You can call me ignorant or lazy, but I could not find anyone who could teach me how to close sales with schools when I was running my first startup.
Two years ago, we built an ERP for K-12 schools and we sold to a few but that was not sufficient to keep the company running. Our financial situation was not so great. We were completely bootstrapped, and external funding was not possible when we had only a few customers in our portfolio.
The only way out was to acquire more customers, but we failed in decoding a sales process that works with schools. Now I help startups in growth strategy and clearly see where I committed mistakes in my B2B sales process.
Image credit "ShutterStock"
There are two ways of finding customers in any startup - inbound marketing (slow, not personalised, but effective in the long run) and outbound marketing (looks spammy, but with an interactive, personalised pitch; effective when you have decoded the sales process).
We will talk about outbound marketing today as that is more relevant for B2B sales with schools.
The most important thing to know about your market is finding the customers that will be interested in your product.
If you have done this step well, you already have travelled halfway to close the deal.
B2B sales take a lot of time, starting from lead generation, qualification, pitching, follow-up and deal closure. Schools take up to six months to close a sale. You can not afford to chase customers who are not the right fit for your product.
In that scenario, inbound marketing cannot give desired results. Let's say I want to sell my product to schools and there are 1,000 schools in the city. After doing research, I found that there are only 100 schools that are the right fit for my product. I did detailed research on those 100 schools and figured out who the decision makerswere.
Either I can wait for the decision makers to find my article/video/infographics and contact me or I can find a way to connect with them and pitch my product.
I would prefer the latter.
It will still take four to six months to close the deal, but I rejected 900 schools where my product will not add value. I am already ahead of my competitor who is knocking on the wrong door.
2. Qualifying customer
Find out what the process of buying is, how much budget they have for a technology product like yours, how many people are involved in the buying decision, whether they prefer to work with startupsand how long they will take to make a decision.
At this step, you should talk to your customer and influencers. Try to find answers to qualify your customer. You can reject more potential customers if they do not fit in your criteria.
Sometimes, you will not be able to find all the answers.Then, you must go with your gut feeling. You have limited time and resources. In initial days of the startup, you should spend more time with customers who are easy to target, open to talk with startups, and flexible to try a new product.
You can always expand your horizon and come back to customers you rejected in the first phase.
3. Selling even before building a product
I had a hard time understanding this concept and unable to convince my co-founder. How is it possible to sell the product on PPTs?
Well, it's possible, but of course not easy!
When you have filtered out unfit clients from your list, you can approach the right guy in the right company. You have an opportunity to innovate on selling your product.
I suggest you give them a big discount for signing up today. Tell them that you are launching your product in X weeks and offer them lifetime access to it in 50per cent of actual price. Be authentic, but not fake. Tell them that the offer is for selected customers only who you think will really get benefit out of the product.
Tell them why you selected them as your early customer, how your product will solve their painsand leverage the research you did when selecting that customer. Show them the benefits, not the features of the product. Tell them upfront that you will lose money by offering discount and why it is justifiable for a customer like him.
You can make your own answers based on the product and conversation context. You have to win the trust of customer and answer his objections. Make him feel safe with you.
Give them assurance of returning their money if they are not happy with your product. Extend the money-back period to six months, or even 365 days. Assure them by giving everything in writing.
Your purpose is just to sign up two to three customers before beta launch.
Businesses are built on happy customers. The founders should know how to sell their product and, more precisely, how to sell their product to the right customer. As an early-stage startup, a wrong customer will do more harm than having nocustomers at all. Innovation, smartness and hustling will set you apart from your customer.