Selling your B2B product can make or break your entrepreneurial effort.
Getting ready to sell your product is the ultimate moment of truth for a startup — whether there are people out there who are willing to pay for your product or not. I recently wrote about that (here) and would like to follow up on a key aspect: the sales script.
The problem is most startups and founders have no idea how to do this effectively.
I was the same. Yet, we went from zero to best-in-class (amongst our startup peers). Here’s how.
The dividing line is the sales approach, which depends on the amount of money spent. A script is what salespeople use in a client conversation to AIDA (attention, interest, desire, action). Makes sense? Hear me out.
What that means is you need a salesperson. If you have a B2C product for the mass market that costs USD 1.50, you will not have a salesperson since it would not make any sense. You also need a client conversation: Personal interaction with your prospective customer. There is no conversation if you use online advertising to make people buy your product in your online shop.
The amount of money spent is decisive. If it is big, you can afford a sales organisation, and customers expect it. In B2B sales, that is typically the case. If clients spend a lot of money, they expect personal explanations and service. In B2C, this is only the case for large items, such as cars, new kitchens, real estate, or similar.
All sales talks follow more or less the same outline, especially in a startup setting where your leads are new to you. It can be different in an established sales organisation when you have worked with that customer for several years. These phases are the basis for your script:
- Warm-up: Create a positive mood and gently lead toward the topic
- Information: You drill deeper and understand what your customer needs. Do not discuss the solution just yet. Focus on the problem your customer is facing. Focus on past and current behaviour (see below)
- Solution: Once you firmly established that your customer has a need where your product fits in, you can discuss the solution. Discuss how you can help. Avoid being led astray when the customer starts discussing the bad weather with you. Focus on your product and where it helps
- Consolidation: Discuss the next steps, which can be that you will send an offer. If applicable, ask if the customer would be interested in the basic, advanced or premium package of your solution. You can typically propose what the next steps should be, so be prepared
This little book changed the way I prepared scripts for the rest of my life and never disappointed me — Be it in a startup setting or when working with large corporate clients as a consultant.
The book helps you ask the right questions so that not even your mom can tell you out of curtesy that your stupid idea is pure gold. The principles in this book apply to sales scripts, market research, and so on.
First, let us understand something about human beings. They find it hard to tell you the ugly truth: Maybe because they don’t know it themselves; maybe because they are liars; maybe because they are just trying to be nice; maybe because they want to end the conversation; maybe and so on. In this information nightmare, your job is to trigger the right need.
You achieve this by asking them fact-based questions that focus on past behaviour, rather than asking them to imagine a world where your product is great. In the information phase, when you establish your customers’ needs, it is crucial to establish those needs in the real world. In our real estate startup, we asked them questions along the lines of:
- How are you organising your rental process today?
- How much time does it take?
- What are the most time-consuming aspects?
- Did you ever try to make this process more efficient?
- What did you do to reduce the time needed?
- Who is handling this today?
- Are you happy with how it is handled?
Feel free to use these questions as a basis for your own effort. Please note the following: We mainly ask about current and past behaviour. Current and past behaviour cannot be altered. It is impersonal. Therefore, it is the best basis for establishing needs.
In the solution phase, you can no longer rely solely on the past and present, but you can draw on what you discussed to introduce your solution:
- Organising flat viewings is taking up half of your time. How would you like to cut that in half?
- With our matching algorithm that sorts suitable from unsuitable tenants, you will only need a single flat viewing. How much time would this save you?
- You find it hard to read hand-written documents from tenants. We can consolidate that online. Would that make life easier for you and your colleagues?
- Our clients tell us they save roughly 50% of the time spent before using our solution — How would you assess your situation?
Establish a link between the customers’ situation you learned about earlier and your product. Make sure they understand how it helps.
Finally, know when your customer is convinced. Switch to the consolidation and next steps as soon as you feel that you can. Don’t ride out the questions simply because your script tells you to.
Our consultant back in the days coached us on classical and, at times, dodgy salesmanship. Here are some examples:
- Yes-ladder: This is when you will stack several questions, which your sales lead will typically answer with yes. You have 3–4 of those, and then you ask them whether they love your product. Chances are, they will say yes, simply because they said yes so many times before. I did use this every once in a while, and I did not find it makes a difference.
- Open-ended questions: In all phases of your sales talk, except for the consolidation, you want to ask open-ended questions. These are questions that you cannot asnwer with yes or no, but rather your lead will have to tell you several sentences. When we did our first few sales calls, asking yes/no questions was the worst thing we did. We failed to get a conversation going and made it too easy for our lead to shut us down. You can do better!
- Numbers: Numbers are abstract, but they help bring your point home. I have found that calculating live with your customer works best, so have Excel or a pen and calculator ready. Ask them for the ingredients you need (e.g. how much time do you spend in flat viewings?), and you can make an individual calculation for each customer. This gives your sales talk a very personal touch. Sending the calculation to your contact is a good next step, even if it is not a sale yet.
The above technical points may help when you risk getting the door slammed into your face. If you have no prior sales experience, making sure your script is polished from a technical point of view will also give you greater confidence when you talk, which is a huge asset. It certainly helps to be technical about your sales effort, but don’t overestimate the impact of these things.
When using the script, you want to memorise it in its broad outline before making your first calls. You cannot just run down the script. You will have a conversation, and sometimes, it doesn’t go as planned. Your script is your guide, not your master.
Objection handling is the final thing I want to mention. As you walk through the questions with your sales leads, you will inevitably run into objections. Here are some examples no sales effort can do without:
- Your product is too expensive
- I am not sure we need your product
- Your product is impracticable since the integration into our processes is very hard
- Your product does not interact with our systems, and yet, we would need that
- If your product does not have feature XYZ, then it is useless to me
- We already have the old fashioned version of your product and are quite happy with it
Here is what will happen: You will start to see that your clients have the same objections. You will then notice how you handle them better since you increasingly know what to expect.
This is a great step towards higher efficiency in your sales effort. Now let us make sure you reap the benefits: Establish a list with the objections, share it with your sales team and make sure everybody adds objections and good counter-arguments. You just doubled the power of your script.
A final word of advice: Start your sales effort early. The worst-case scenario is for your company to build a product for years only to find that nobody needs it. You can call people even if you don’t have a single line of code yet. Feel free to read a little article about our first sales effort and how it could have saved us a lot of time and money.
In addition, if your sales are going well, you may be able to bootstrap your venture. Here are some thoughts on that.