As a Business Guy before I turned Developer a little over a year ago, I’ve spent a lot of time on the marketing and sales side of businesses before learning to program. Having co-founded several successful Internet SaaS businesses — most recently Uncover — sales has always been something I’ve focused on, but often gets overlooked by designers and developers starting their first company.
Those of us who design or code tend to look at a new project or company as an idea with a set of features. When first starting out, designers and programmers neglect or push back on brainstorming how they’re going to get people to actually use, and pay for, their product. There’s no shame in focusing on what we know, what we’re best at, and what we find most exciting, but sales will ultimately determine our success.
The problem is not only that startups take longer these days, but that the majority of startup founders don’t take into consideration the heavy reliance on sales it takes to get a product off the ground. If you’re a designer and developer, how you’re going to do sales needs to be built into your product and company from the beginning if you hope to grow.
Once you get it into your head that sales is as important as building great product, you’re halfway there. The next step is to find out who your customers are, where they hang out, how you can reach out to them, tracking your deal closing progress, and ultimately closing the deal.
Who are my customers?
Before beginning to build out your idea, you need to go through the often painful process of customer development. Painful because you’d rather be building your product. I understand that, but you’ll get into trouble building something without first talking to people that might want to use it.
Talk to as many people as you can, get their feedback, and keep them in the loop as you shape and refine your product. What Uncover is today – and the success we’re seeing – was very much shaped by our early customer development and being open to feedback. That doesn’t mean we jumped to build everything that was suggested, but we definitely spent time to understand people’s interests.
Where do my customers hang out?
It takes a long time to figure out where to find customers. It’s not something you’ll know the answer to at the time of pre-launch or even within months of launching. You’ll (hopefully) begin to see them trickle in by monitoring Google Analytics, MixPanel, and other tracking services, but you’ll never start to feel a pull toward exponential growth until you can identify a pipeline of new customers. Think of it like turning a faucet until it gushes out uncontrollably. That’s where you want to be.
You’re going to need to do a lot of different sales experiments to find out where your customers hang out and how to reach them. It’s going to take time, but as long as you continue to experiment, and your product is truly something people want, then you should eventually find the pipeline.
How can I reach out to my customers?
There are many ways to reach out to your customers. A lot of sales people will say the best way is to give them a phone call, but a lot of designers and developers don’t like doing that – myself included – so you’ll have to email. On today’s Web, it’s easy to get someone’s email address, Twitter and LinkedIn account. Send them a friendly message introducing yourself, your product, and how it can help them.
How do I track my sales pipeline?
What’s served me to date is using a combination of Google Docs’ Spreadsheets and Gmail. In Google Docs, I have a Spreadsheet titled “Sales Pipeline” and within it I keep a list of names, email addresses, where the lead came from, the date I began the conversation, and any follow up dates. I cross off leads in green if I’ve landed them and red when I’ve decided there’s no way of persuading them.
How do I close deals?
I do most of my sales work over email. I use Gmail tags, stars for follow ups, and search when I’ve archived something. Pretty standard practice. Make sure to follow up in a timely manner, but don’t be pushy. You want to keep the strength of your brand intact by being respectful of someone’s time and inbox. Try once more on a no-response, play polite interest by ear, and follow up as long as there seems to be interest, but not beyond that.
You’ve also got to look at the time it takes for you to close a sale and make sure that the time spent is more the dollars you’ll see from a sale.
Closing a sales lead is a great feeling, but often accompanied by a sense of urgency to close the next deal. Closing a deal means that people want what you’re offering, which is great and can often fuel the fire to make more sales. The way I close deals is to be personable and persistent, but never annoying.