Enterprise Sales: 3 Fatal Startup Mistakes

Need to meet sales goals? As a SaaS startup, it may be better to focus upstream and align your lead gen efforts with your sales goals. Almos...

Need to meet sales goals? As a SaaS startup, it may be better to focus upstream and align your lead gen efforts with your sales goals.

Almost all sales professionals (and CEOs) are thinking about the upcoming fiscal year and sales goals. Headcount, budget and forecasts will all hinge on the ability to generate quality leads and close the resultant deals with a predictable cadence. As a SaaS startup, you may tend to get caught up in the frame of mind that “sales planning can wait until I get bigger or get to a higher sales velocity.”

Enterprise Sales: 3 Fatal Startup Mistakes
Whether you strive to get to product/market fit, or are looking to expand your pipeline, measurement of all activities and outcomes will be crucial in making informed business decisions. If you're looking to close more deals, it may be better to focus upstream on your lead quality as a method to increase your deal close rates.
Also read: 10 Stupid Mistakes Entrepreneurs Are Still Making

Fatal Mistakes

Developing a winning sales strategy is not an exact science. Through trial and error, one discovers what works well so they can do more of it...and less of what's not.

Mistake #1: Blaming Salespeople for Failing

As we all know, measurement is critical. You must understand the health and nature of your sales funnel (lead gen, lead conversion, closed deals). However, measurement alone does not make an effective sales process or system. If your sales efforts are falling short, it may be easy to blame the sales team – it could be you're seeing a high rate of attrition within your sales team or that sales goals are not being met.  Before blaming your sales team, make sure you evaluate your sales process. The process itself includes how you train and onboard your sales team, how they are managed, how they are compensated and how they are supported (lead gen programs, automation and visibility across the sales process).

Mistake #2: Confusing Prospects

In the early days at Salesforce, we strived for simplicity and empowerment of the end user. We were competing in a software market where complexity and jargon were used to position solutions. Here is the positioning statement for Siebel 7 back in 2001:

"Siebel 7 extends the reach and functionality of Siebel Systems' industry-leading suite of integrated, multi-channel eBusiness applications, enabling organizations to translate customer relationship strategy into execution by effectively aligning and rapidly integrating channels, employees and partners."

Impressive prose, but lacking in clarity and any hint of emotion. Keep it simple. A quick rule of thumb: If you have more than one comma in your positioning statement, you are likely on your way to confusing your prospects.

In hindsight, it was easy for Salesforce to position its product as allowing you to connect to your customers in a whole new way. The “No Software” mantra was brash and, in a way, rude to other enterprise software companies. 

We wanted to strike a chord in the hearts of our disenfranchised prospects. Empowering end users and disrupting the stranglehold that packaged software had on the enterprise was our mission. The Internet itself was one of our key differentiation

The point to note is that we avoided catchphrases and jargon, instead making an effort to reach our prospects on a more emotional and direct level. Be clear and concise. Avoid the pitfall of telling prospects what you do, but instead, you do for them.
A must read: The Dos & Don’ts Every Startup Must Follow in Order to Prosper

Mistake #3: Treating All Leads as Equal

While there are many approaches to lead generation and sales development, the first order of business for enterprise sales is that not all leads are equal. Aaron has a simple way of categorizing lead sources into three groups:

Word-of-mouth (“Seeds”). These leads tend to be those that we start out with, but over time can become the true litmus test of success. Generating measurable (and significant) amounts of these leads starts with a relentless focus on customer success, the backbone of any successful SaaS business. Without a focused customer success program, there will be no customer stories to share with prospects, no predictable upsell revenue or renewals and, most likely, no significant inflow of leads to inspire continued word-of-mouth.
Marketing (“Nets”). For startups, when we say “marketing”, we pretty much always mean online marketing. Email, display, social, SEO, SEM and content are the tools we use to generate buzz, awareness and, ultimately, leads. Aaron’s metaphor of “nets” for this effort is right on the money. As we can attest from broad-based lead gen programs, our lead quality is highly variable and requires a sound qualification, like a Sales Development process, to ensure our sales people are only chasing the right prospects and deals.
Prospecting (“Spears”). Unlike scalable Marketing programs we can use to generate leads, prospecting, or direct outreach, yields the highest quality leads and can be the backbone of your enterprise sales strategy. Doing the research and narrowing down the prospects you want to talk to is something we all want to do. How do you manage your time in order to prospect and close deals? You don’t.

Once we understand the varying lead sources we can play with, the “levers”, we can focus campaigns and programs on our targeted prospects.

We all know effective product marketing a key factor in generating leads and engaging prospects – checkout this piece by one of our product marketers, Jim Sinai. But, how do you define “effective” in this context? Number of leads? Number of qualified leads?

Number of Opportunities created? Focusing on desired outcomes – qualified leads and opportunities generated – is the best way to measure success. These metrics will be critical in aligning your lead gen efforts with your sales goals.

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