Through my work as a sales mentor with the Google For Startup Accelerator Program, I was able to meet and work with a variety of early stage startups. I was able to help one startup in particular, an interior design startup based in Vancouver, to develop a sales playbook and find their first b2b customer.
The founders did not come from a selling background and the product’s main source of revenue for the business were b2c users. The founders had some b2b clients in their pipeline but nothing had closed in a year. We were basically starting at zero when I came in to help.
ICP and Competitive Edge and PMF
Before we could start selling, we needed to establish a few ground rules. Who are the customers? What do they want? Who else is targeting our customers? How do we beat them? Those were the four fundamental questions I had to ask the startup. From there we devised a plan to uncover as many details as we can around those 4 tenets. Regarding the customer, we are trying to understand the “Ideal customer profile,” so things like job title, department, level of authority, types of companies, are all good to know. Is our ideal customer a decision maker, a champion, both, or none? Who makes buying decisions at this company? Does our ICP do it alone or with a team? These are all some questions you can ask to really get clear on who your ICP is.
Another thing to get clear on is if your product is solving for pleasure or for pain. What do I mean by that? Well, people usually make buying decisions to relieve pain or to move towards pleasure. Human psychology 101. I’m not reinventing the wheel here but simply stating that you need to get clear, as a technical founder, on if your product is a “need to have” or a “nice to have.” It is safe to say that “need to have” products are easier to sell. Nonetheless, there is room for all types of products in the market so don’t be discouraged. We need to identify why the customer is buying so that we can write messaging that resonates with them when we write our cold outreach. (More to come on this later).
Another, and very important step to understand, is your market. Who are your competitors? What do they do better than you? What do you do better than them? Pay close attention to the gap that exists between where you win and lose. This is where you want to be. You want to lean into your strengths as you embark on your messaging to find your first customer. When writing your first message, I suggest you keep it to under 200 words. We will be using Linkedin as the platform of choice and those DMs have a limit. Additionally, in the world of business, nobody has time to read your long emails. Plus, you have to keep in mind that if you’re selling to your ICP, chances are dozens of other people are, too!
Once we know the customer, their job title, our messaging, why they’re buying (be it for pain relief or pleasure seeking), and all the other details we can get, the next thing we want to do is craft our messaging. For b2b SaaS I recommend you use Linkedin as the platform of choice for your first b2b customer. Linkedin is like the penultimate social media platform of the business world. You will easily (or should) find most of your ICPs hanging out on linkedins with publicly accessible profiles.
For your first 20-50 messages, keep it simple. Go to linkedin, find your ICP, send them a connection request, send them a message, and wait for a response. While you wait, add another person and do it again. You want to repeat this process over and over again until you get some responses. Responses lead to phone calls. Phone calls lead to sales cycles. Sales cycles lead to sales. And yes, you will hear more nos than you hear yes. But nos leads to yeses, and yeses leads to sales. And if for some reason you don’t hear any Yeses, then perhaps you need to reevaluate your ICP and if you have product market fit. I will elaborate more on this later. I hope this was helpful!
All the best,