4 Secrets to Improve Your Startup's Sales
by Brian Ainsley Horn

Most startup disasters are caused by a failure to connect with the customer. The commonly acknowledged startup killers — premature scaling, running out of capital and a lack of market interest — all have a root in broken sales strategy.

Here are four secrets entrepreneurs can use to nail their messaging, map their sales process and scale into sustainable sales revenue.

1. Embrace salesmanship.

Many of the brightest innovators have a toxic reaction to selling and immediately look to delegate anything that has to do with the sales process. What they fail to embrace is that selling is a reality that everyone, regardless of role, engages in every day.

Selling is merely an exchange. It may be a product or service, but it can also be an interview, an action or a presence. Every interaction you have is exchanging something with someone.

“Even if your role has nothing to do with selling in a tangible way, a broader perspective of the sales process will reveal the innumerable exchanges you have engaged in throughout your life. The good news is that you don’t necessarily need to change anything. The best sales technique is being genuine and authentic,” says Brad Harker author of The Laws of Influence: Mastering the Art of Sales, Leadership, and Change. Harker is also a consultant that helps entrepreneurs build sales strategies that catapult their startup’s sales revenue.

2. Focus on value.

Once you embrace the reality that you are always selling, it becomes imperative to understand what you are selling. The product or service you offer, or money you receive in return, isn’t as significant as the perceived value of what you are exchanging. Consider for a minute that your customer is not buying the widget that you sell. Rather, the customer is buying the value that widget creates for them. Customers don’t care who you are or what you offer until they can see that it can create value for them. Does it solve a problem they have? Does it save them money? These are the kinds of questions the customer will be asking themselves.

“Furthermore, the value you create must be greater than the perceived cost of what you are asking them to give in exchange. If you can build a product or service that profitablycreates value greater than the required cost/status quo/alternative solution, your startup will inevitably succeed,” stated Harker. “The question you should constantly be asking yourself is, ‘What value does my product or service create?’ If you want more success, create more value.”

3. Innovate empathetically.

The entrepreneurial process is predicated upon the creation and exchange of value. Whether you are solving a problem or improving an existing solution, most entrepreneurial epiphanies are value driven. Yet, as concepts evolve into startups, entrepreneurs without a sales perspective may turn their focus to appealing to investors, or become obsessed with perfecting their solution in hopes that it will sell itself.

Whatever the reason, entrepreneurs begin to lose touch with the value they offer their customers and find themselves burning through cash and lacking sales.

“The challenge to entrepreneurs is to innovate empathetically; in other words, innovate with the needs of the customer in mind. If you engage first in the value you create for
your customer, then the development of your solution will become far more organic and efficient,” said Harker. “There is much to learn by listening to your customer and getting that feedback loop started as early as possible.”

4. Build to sell.

It is never too early to start thinking about selling. Start with a simple process map to help organize and define how this looks for your business.

Most early-stage startups have a difficult time explaining their sales, which translates to messaging that doesn’t resonate with the audience. Once you embrace the reality that your success is tied to your sales performance, you will be compelled to design your solution in the context of a sales strategy.

Take a minute and think about your sales process today. What are the steps of your sales process? Who is your customer? Where are you sourcing your leads? What is your messaging strategy?

How long is your sales cycle? What are your conversion rates from lead to close? What is your customer acquisition cost?

If these questions are difficult to answer, there are a number of resources to help you begin mapping a sales strategy and crafting a message to reach your audience. To get you started, take a few minutes and answer these six questions:

• What product or service do you provide, and how would you describe it to a five-year-old?
• Who is your ideal customer (get specific — who would you prefer to sell to)?
• Where can you find your customer (social media, publications, events, etc.)
• What are 5 of your customer’s key pain points?
• What are 5 solutions your product/service offers?
• Who are your competitors, and what strategies seem to be working well that you can you model to reach your target audience?

By answering these questions and following these four tips, you’ll already be ahead of most innovators who have a great idea and no plan on how to actually sell it.