Your sales process shouldn’t look like anyone else’s. Here’s why.

The dynamic world of startups is not a place to get comfortable and expect consistency on a regular basis. Simply put, change IS the nature of the game.


But, there’s an important distinction to make when it comes to change that a lot of startups (unfortunately) miss – it’s more important that you know why you’re changing than it is to flip the switch because you heard about something new someone else was doing.  


Case in point, I once worked for company that changed their sales process faster than anything I’d ever seen or anyone else had ever seen for that matter. Literally from month to month they went from tracking MRR to ARR and from the enterprise market to SMB and more. Their reasoning? “That’s what the SaaS market dictates.”


All I could think was “Who is the ‘SaaS market’ and is their business anything like ours?!?!?”


Sadly, this is a common occurrence for startups, and my experience tells me it’s due to one key thing: they’re looking in all of the wrong places for the information to make their decisions about their sales process.


The truth is, a lot of startups get caught chasing the latest sales tactics (methodologies, channels, etc.) or what everyone else is doing that “works”. But they miss the point: just because a certain methodology or channel worked for other businesses doesn’t mean it will work for theirs.


Why? Keep reading the three most common reasons why below….


1. Your customer is not their customer.


The issue with my previous employer wasn’t that they were changing quickly. It was that they were chasing the methodologies and markets that other companies were bragging about with zero understanding of why they were doing what they were doing or how it would actually translate to their business.


It was the “spaghetti against the wall” approach to scaling a business, hoping that something would stick and looking for the biggest money maker despite their marketplace.


While it’s definitely important to have perspective and keep tabs on what the marketplace is doing in the SaaS world, I think it’s even more important to come back down to earth and realize what YOUR business truly needs/wants/has.


Rather than looking over your shoulder at what your competition is doing, or what other companies who are similar to you are doing, there comes a time to set aside what others are doing and focus on getting to know your customers and their needs better instead.


And that’s because (as the heading says above), your customer is not the same as anyone else’s (you may be thinking “what about my competition?” – hang with me, more on that in a sec).


To illustrate this, here’s an example. Let’s say you look at the data out there which suggests that B2B customers actually prefer the social selling methodology these days. Then, you do a little looking around and find that other startups have had a lot of success at social selling too.


Naturally, you think “great, that sounds like the way to go” and you promptly spend a lot of money trying to get people who know how to do it.


However, it turns out you missed one critical thing – your true ideal customer is actually in an older industry, and the decision makers you need to engage with don’t use LinkedIn or social media at all.


In this case, your efforts to engage with your customers via social selling would fall flat like a comedian playing to an empty room.


The point I’m trying to make is this: don’t always run with the herd. Keep your sights focused on your customer, their needs, and where they hang out, not what other companies are doing. Take the time to peel back the layers on their situation (and do it regularly) to make sure you “get” them.


Not only is this going to allow you to better reach them, it’s also going to give you the information you need to make intelligent decisions when it comes time to change either your product or your process. And, it will help you stay ahead of the curve with your competition as well.


There is more information on how you can better serve your customer (and in turn grow your business) in the head of just one person than you could ever hope to implement. So if you treat your customer like they are unique (even if they are shared with your competition) and take the time to understand what makes them “tick”, you’ll be much better prepared to implement the changes that will keep you on the leading edge.


Key takeaway: Nobody knows your business better than you. Focus on what you do best and solve for your gaps not everyone else’s, you’ll be better for it.

2. Your product is not their product.


Successful products and services are built on differentiation. So quite frankly, there’s never room for a “me-too” solution that is all fluff no substance. And when your product is different, it’s likely that you’ll need to adapt your sales process to match too.


Let’s face it, you’re a startup and not IBM and you’re not selling Watson therefore it’s not assumed or realistic you’ll get a seat at the table just because of your brand recognition in the market.


This is why it’s so important to back yourself with a product that truly makes a difference. For example, when I went to Indeed (I was employee twenty something) we didn’t have the brand recognition or marketing horsepower behind us.


Instead, we had to help our customers transform their business. And we could back up our “talk” with a “walk” that delivered mega efficiency and cost savings fueled with meaningful data. No easy task…


It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears fueled by strategic conversations and thoughtful follow through. The light at the end of the tunnel, the business skyrocketed because we could actually solve a problem and easily prove it out. So many other companies try/have tried to do what Indeed did and they just couldn’t hold a candle.


While great sales is definitely a science, it is also equally as much an artform. Being able to take the tools in your wheelhouse and apply them effectively for the best results is where real growth occurs. It’s about understanding YOUR specific product/customer match and complimenting that with a winning approach to connect the dots for your buyers in a meaningful way.


Make sure you’re aware of both how your customer buys and how your product and brand affect that.


(Note: if you’re selling “me-too software”, see point #1 above and figure out how you can meet your customers needs better or differently than your competition)

3. Your KPIs are not their KPIs.


If you’ve been reading the blog here at ATP, you’ll know that I’m a fanatic about killing the “one-size-fits-all” mentality. I hate it with every fiber of my being (and so do Taryn and Debbie).


That’s why I get sickened by some of the arguments that talking heads on the internet seem to put forth on a regular basis. Things like “Cold calling is dead!” or “Social selling is the future!” get my blood boiling like nothing else.


These statements are not only false, but dangerously misleading. Few things are black and white in sales, and those who regularly speak in absolutes are quite frankly not “experts.” There’s no tool for every situation – it’s about knowing how to use the tools in your kit at the right time.


And, this “grey space mentality” applies to your KPIs and your metrics too.


For example, I was chatting with a head of sales at a young startup recently when he told me he was worried about the long term viability of his company and was considering jumping ship. While they were in fact enjoying month over month growth, he had concerns over long term viability in the marketplace as the result of a shift in the data he was seeing.


I knew we needed to dig a little deeper on this and what we found was their customers’ buying cycle simply didn’t support the MRR tracking model they were using – they needed to focus on ARR instead.


The result? While their monthly numbers were lower than previously expected, their total revenue quadrupled!


Simply put, take the time to understand why your metrics are the way they are. You don’t have to track MRR just because it’s the “industry standard” for sales… you need to track whatever lines up with your customers’ buying cycle.


Again, this ties into point #1 above (which is why I talked about it first) – the startup that knows their customer best wins.


Final thoughts.


If there is anything I want you to take away from this post, it’s really one thing – you are competing against yourself. Your priority should be to be the best version of your business/self in your landscape instead getting distracted by what everyone else is doing


In fact, I’d go so far as to say forget your competition – talk to your customers instead. They are the ones who actually have the answers you’re trying to find – the answers that will help you grow your startup’s value and your revenue with an effective sales process.


That said, it’s ok to take ideas and benchmarks on methodologies from others if you understand WHY they are doing what they are doing in addition to what they are doing. As long as you are in tune with your customers and their buying cycle, you’ll know what you should and shouldn’t apply to your sales process.


Now that we’ve covered why your sales process should be unique, I want to get into the meat of point #1 and talk about how (since that’s really the key).


That said, what processes have you seen be effective for gathering information about your customers and applying it to your products and services? Leave a comment below and let’s chat about it!


Found this enlightening? Sharing it with your team!


-Amy Volas