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The B2B Startup Pivot: Going from Network Selling to Sales Strategy

Updated: Nov 2, 2018

Your investors (and your income statement) are telling you that you need to sell more. You have a few customers, but you need to double, even 10x that number at similar or larger contract values this year. Welcome to building a sales team.

Most entrepreneurs are in agreement on how you get to your first customers: you build a product that solves a customer’s problem and then you sell it to similar customers. You’ll often rely on your network to find those customers, you’ll build the website for inbound enquiries, and you might do a bit of cold emailing and cold-calling, too. You might make your first business development hire. But to continue to grow you need to access new customers that aren’t obvious.

A Process for Building the Sales Team

Let’s assume you fully understand the product-market fit: the problems that your product solves but wasn’t built to solve, the other use cases it can be applied to, the other problems that are solved through its functionality, or component functionality, and the value of those markets.

But now you have to build a sales strategy and the team along with it. Luckily, there’s a well-established process to help you get there:

Go-to-Market Strategy

  1. Link use cases of your product to particular customer profiles

  2. Break those customer profiles into customer segments

  3. Choose channel strategies to access customer segments

Process and Org Design

  1. Develop processes for your company to engage with customers through those channels

  2. Design a sales organization to deliver those processes

  3. Design roles for that organization

SalesOps and Hiring

  1. Appropriately match the headcount in each of those roles to the market opportunity

  2. Recruit and hire for that headcount [see my other blog on that here]

  3. Implement technologies and analytics and develop documentation and training to support your sellers

  4. Monitor performance of each seller fairly and reflect that in compensation

This process becomes especially powerful as you repeat it. Re-evaluate the upstream decisions you’ve made as product and market fluctuations occur: you might focus on a new customer segment or shift headcount from one territory or account to another; you might compensate people differently or sell through an intermediary you hadn’t known before.

But I Need This Done Now

Each of these steps can be a major project within themselves, and I realize in the startup world time is everything. Make some educated guesses over a day or two and use the feedback you’re getting from the market to reassess the decisions you made earlier in the process.

While we’re on the subject of speed… at higher contract values the sales cycles tend to be longer: that is, the more money your customer is going to spend the more time they’re likely to take to make the decision. This is where existing relationships and developing strong partnerships become really important. You’ll be quicker to revenue if you’ve developed trust with your customers early on, which you can do by leaning on existing relationships, soliciting executive buy-in, partnering on product development and refinement, having a strong brand, or becoming a standard in the market. Of course, if you’re able to achieve none of these, then focusing on a higher volume of smaller customers might be the right answer.

If you’re interested in learning more on how successful companies have thought about B2B sales and associated operations, I’d recommend:

Eoin Hayes spent two years as a sales strategy and operations consultant to Fortune 500 companies across 4 continents. After that he worked in Silicon Valley on Palantir’s Business Operations & Strategy team as part of its Business Development function. He’s since returned to Dublin, where he founded Cantillon Labs, a firm that helps European entrepreneurs scale their companies globally. This post originally appeared on Medium in January 2018.

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