You’re the CEO of a new startup. You’ve got your team, your product is ready to release to market. You just don’t know how to get your customers.
Or you’re leading an expanding startup. Your company is growing steadily, giving you some time to reflect back on your operations. You think that your sales process could be improved.
B2B sales can be a lot more complicated than B2C sales, with many stakeholders and steps involved. However, by structuring your sales process into different steps and make preparation for each of them, you are much better equipped to handle potential customers.
Here’s how you can build your first B2B sales process for your startup, divided into nine simple steps.
1. Understanding Market Demands
The key points in this stage are to find out if there’s demand for your product, and where you are in the SaaS landscape.
Four out of five startups fail every year, with the leading cause being a lack of demand. A novel idea on paper may not translate to successful startup in real life if it doesn’t provide values to enough customers.
Conduct a market research to justify why this solution exists. Starting points can be sending surveys, talking to industry leaders, read technology analysis, or even what’s hot on social media. Take a look of your industry and identify the issue that no one has focused on, or you could improve on. If you have the budget, research and/or talk to your audience to find out how they do business, their pain points, and how your solution can tackle these pain points.
Whether it’s easier collaboration with co-workers or business insights on the go, articulate how your product can contribute to people’s life. Put customer demands into consideration in every step of product development, not just the beginning or the end. If possible, get them involved as well with a beta version.
Another point to work on is where you are in the landscape. List out some possible competitors in your vertical who are dealing with the same demands. Analyse their goals and visions, target audience, key features, and so on. This way you can see if your startup is facing tough competition, if your product needs improvement, who might be your customers, and possible directions in the future.
2. Identify Your Targets and Build Buyer Personas
The next question to ask is: Who is going to purchase my solution?
When you’ve got a general idea of market demand, the next step is to identify your customers to the best of your ability. Your company needs to work out who needs your product and if your solution is suitable for them.
This step is crucial to not just your sales process, but your business as a whole. Correct target audience can lead to meaningful conversations and long-term relationships. However, unclear or wrong target will lead to lost opportunities and frustration for both the customers and your staff.
Don’t get caught up developing solutions for everyone – it might lead to one-size-fits-all solution that isn’t specific enough for any of your end users. Find specific groups to focus on, and later expand once you’ve won these market segments.
One way to identify your target audience is to create buyer personas.
Many companies would argue that buyer personas is the first important stage in enabling sales. Instead of selling to nameless/faceless customers, work out a detailed and realistic profile of your customer. Your startup may have more than one personas.
But you’re selling your software to other companies, why should you build the profile of individuals?
Buyer personas isn’t limited to B2C companies; in fact, high performing companies are more likely to have developed buyer personas and assign internal resource to maintain these personas. Even if you’re doing B2B business, B2B decision makers are, in the end, individuals with personality and preferences.
With the right profile, you and your team can craft better messages on the right channels. Your personas will change the way everyone in your company speaks to your customer, whether it’s the web developer, the marketing manager, salespeople, or customer support. Targeting specific individual needs will result in a much more personalized experience for your potential customers. Selling to the right customers will also prevent high churn for your company in the future.
Your personas don’t have to be 100% factual information of a person – they can be a combination of many customers who have something in common. Here are some of the questions to ask when building a buyer personas:
- Demographic and personality: Where they live, their level of education, demeanor, preferred method of communications;
- Position: Title, daily responsibilities, company information, who they report to, and who report to them;
- Goals and barriers: Individual and team goals, KPIs, issues in daily jobs, what they want to solve now and in the future;
- Buying process: What triggers them to find a solution, where and what they research, if they are the decision maker;
- Decision criteria: How they prioritize their budget, timeframe, preferences, and factors that prevent them from buying your product.
One last thing about buyer personas: They can change over time. Once you release your product and deliver them to your customers, you can get better insights into your customers. Then you can revise your personas to better fit your current or future target audience.
You can find many buyer persona templates on the internet to help you get started. Here’s Hubspot’s.
3. Create Value Proposition
Remember: All your findings might be obvious to you, but this might not be the case to the rest of your team and the customers. When you have determined the gap your product is trying to fill, it’s time to put them into word in the form of value proposition.
Your proposition should be concise, identifying your place in the landscape, the issues a segment is having, and how you can help them solve these issues. If you are targeting multiple segments, you can create different propositions for them. Having metrics or statistics in your claims will make for a much more concrete value proposition.
