changes, and then learn from those changes. It’s a matter of sticking with what works and building on it. It won’t happen overnight, so be prepared for that.
Review Your Product
Let’s talk about want vs. need.
A couple of times in my past, I stopped working with certain startups because we could never get a very cool product to go from the “customers want this” category to the all-important “customers need this “category. And that’s a death blow.
Make sure you understand why your customers need your product, especially compared to your competitor’s product, and that you’re selling on that need, not how cool your product is.
There are a couple of ways of determining the “need” in that sale.
Negative need: If you don’t use us, you’re screwed.
This one is tricky, and it seems like the most effective but it’s not my favorite. You basically have to convince the customer that what they’re doing today is ultimately going to become a problem for them.
Think of something like a home security system, the pitch is always about the break-in – the fear of the problem, as it were, and not the effectiveness of the solution.
It’s a brutal, aggressive sell, and you have to add a lot of nuance to do it right.
You’re selling the notion that all your customer’s competition is moving to this kind of model, and they’re going to be left behind. Maybe it’s revenue being left on the table, or savings they could be enjoying, or new business.
Since this is just putting a positive spin on “you’re screwed,” companies tend to choose this more often. The problem with this pitch is everyone indeed uses it and customers tend to tune it out.
Positive need: Create a new niche, not another option
This is what I usually recommend. You sell the notion that the world is changing and you’re selling a bridge to be the first to that new world. This is easily the most effective sell.
The drawback is, and this is why I parted with those startups I parted with, the product has to be able to live up to that pitch. A lot of new products can not, and that’s OK, but the killer is that a lot of those products never willand their founders don’t have the vision to be anything more than a cool or quirky take on an existing solution, without much added benefit.
Review Your Process
Stop throwing stuff over a wall. Instead, start building relationships.
You can’t just send one communication, you have to send several. You can’t just do one demo and wait for an answer, you need a definitive next step to get the prospect closer to the bottom of your funnel. It’s a process that you have to develop and refine.
Sales isn’t about putting a solution in the customer’s hands and walking away, sales is showing them why your solution is better.
But change costs time and money. You need to acknowledge that you understand that and you can guide them through that change. Then you have to show them how they’ll recoup the time and money they spend to make that change.
Furthermore, while they may not need you today, they might need you six months from now. If you don’t have an existing relationship with them, there is no way they will remember who you are and what your product does. Build relationships and maintain them. A “no” isn’t a “no” until they go out of business or you do.
Review Your Talent
Ultimately, you’re going to have to either learn to close or hire someone who can.
In a B2B sales cycle, the closing stage is usually up to 50% of the total transaction time. And time kills deals. So if you’re wasting time– in other words, not closing from the get go – you might be shooting yourself in the foot.
Yes, you may be able to sell the product, but it may take months for you to do what a trained sales professional can do in a couple of days. I’ve definitely had engineers come to me with a great product and the same problem and the answer was: “I’m sorry, you’re just not good at sales.”
Some entrepreneurs get good at it, but to be honest, some just don’t want to. I always recommend learning how to sell, and mostly that’s learning by doing. But if selling is really not your thing and you don’t want to do it, you have to find someone who does, and create a commission structure that rewards them on fast, high volume sales.
Those are three critical roads to walk down. The main point is – in sales more than any other part of your business – if what you’re doing isn’t working, change it. Start with reviewing the product, then the process, then the person. When you see improvement, build on it. If you don’t see improvement, try something else until you do.