3 Effective Sales Strategies for Startups

Startups with an early-stage product often hit a roadblock when it comes to lead conversion and community building. It’s hard to gather new users for your product when marketing is at its earliest stage, and the brand is not yet authoritative in the niche.

Due to this, a more active method of product exposure is often required. And that is often done in the form of sales.

Sales tactics are often a great way to get your product out there, find beta testers, and start rolling in some revenue. But how can you best organize your efforts in a way that leads to long-term results?

This article helps founders set up several sales strategies for startups based on their individual needs and available budget. So let’s start from the basics.

Does your startup need a sales strategy?

The more sources of incoming leads, the better your chances of growth. However, during the early stages of growth, you need to be selective. Ideally, you’d want to determine whether the cost and time required are worth the potential reward. 3 Effective Sales Strategies for Startups

Sales strategies for startups are needed if:

  • You are just starting out (newly released product) and looking for new users or beta testers
  • Your product is primarily aimed towards B2B clients and thus requires personalization and demos. This is especially needed if the product has a high learning curve and multiple use cases
  • The product has a tiered pricing model that serves both B2C and B2B markets (personal vs enterprise pricing)
  • You notice low search volume for bottom-funnel keywords related to your niche. This could indicate a lack of awareness of the problem your product resolves. However, it could also mean that there is no product-market fit so make sure you have your market research covered.

Your startup doesn’t need to prioritize sales if:

  • The majority of your traffic comes through marketing (organic, paid, affiliate)
  • Your product is a sub-product or integration of a third-party product (often seen with SaaS and e-commerce)
  • You are still at a stage where product development is not completed or too early for users to test

Sales vs marketing for startups

While both sales and marketing are important for your company’s development, their performance is measured differently.

Sales: actively pursuing leads and turning them into customers - Sales are more important in the early stages of startup growth when the main focus lies on building a community around your product, gathering feedback, and validating the need for your product in the market. It is also important with high price points and increased levels of personalization.

Marketing: Build systems to have customers come to you - Every startup needs to start marketing at the earliest stage but its effectiveness can only be measured in longer timeframes. It is mainly targeting customers at the top of the funnel (awareness stage) and is generally split into SEO, affiliate, paid ads, and email marketing.

Sales strategies for startups - 3 foolproof options

When looking at successful startups that implement sales into their growth strategy, we notice several tendencies. Note that these plans are mainly aimed towards early-stage startups and not necessarily scaling companies that can afford a whole sales department. Each strategy serves a particular purpose, and it’s generally easy to get things started: 3 Effective Sales Strategies for Startups

Strategy 1: The effective sales funnel

The effective sales funnel is a great strategy for companies who already have a working product and are looking to build a system that can operate (almost) exclusively on autopilot.

Who is this strategy for?

This sales strategy is ideal for startups in the B2B pages, SaaS tools, ecommerce, as well as startups with agency elements.

What is the goal of this strategy?

To get more leads. This is done by providing value through a webinar in exchange for an email address while introducing the company in a value-packed consultation.

How does it work?

  • Step 1: Set up a landing page on Clickfunnels with a video or photo and 3 bullet points that answer the main problems/pain points of your customers. Embed a CTA button to have them sign up for a free webinar which you will host live in order to offer value and upsell your product.
  • Step 2: Set up your Facebook ads account and start promoting the webinar offer by creating a promotional offer that leads to your landing page. This funnel will generate a new stream of leads.
  • Step 3: Connect Pipedrive to track and collect the leads, and WebinarJam to set up the actual webinar.
  • Step 4: The day of the webinar goes live through WebinarJam and Facebook Live simultaneously, by using two devices. By doing so you satisfy existing leads and followers, as well as those who discovered your product through the ads.
  • Step 5: Offer great content that is valuable and actionable by your audience, and finish off your call by promoting your product. Present your offer as the solution to their pain point and try not to sound “salesy” and overly promotional.
  • Step 6: At this point, there are two ways to convert leads into customers. The first group is the people who choose to buy during the webinar, usually based on a time-bound promotion you offer (e.g. a discount to the first 10 people). The second round can happen a few days later, when you personally reach out to all the attendees (you have their personal details anyways), to offer them an additional promotion, or consultation.
    • Time: Initial setup is timely; very low maintenance afterward as you only need to go live for the webinar and let your software tools take care of the rest.
    • Cost: Compared to the other two strategies, this is the most expensive option as it requires the most software tools.
    • Complexity: The initial setup is complex and may require some experimentation. Thankfully, everything you need to know can be found for free on Youtube, when typing in the name of the software tool(s).

Strategy 2: The personalized “nudge”

This strategy is ideal during the earliest stage of your project when the MVP is just released and you (as the founder) have a lot of expertise and/or authority in the product’s niche.

Who is this strategy for?

This sales strategy is ideal for startups that have just released their product and are looking for beta testers. It is also a great plan for highly complex products (e.g. open banking saas for B2B customers) that require lots of personalization and communication.

What is the goal of this strategy?