One way to get started is to use Strategyzer Value Proposition Canvas. This method distil all research and discussion of the customer into a simple visual map with three key components: Customer jobs/tasks, Pain points, and Gains/Values. It is a practical tool that places customers at the center. It will help you work out what customer’s needs are and which needs your product is trying to fulfill. From your canvas, you can form a paragraph that explain who your company is helping and what problems you are addressing.
4. Map customer journey and tools to monitor it
Now that you’ve got your product and your target audience, it’s time to get them together. The key questions in this stage are:
- How will my customers purchase my solution?
- How can I keep track of them?
In order to answer the first question, imagine the actions your customers would take to reach your product. Mapping out these steps to create a customer journey is just as important as building buyer personas. Dividing the journey will help you keep track of where your customers are in their journey, and work out strategies to move them closer to being a lead. It will help you see where to focus your resources, set out tactics for customers in different stages, and work out metrics such as ROI for each step.
For many Saas companies, the journey is visualized with a marketing and sales funnel. While the digital age has given customers diverse methods to engage with your brand and product, the steps in the funnel are more or less the same:
- Awareness: The visitor is aware of an issue they’re having;
- Consideration: They want to solve this problem and are looking for a solution;
- Conversion: The visitor turns into a lead as they express interest in your solution;
- Engage: You contact the lead, demo your product, negotiate payment, and so on;
- Closing: The lead becomes your customers when they agree to purchase your solution;
- Retention: You support the customer use your solution. Turn them into returning customers and promoters if they are happy with your product.
As prospects move through the funnel, the number will decrease. Some potential customers will definitely fall out of the funnel as your solution and their needs are not the right fit. However, for customers that reach the bottom levels of the funnel, confidence in your company and the chances they make a purchase are much higher.
Building a sales funnel is not an easy task. Depending on your startup, your sales funnel may have different steps or be divided into even smaller steps. For example, you may have Qualified Marketing Leads, then Qualified Sales Leads, then Prospects, then Customers.
In addition, sometimes the funnel is divided into marketing funnel and sales funnel: the marketing efforts focus on top of the funnel until they generate leads, and the sales team take over from there. Nevertheless, both departments have to work closely with another as customers can engage with your brand in many different ways.
The funnel is not meant to be a linear process that applies to everyone. For example, a visitor may read about your solution from social media, then decides to send you a message to purchase the solution immediately. On the other hand, another visitor might come across your product during their search, read everything on your website, ask for a demo, negotiate timeframe and price, discuss with their company, and then decide to purchase. Be flexible and ready to welcome your potential customers in every stage.
When you have a sales funnel ready, think about how you will store your customers details. Consider setting up a CRM system to help you organize sales workflow. Excel sheets can only get you so far – get a good CRM solution for yourself, your staff, and your customers.
Different teams in your company should be able to access and update the records here so everyone is on the same page about the customers. For example, a CRM system makes it easier for the marketing department to hand off potential leads to the sales departments for contacting and closing. The sales department can then notify the customer support team so they are ready to handle requests, with all the needed information in a single database.
In addition to a system to maintain customer information, you should also think about the tools you and your sales staff can use to simplify the purchase process. For example, check out B2B Solution by Retalo, for e-commerce business.
5. Generate Leads
Once you have your sales funnel and your database, let’s get some leads.
B2B customers can progress about 57% of the way through the purchase decision-making process before engaging a sales rep. Similar to B2C customers, B2B potential prospects are taking advantage of their networks and other digital channels to diagnose problems and form opinions about solutions. Therefore, your company’s online presence can attract or turn customers away. One way to generate leads is inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing is about bringing in the right leads. Instead of pushing your message aggressively to the market, you focus on your targeted segments by building valuable communications with them. By being relevant to your visitors, inbound marketing creates a more natural pull towards your solution and product.
Inbound marketing is closely tied with content marketing. When US B2B Marketing Executives were asked what they looked for in the website of a potential solution provider, the most important aspects are: relevant content for their company, easy access to competitive and pricing information, and relevant content to their industry and expertise. As of July 2017, US B2B marketers also considered content marketing to be the most valuable type for moving prospects through the sales funnel.
Produce useful, relevant, compelling, and timely content for your customers is one of the most effective ways to bring in the right leads.
6. Qualify Your Leads
When you’ve got your leads, you will need to qualify if they can become your customers.
