A lot of the startups I see are in the B2B space, but very, very few come in with a team that includes anyone with any B2B sales experience. Not surprising at an engineering school like MIT.
So I often spend a lot of time with these founders talking about enterprise sales and what the options are for selling into the enterprise: direct sales (both field and inside sales), channel sales (through VARS and other partners), and web sales (through social media and other marketing).
The first step is understanding the sales process in the enterprise. The sales funnel is a great visual tool for understanding the process. There are three sets of actors in the enterprise sales theater: end users (those who will actually use your product or service, like engineers or customer service agents), economic decision makers (those who will actually cut the check or issue the purchase order) and influencers (those like enterprise IT departments that often can say no, but can’t greenlight a sale on their own.)
Also important is understanding how to overcome objections in the sales process, as there will be many!
The article How Your B2B Startup Can Build A World-Class Enterprise Sales Team in Forbes by Falon Fatemi is a helpful guide to building your sales team if that’s the route you decide to take.
For B2B founders, the appeal of the Fortune 500 customer is clear. Sales bring six- or seven-figure sums, and a single deal can change a startup’s destiny. The path to get there, however, is anything but clear. On average, seven people are involved in enterprise buying decisions. That means lengthy sales cycles, ongoing pitches to multiple decision-makers, and plenty of starts and stops along the way. In other words, it’s a risky route for cash-strapped startups.
Perhaps the most important tip in the article is:
2. Treat sales as a companywide endeavor.
As a startup, you probably don’t have the insider knowledge of a prospect’s industry that a company like Cisco might. That’s a disadvantage, of course, but it’s not an insurmountable one — provided that your team is willing to work together.
I like to think of Node’s sales culture as a garden. No matter how strong its seeds are — the initial prospects — they need attention and care to thrive. On a regular basis, they need to be weeded, fertilized, watered, and, ultimately, picked. If the organization expects one or two salespeople to nurture it alone, chances are good that the garden is going to wither.
At Node, which sells to the enterprise, I’ve reinforced that sales is a team effort. If someone spots a way to better support our salespeople — if they notice our garden needs watering or weeding — they jump in to get the job done. I’m always eager to get my hands dirty, selling alongside our sales team, and I recommend other founders do as well.
You may have heard the saying “ABC” for sales people: “Always Be Closing”, as closing a sale is an extreme example of Pareto’s law, more than 80% of the effort goes into closing. But what I tell all entrepreneurs is “ABS” – Always Be Selling. You need to sell to job candidates, potential advisors and partners, investors, the media, and of course, sales prospects.