25 July 2014 0 Comments
Notes on Startup Sales

These are my notes from the Startup Sales Conference that I went to last night.

On Process & Methodology:
SAAS companies all treat sales as a pure numbers game. They put really junior but outgoing folks on filling the sales pipeline, and then they run each lead up the chain as it gets hotter. Most of these junior folks are really green—I saw several presentations that were terribly prepared, misspellings, formatting off, etc. But the key is numbers: some % of 1000 calls will convert. Just keep at it.

The methodologies Adam Metz suggested were:
  1. Target Account Selling
  2. Insight Selling. This sounds similar to “selling through curiosity,” which is what Salesforce trains people on.
Methodologies change over time as customers mature, so the companies treat these pretty interchangeably. You basically A/B test them: whichever methodology gets the best conversion in your industry is the one to train your salesforce on. Makes sense, but it was surprising how impersonal it all was. Selling techniques are nothing special, they’re just an approach to test and train junior people on, who are basically treated like drones. 

The tools Adam Metz suggested to use were:
My takeaway: sales has always fascinated me, and while I’ve had plenty of success in startup sales (close to $4M in closed business across past companies so far), I never knew if I was doing things correctly. I just tried to be curious and friendly, and customers seemed to like that.

But if you want to get serious about enterprise software sales and have a salesforce, you need to be organized. It really is just about organization, almost like leading an army. You have to keep track of, at a minimum:
  • Who you reach out to & how (email, phone, etc plus which template or script you used)
  • When you reached out
  • Their title
  • Time before they respond
  • Any questions that arise at any point from here on out
  • Time before next meeting
  • Time after each meeting as they move along (and what was presented at each meeting)
  • Final conversion percentages
  • Final value of each of those clients after 6-12 months
On Tips:
The other useful guy was Frank Slovenec, who came on near the end. He’s an old school sales trainer, but he had some interesting points.
  • His perspective is that sales these days is about demand creation, not demand fulfillment. If you’re a salesperson, you have to get to the customer BEFORE they know they need you and then educate them about their need. Internet research handles demand fulfillment and is not in the hands of a salesperson (although you need to be positioned to capture it).
  • He suggests starting by positioning yourself as an expert. You need to have all the data on the problems clients are facing, and you should be publishing that regularly so that you’re well-established as the market leader. This handles the demand fulfillment side and gives you credibility when you do outreach to create demand.
  • When it’s time to reach out, he suggests using your network to find a contact, and then doing several hours of research before you first contact them. This will put you ahead of 90% of salespeople, who do their research “between the car and the front door” (ie, at the very last minute). Your goal is to share relevant research, make a connection, and then talk through their business until THEY (not you) identify a need. (Oh, and never use the phrase “pain point” or “what keeps you up at night,” as everyone says this)
  • Next goal is to rise the need to a value: let them put a price on how valuable it would be to solve that need. From there it should be easy to close, assuming your solution costs less than that value.
  • Always talk to the person who is ABOVE the budget. You want someone who can create or move budgets, not the person who is stuck with the budget and is effectively a purchasing agent.
My takeaway: sales is a slow process when your company is not yet established. You have to educate people on why they need you, and you have to build credibility in the marketplace. I’m by no means the first person to say this (read Crossing the Chasm if you want a much more sophisticated analysis of the go-to-market strategy for small companies), but it was interesting to be sitting in a room of young, well-dressed salespeople at huge companies (EchoSign, Salesforce) who considered this groundbreaking.

One more data point that working at a small company in a sink/swim environment is the best way to learn what matters in business today. Otherwise, you’re pigeonholed or left behind before you hit 30.
11 July 2014 0 Comments
5 Things a 30-Something Should Know About the Internet

[My Little Brother, 17, is literally shaking his head at how obvious this is to him, but give me a break; my kid idols were Teen Wolf and Knight Rider.]

  1. YouTube and reddit, which is to say teens, control all internet trends. Keeping up with them requires being all over these sites, day and night (possibly vamping).
  2. To be a YouTuber is a career, and it can make you millions. Read about and understand O2L, and you’re most of the way there. If you can understand the appeal of this guy, you’re way beyond me.
  3. You can also make a career on Vine. Video is the only communication tool that matters if you’re looking for scale in a “consumer product” (a phrase that no consumer of the product would ever use).
  4. Pre-funding is the way to run a creative project these days. And I’m not just talking about Kickstarter (though that is still a popular choice); I’m talking about movies that are profitable before they are even released thanks to merchandise sales to passionate fans. Kickstarter, Shopify, YouTube & Vine are the tools for building a media empire.
  5. If you aren’t already addicted to SnapChat, you probably will not be. My friends and I have tried, many times. We missed something. It’s not that we’re Luddites or even just old; it’s that Snapchat is not trying to appeal to 30-somethings. Because we don’t matter.

The internet belongs to a different generation now. I thought I was ahead of the curve in understanding mobile commerce and its impact on how we shop. But I’m still writing blog posts. I’m waaay behind.

PS: this is a funny mashup of all of the YouTube trends, but making fun of them:

10 July 2014 0 Comments
No one cares if you have “passion” for their business

A lot of Silicon Valley company founders, when recruiting, will tell potential hires that they want to see “passion” for their business. If you’re new to Silicon Valley, here’s how to understand that request:

It’s a power play

What they’re really saying is, “I think I bring more to the table than you do. Sell me.”

They know, and you know, that what really matters is whether you can make the startup more successful. But what they’re thinking is that there are plenty of smart potential hires out there, and they’re assuming all are equally capable. Then, to settle on a differentiator, they ask for “passion,” which really is a demand for something more to impress them. 

Most virtue is a demand for greater seduction.

-Natalie Clifford Barney

Don’t let them think you’re the same as everyone else

If you were the absolute best at the task you’re being hired for—the best engineer, the best salesperson, the best marketer—then you wouldn’t be asked about your “passion” for the business. It wouldn’t matter; they would need you. And all startups—all companies—have life-threatening needs that they would do anything to solve. You just have to find them.

If a question about your passion comes up in an interview, then re-frame it in those terms. Very few people can become emotional about ephemeral chat, or mobile payments, or simpler banking. The correct answer is one that explains why you’re not the same as every other smart candidate they’ve spoken to about this job.

So start by sidelining the comment and refocusing the discussion on why you’re awesome. Turn the table back on them: it’s not about your passion for their business, it’s about how they can’t hit their goals without you. 

Related: if you’re reading this and wishing Silicon Valley culture would say what it means and focus on what matters, you’re not alone

13 May 2014 0 Comments
Product Management for Startup Founders