Once of the first thing to consider is the information you collect. You might want to ask for more than just any email address – a work email, company name, and some details about the business should be able to help separate eager customers from those less interested. This will save you time and costs from unnecessary emails and meetings.
Time and price is also an important factor. Think of the cost of developing your product and how you can reconcile this with the customer’s budget. How much are customers willing to pay for your solution? In addition, think of the time it might take to install your solution on the customer’s system. Some customers need their solution up and working in a short time, and the two parties might not be able to negotiate.
Don’t forget to ask about who’s making the final decision. Your product might solve the problem of one stakeholder group, but the decision falls to someone else. For example, your product is a platform to help web designers in a company communicate. Your product will save these developers time and efforts, but they’re not the ones who will buy from you. Instead, you will have to convince the CEO of the company and the accounting department that your timeframe and cost is suitable for their business.
Don’t be afraid to filter out those who don’t fit your personas, don’t need your solution, cannot afford to pay or wait, or cannot refer you to the decision makers. This simply means your startup and your leads are not the right fit, at least at the moment.
7. Take the Meeting
When both parties see a fit between the startup’s solution and the customers’ needs, the next step is to arrange a meeting, face-to-face or online via video.
Meeting and closing deals can be nerve-wrecking for some founders, as they have to face the customers and leave their company and solution open to scrutiny. Some time the meeting went well and your prospect is eager to contact you, but other time they might stop replying to your call and email. Rejection is hard, and imagine all the possible outcomes are stressful.
The way to alleviate some of the stress is not to start the meeting with your company, but with the customer’s needs. Customers prefer to engage with a problem-solver/advisor instead of nosy salesman that looks down on the customers. Begin by identifying key problems your prospect is having, and how your solution can help address these problems. You don’t have to open with your value proposition or all features of your solution – adapt them to target each customer in each meeting.
Being helpful goes beyond inbound marketing, and lets both party work out the need, willingness, and resources to purchase the startup’s solution. Negotiating and closing can take more than one meetings.
8. Close the Deal
If the prospect agrees to purchase the product, the next step is to get that agreement into contracts and/or payment. When the agreement has been signed or the payment has been made, don’t just leave them! Make sure to welcome them, offer training and walkthrough, help them install the solution, and provide support for them when there’s issues. A satisfied customer is one of your greatest leverages: they are more likely to come back for more purchase, and are willing to offer feedback and promote solution.
If the prospects do not want to purchase your solution, make sure that their exit is pleasant as well. Both parties have spent a lot of time and effort, and this process has helped you learn more about your product and the sales process. Don’t forget to send them an email thanking them for their time and letting them know you are always ready to lend a hand if they change their mind.
9. Measure everything and improve
How can you know if your sales process is going well and which areas you can prove? The short answer is data.
Data gives managers and CEOs better insights into their startups, and let them adapt the business based on current condition. Data-driven process will help you make better decisions. In addition, it will help you set targets/KPIs for each step in the sales funnel instead of relying on revenue.
For example, you can look at the conversion rate from marketing leads to sales prospects. If this number is low, it means that your marketing is generating a lot of leads that might not fit your solution. You can then divide your marketing leads into different groups, check which one is most likely to become your customers, and focus your resources to target this group first.
In addition to improve your sales process, you can improve your product based on your customer’s feedback as well. Consider adding in new features if many prospects are asking about it. Also, don’t be afraid to remove features that are not needed or is creating issue in your customer’s system.
Here are five key Saas metrics every software startup should track: Customer Acquisition Cost, Monthly Recurring Revenue, Customer Retention Rate, Churn Rate, and Lead-to-Customer Conversion Rate.
Whether you have a sales team or you are doing the sales yourself, once you got your process sorted, put them into reality to see how it works out. Refine your process if needed.
And remember: it’s all about how to help your customer’s problem. A customer-centric approach can take a lot of time and effort to implement, but it will pay off.
Looking for tools for B2B e-commerce processes? Check out B2B Solution by Retalo.
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About the Author Marc Wayshak
Marc is is the best-selling author of three books on sales and leadership, including the highly acclaimed titles Game Plan Selling, The High-Velocity Sales Organization and his forthcoming book, Sales Conversations, Mastered.
Marc is a contributor to Inc, HubSpot, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Huffington Post Business. He also hosts a popular YouTube channel on sales strategy with over 103,000 subscribers.
Marc helps thousands of people his data-driven, science-based approach to selling that utilizes all the best tools available to sales organizations today.