Sales tips for startup entrepreneurs


I don’t run a product start-up, my friends do. I run software testing services start-up. There are some challenges that are common and some different between running a product and services business.

My company works with plentyof entrepreneurs and their start-ups(if 27, so far, is plenty) through our start-up test lab.

I interact closely (as in sitting next to them over a coffee or beer) with my friends and other entrepreneurs who build products in the B2B and B2C segment. Most of the discussion the ones in B2B segment have had with me revolves around one problem – yes only one. How do we make that signed up for trial customer to pay?


  • They are taking forever to pay”
  • “We have been doing so many customization for them and yet they are not paying”
  • “We still have to pay for our infrastructure cost”
  • “Our burn rate is increasing with more sign ups happening. We won’t have money to keep this running”
  • “We are bootstrapped? When will these customers pay?”
  • “We may run out of steam trying to keep these trial customers alive”

Those were the words I heard in addition to

  • “We have a self-service model, why don’t our customers understand it? They still want someone to talk to them. Why?”
  • “What is the problem with people in SMBnot being able to understand SaaS model?”
  • “Our product is great, they use it but still they don’t want to pay. Why?”
  • “Our customer asks when Gmail is free why should I pay for you?”
  • “Given a chance, I won’t do the freemium model again”
  • “Our product is unique yet our customers compare it to others”

Here is something common across all entrepreneurs who have said the above – none of them came from a sales background.

Building a product and selling a product are two different things – not that you didn’t know it but you lost it because you lost it from your muscle memory. You lost it from your muscle memory because you were focusing only on the product. Sales require a different brain wiring and constant muscle memory of the wiring. For instance, it becomes hard to say to a potential million dollar worth customer, “We can’t go for free beyond this point” but that is exactly what sales requires you to do.

Sales tips (heuristics) that comes from my experience and I am no business guru but a gnikcuf sales guy.

Your desperation kills your sales

If you are too desperate to win THAT customer you would obviously allow the customer to take maximum advantage of you (or you would start seeing that way although they don’t intend to)

As long as you understand they need you as much as you need them – you would get into healthy business discussions and close the deal. If the million dollar customer rejects paying you – so be it. You didn’t do your start-up for THAT customer. That’s not the end of your start-up or your life as an entrepreneur.I think you would be fine losing a customer but not motivation.

Pricing, discounts and working for free

Work for free, only if it is a strategy to make more money than make them your customer.Testimonials are outcomes not strategy. If you trade revenues for testimonials, you would have testimonials and no revenues.

Discounts, oh that is for customers who want to work with you but don’t have the budget you would have loved them to have. If your product is selling because of the discount then you need a drink and think session.

There’s this start-up we worked with who offered their product for 80% discount weeks after launch and no good sales. What is right pricing? You don’t know that and that is okay but discounts are not the way to figure out right pricing.

If people buy your product just because they are getting it at throw away price they will throw away. Note the words “just because” in the previous sentence.

You have a gnikcuf attitude and that’s what made you start-up

If your product is great that should reflect in your body language during sales. If you have built great product and act like a snake oil salesman, you’d be treated like someone selling snake oil. Don’t get disappointed.

Don’t forget that you have an attitude that the world might disagree with you AND you are okay with that. This is the attitude that made you to start-up in the first place.

Your sales activities should be in parallel with product development

Sell your product while you build your product. All start-ups that are failing in front of my eyes started sales cycle after the founders thought “Now our rocket is ready to reach Jupiter”. Your customers don’t want to travel to Jupiter today. Get them to Moon and then Mars before you get them interested to go to Jupiter.

A start-up we worked with, Twaang launched a music app and have 50,000 installs today. They started their sales when their first line of code was being written. They got a famous singer to sign up even before their app had a GUI. They are growing bigger and I see why. Do you see it too?

Hire experts and consultants to help you learn new things

Unless you really know how to sell, don’t get into it directly just because you are a co-founder. I mean you should learn sales but learning the hard way when you can hire experts and consultants is a bad idea.

My friend Sujay Pai, is the co-owner of Pai Group of Hotels. They were initially a Darshini type of restaurant during the 90’s.My friend and his brother hired expert consultant to scale their business to 3 and 4 star hotels and restaurant. Learnt from the consultant for 3 years before they took the lead and now they have 9 hotels and restaurant in 2 states and are expanding to other states and locations. All managed and run by themselves.

Partial success can be dangerous

One of the many dangerous things to happen to entrepreneurs like me is to be partially successful. This is a moment when a bug gets into our brain and makes us think – I know how to do everything I need to without needing any advice from people.

I thought I was doing everything good with sales. My friend Nandan Pujar who also is a co-founder of a start-up and a Digital Marketing Experthelped me recognize certain meta aspects I was missing and our pipeline became healthier by a couple more bytes.

Courage as a skill to sell

When money in the bank is low, you often lose your courage. Money and courage don’t have a direct connection to people like me. I have been bankrupt many times and money doesn’t dent my courage. Courage is an acquired skill (and you should read Malcom Gladwell’s David and Goliath).

A start-up customer once asked us “We need regression testing, user acceptance testing and performance testing” and I responded, “You probably don’t gnickuf need all that because here is what you need …bulleted points… and here is why you need them” and they signed us up getting our value.They spread the message about our good work and we have some cool people knocking our door.

Ask yourselves why and when you pay for things and learn from it

Wait a minute! Look at things that you pay for and why you do pay even when you are running out of money. There is something to learn from it.

For instance, you hire a power backup UPS unit. Why? It is essential to serve your customers without delays because of power supply problems. You hire it (your SaaS model) because you see your load can increase as you grow the number of customers and people working for them. Think about your customers problems and help them solve their customer problems. They will pay.

Closing notes

I love what Mekin Maheshwari, Chief People Officer said to me. We have been working with Flipkart helping them in testing web and mobile apps. I happened to meet Mekin(whom I had met in e-sparks 2011, months after starting Moolya) after we started working with Flipkart in 2012 and said, “We started working with Flipkart and we thank you for the opportunity and look forward to a great partnership” to which he gently replied, “The value you provide will determine your longevity”.

The value Mekin is talking about is how we help them help their customers. That is what you need to be doing in a B2B business. That is your sales pitch.

We have been in continuous business with Flipkart and we are very happy with the announcement yesterday that Flipkart achieved in 1 Billion Dollar GMV sales run rate. No! We are happy when our customers have grown after we have been working with them because it is an indirect feedback to what we are doing for their customers.

While I am successful with all that, I was having a tough time as a husband to tell my wife who runs a fashion jewellery business that she is great in designing jewellery and not in sales. Only yesterday evening she showed a sign of agreement to what I said. If a wife can agree, the rest of the world can. :) [That is the consciously humorous side of me]

Pradeep also has good experience with customer acquisition, read here

Read lessons Pradeep learnt from a death threat from an ex-employee

And his take on why working for start-ups make you unfit in a good way

Also discover an amazing infographic on  "How to Sell Anything " from Funders and Founders.



Pradeep Soundararajan is the Kung Fu Panda and CEO of Moolya Software Testing. Moolya helps solve business problems through testing. Pradeep is experienced at getting fired, being considered dumb, redneck, rebel, being bankrupt, falling many times in his career and rising from ashes while (or, because) he was doing good work. He is a recognized tester worldwide (in the testing community) for his testing skills, blogging and a speaker invited to conferences worldwide.