Scott Sambucci: Seven Tips For Selling as a Startup Founder

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Books, Rules of Thumb, Sales, skmurphy

Scott Sambucci of Sales Qualia recently self-published a great book on selling entitled “Startup Selling: How to Sell If You Really, Really Have to and Don’t Know How…” It’s a slim volume chock full of practical advice for entrepreneurs new to selling to businesses. Unlike many business books that have 20 pages of useful content puffed to 240 or 480 pages this is packed with useful rules of thumb, actionable insights, and tips for recognizing and diagnosing a host of early stage sales challenges. If you are an entrepreneur who wants to get up to speed quickly on selling to business, in particular selling software, this book belongs on your short list of “must reads.”

Here are his first seven rules that are often violated but easy to fix in ways that will immediately improve your sales effectiveness; I have added some commentary after :

1. For inbound calls and leads find out why the prospect is inquiring about your products and services

The why has two branches:

  • What is  the problem they are trying to solve or goal they hope to reach with your product. Their view of their need is the most important aspect of you should frame your offering.
  • What led them to contact you in particular. Too often we are tempted to jump into a sales pitch without understanding what led to a call, was it a website, a recommendation from a friend, seeing an on-line video, hearing a talk, reading an article, etc..

2. Jumping right into a sales demo on the first call is the kiss of death.

In my first job as a post-sale application engineer I was asked to help a developer introduce a new product to an existing account. We called on one of my accounts that was happy with our products and when invited to “tell us what you have for us” he excitedly jumped into a 15 minute high speed monologue explaining all of benefits of being able to simulate certain constructs in a design.  They were silent: they couldn’t tell if they could use it. Because we hadn’t asked them questions about their use of the constructs that we could now enable them to simulate, we spent another 15 minutes painfully backtracking and attempting to do some discovery of whether or not they had a compelling need for the product.

When we debriefed afterward we realized that we didn’t have a map of the target so we didn’t know where to focus our discussion. Before I took him to my next account I asked the contact some questions in advance to determine if and where they were in pain over the inability to simulate these constructs. We were able to focus on problems that they knew they had.

About a month later, after we had debugged our engagement process and had some interest from other accounts, I was able to bring him back for a second visit to the first account, that session was much more conversational and they decided to evaluate and ultimately purchase the product.

You have to elicit symptoms and offer a diagnosis before you offer your prescription

3. Use the telephone as the default mode of communication.

At first I thought Scott overstated this one but I think he is correct, to build rapport and advance the sale you have to have conversations. These can be face or face or over the phone/skype/VoiP but the need to be synchronous to get into the easy back and forth.

4. Speak human.

This one is hard because it means that you get rejected as a person. But if you don’t act like a real person and treat your prospects as people, you can rarely build the rapport necessary to closing a deal.

5. A lead is only a person of interest. A prospect is qualified individual for whom your product or service is a clear match.

A lead can satisfy some objective criteria – e.g a person with a particular title (or possible set of titles) in an industry and perhaps a particular location or geographical region. But to be a prospect you have to have some idea of the value your offering will deliver that value within their time frame and in excess of the total cost of your solution to them

6. A prospect’s decision criteria is a formative process. It will always take more than a single call to determine.

I would add buying process to decision criteria because it’s as important to determine not only their criteria but what will be required to actually close the deal.

7. It’s never about the money. It’s about the cost.

Scott makes some great points about calculating the impact of your features, packaging, delivery, and support process on their total cost of acquisition and ownership.  I think two other factors startups neglect hoping that they can cut price to compensate are the risks involved in the decision and the business, technical, and support aspects of the ongoing relationship. For software in particular, a sale to a business is the start of an ongoing relationship. And that relationship is not evaluated purely on price.

At $7 and 130 pages, “Startup Selling: How to Sell If You Really, Really Have to and Don’t Know How…” is not only a quick read but a useful reference (also available as an e-book) that belongs in your library if you are a startup founder new to selling.


I blogged about Scott Sambucci’s August 2008 blog post on  “An Entrepreneur’s Lessons Learned” in November of 2008 “Scott Sambucci on An Entrepreneur’s Lessons Learned

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