Since we’ve started LinkSquares over a year ago, I’ve noticed how often people ask “So how’s it going?”. And I always say “Great! etc.” I mean no one actually ever shares would any bad news in that situation.
Dont get me wrong, its great that people are interested and supportive of our venture, and more more often I’ve found ways to share interesting tidbits about the company that can spark discussion and good conversation.
But what if I really told someone what its really like as a B2B startup trying to get the revenue engine going? Its actually pretty repetitive and boring, kindof ironic if you think about it. Not boring in the sense of you don’t have anything to do, but in just that we do a lot of the same thing everyday. Trying to use our limited resources to ‘move the needle’ so that we can show the traction needed to raise capital to build the business.
- Working on our marketing engine – We are constantly thinking of creative ways to better understand and message our buyer. Thinking through who they are, and what type of company (stage, size, industry, etc) they would work at. Then coming up with creative ways to ask them if this is a problem they have and may be interested in a new way to solve this problem. Asking for the initial call to validate the problem and qualify them as a buyer.
- Conducting discovery calls and/or product demos – Once we find someone who is interested then its on to a discovery call to qualify the buyer. If we can validate this is in fact a problem they have and one they would potentially pay for, only then do we take time to do a product demo. Why? Because if they are not a real potential buyer for your product, the advice and feedback they provide you will likely be wrong and lead you in the wrong direction.
- Creating and mapping the sales process – Now that we have found a qualified buyer, only now do we actually bring them into our sales process. This has been a ton of work to understand and build the steps of the process. Not only understanding the process a company would have to purchase a product like this, but also understand the small steps that can help them validate the solution for themselves and feel more comfortable to review, discuss with their team, and eventually (hopefully) buy.
Any time we are talking with someone who is near our Boston office, we’ll offer to come visit them. We’re not too pushy about it because inside sales is important too, but we do find people prefer to do business in person when they can and its really fun. It also gives you a chance to test you product right in front of someone, and the body language and reactions can be a huge insight. If you’re selling a software product under $150,000 ARR, you’ll likely use an inside sales model. Don’t short yourself on learning how to do it over the phone.
There’s a ton of repetition here and dealing with a lot of failure in the early days. Realizing you need another step in the process because prospects are bailing out towards the end can be frustrating. But that’s the discipline, coming back after you’ve been beat up and trying again with another prospect.
Some days its just back-to-back-to-back calls all afternoon. Nothing glamorous, just the focused effort of knowing that on each call comes the opportunity for a “a-ha” moment to get a little better with your sales process or product. Only then will you start to see sales come down the pipeline that are ready and willing to buy. As Jason Lemkin notes, that part may take up to 24 months to get the product and sales process aligned, or what most people call product-market fit.
So as you can see besides a few in person meetings with customers and some investors, and a few small events the process can be pretty boring. Sending emails and making calls, scheduling product reviews, doing online meetings.
We get compliments on how focused and disciplined we’ve been about our sales process, and we’re flattered that people are noticing our hard work. But for other startups I think its important to realize how challenging it can be, and frankly how repetitive it can be sitting in an office and taking calls all day. We dont do a lot of conferences or events, we find they are time consuming, expensive and hit or miss on value.
I do enjoy helping startups and mentoring the next generation of entrepreneurs and grabbing a coffee or lunch, but I hope the takeaway here is that doing a startup is an exercise in discipline and focus, not a publicity stunt. In any company, but especially with B2B/enterprise, building those first 5 customers can be really hard. And building a sales process takes time, its repetitive and involves lots of failed experiments.
The focus and discipline these things take is immense and the best entrepreneurs out there are heads down building their business, not worried about being on TechCrunch. You wont see them much because they’re busy building the next great company you havent heard of yet.