The goal of this strategy is bi-fold. For early-stage projects, this strategy helps projects get their first solid customers who can then provide feedback to improve the offer. For highly technical projects, the goal is more shifted towards converting high-value leads into customers on an ongoing basis.

How does it work?

  • Step 1: For early-stage startups, you essentially want to start by understanding where your audience hangs out at. This can be either online or offline. If your product leads to a decrease of construction waste, visit construction sites. If your software aims to increase the resell value of dental equipment, start by visiting all the local dentists in your area. On the other hand, if your potential customers are business clients, you can also start out the conversation through Linkedin. This first step highly depends on the nature of your product.
  • Step 2: Have an “elevator” pitch ready, and try to understand what the common questions are. This is where the sales skill will have to shine. Going as the founder of your product, you may instigate respect from potential customers, who will consider giving your new product a shot. A limited-time deal helps as well.
    On the contrary, if your startup is already established, you can start by cold emailing senior employees in a position of authority and giving them a short overview of your product. The most important thing here is to mention how it solves their pain point(s) and offer a free call to discuss it further. You’d be surprised at the response rates if your emails are well-written and the product is actually needed.
  • Step 3: Host the consultation either on the spot or through a pre-planned virtual meeting. Make sure that the founder or salesperson is well aware of the product’s limitations and is able to explain how the specific lead could benefit from it.
    • Time: For early-stage projects looking for beta testers it can be time-consuming, as the founder is responsible for all the communication. Foe established startups the time is not really an issue as it is outsourced to a dedicated sales rep.
    • Cost: Low-cost option, especially when the founder takes responsibility for the task.
    • Complexity: Easy, as long as the founder has a good understanding of the product and their niche’s main problems.

Strategy 3: The CLV-boosting tip-toe

The third sales strategy in this post is ideal for startups that want to maximize the long-term revenue they can get from existing customers.

Who is this strategy for?

SaaS startups that offer add-ons to their product, startups that have many offers linked to the same product (e.g. the product itself, an add-on, a consultation with an expert, etc.).

What is the goal of this strategy?

The goal of this strategy is to increase the Customer Lifetime Value through repeat purchases and upsales.

How does it work?

  • Step 1: For this strategy to work it is important to segment your email list of existing customers. The more thorough you are with this step, the better your chances of conversion.
  • Step 2: Look at your list and your product, and try to determine which part of your audience would benefit from what type of offer. It can be anything related to an interesting fact sent through a newsletter (e.g. a company that specialized in carpet cleaning may send a newsletter highlighting the importance of cleaning your carpets 2x per year instead of 1x) or a time-bound offer (discount, bonus, or other).
  • Step 3: Either call or email your customers. Calling may be too invasive for your customers’ privacy, which is why we recommend emailing. In this case, the actual content you decide to send has to be relevant to a pain point of your segment, and easy enough to purchase without causing a hassle.
    • Time: Can be timely, as both brainstorming and research are needed at early stages.
    • Cost: For this, you will only need to consider the cost of your email marketing software and the time required to conduct your preliminary research (in case it’s needed).
    • Complexity: Somewhat easy, as there are many guides on how to use email marketing software to generate segments and target them separately.

How to hire and train your sales team

3 Effective Sales Strategies for Startups Hence, it may be so that the founders will also need to wear the sales hat in the early stages of the company’s development. That said, if you start to notice that your strategy is paying off, it might be in your startup’s best interest to scale your efforts. To do this successfully, you will need to hire sales superstars and train them for both the company’s growth and their personal development.

Hiring process

The hiring process is probably the most important part when it comes to the success of startups. The good thing with sales is that employees can easily be trained from complete novices to experts in a short period of time. To ensure this is the case, however, you will need to understand several aspects of their personality and how these may affect their motivation for long periods of time.

Startup sales training and skill development

Since sales positions in startups are often seen as entry-level positions, training should accommodate both the employee’s personal development and the responsibilities they need to fulfill within the company. As such, it is important to have recurring performance reviews, sufficient time for training, and lots of opportunities to practice.

In both cases, the best resource for startup founders is: The Ultimate Sales Machine by Chet Holmes. The book delves into the best tips and strategies you can follow when it comes to the hiring process and how to find candidates that are considered “superstars” (chapter 5). It also looks into the skills, character traits, and learning points that help employees develop their skills (chapter 10, 11, 12). Hence, it might be a great welcome gift for new hires.

Additionally, you might want to invest in courses and masterminds that can help sales reps further improve their knowledge. These are mainly courses that offer access to private Facebook groups where like-minded people can communicate and help each other.

Summarizing startup sales strategies

Creating a sales plan can be very beneficial for your company’s direction if done strategically. While results may not become evident instantly, it is important to continue experimenting with different methods until you can determine which sales strategies for startups lead to the best results. In this article we offered three options:

  • Effective sales funnel
  • Personalized “nudge”
  • CLV-boosting tip-toe

Choose a sales strategy for startups based on your company’s goals and don’t forget to always focus on providing value before trying to sell your product or the solution it offers.