Updated 21 April 22
Unpopular opinion; early stage startups spend way too much time focusing on driving big, impressive ‘growth’ numbers through tactics that have lots of secondary benefits, but can be ultimately irrelevant to converting business.
Amazing you've increased blog readership by 120% this month...but really, you need customers. I think it’s particularly prevalent in early stage B2B startups. Where for most, adding between 5 - 30 new clients in 2020 would be a fantastic success.
“We need another workshop to determine our optimum channel strategy” or “We need a B2B content framework“ or “Let’s revisit and update our persona’s (again)” or “We’ll need to adjust our inbound marketing flywheel”. All of these things can add value, and are difficult to argue against, but you need to put them to one side and focus on revenue building activities first. If I was to advocate one B2B sales and marketing strategy/mindset shift for this year, it would be to simplify your approach by following this straightforward, BS-free, guide:
1. Define your target audience.
Be really specific about the people your business can help best, who is your product the ideal fit for. If this is still leaving you with tens of thousands of target customers, that’s great but narrow it by starting with an industry and niche in on that first. Detail the type of person in each business you can help, what job function do they work in. A good example might look like “Purchasing Managers at Food and Beverage Manufacturers in the North of England who turn over between £5-50m p/a”.
2. Write a list of 50 businesses you really care about working with who fit this bill.
Do your research and either within a CRM or on a simple spreadsheet compile a list that includes the specific names, phone numbers, emails, addresses for the people you need to develop relationships with at each business. Rank them in likelihood that they’ll want to do business with you, and log the communications you make.
As you add someone to the list, connect with them on Linkedin, start liking and commenting on their posts, sign up to their newsletters, follow their businesses social media channels, read and comment on their blogs, buy their products, use their services - start showing that you care.
3. Work through your list by making a personalised opening contact
Think of B2B sales like courting, don’t go straight in for the kiss (asking for a sale) before you’ve even spoken. In your first contact only briefly mention your product/service (if at all) and if you do - do it in the context of how it can improve their life. First show them that you understand their business and care about their success through personalised and creative methods. Remember, when communicating, in person > phone > email. Be brave and don't expect anything back immediately; value long term results. Simple tactics that have worked well for me in the past for making opening contact are:
- Attend events where you know they’ll be present
- Spend time at/near their business for an ‘impromptu’ meeting opportunity
- Invite them to an event you’re hosting or attending
- Make them a personalised video introducing yourself and your business
- Write a handwritten letter
- Call and mention something you’d seen on their social media and offer to help "Hi John, I noticed you tweeted that your company’s heating is broken today. I'm just doing a Costa run, can I get you and your team a coffee to warm you guys up?"
4. Build trust and nudge towards purchase
After making initial contact, keep building the relationship. Treat it like staying in touch with a friend - a friend that you know you’re going to ask to babysit the kids in a few weeks time. Look for opportunities to build trust and always deliver on what you say you’re going to do. Use each touchpoint to nudge them closer to purchase - I’m classing a touchpoint as a conversation in person, live chat/messenger, voicemail or email. Once familiarity is established, be transparent of your intentions and in your following exchanges provide all of the information they would need to satisfy why this purchase is a good idea, or to rule themselves out.
Don’t rush this, stage your communications over the periods suggested below, starting slowly and moving each following communication closer together to build a sense of urgency as you move toward a sale.*
Day 0: First touchpoint
Day 14: Second touchpoint
Day 21: Third
Day 25: Fourth
Day 27: Fifth
Day 28: Sixth
Day 29 (in the morning): Seventh
Day 29 (in the afternoon): Eighth
5. Get the sale, but don’t switch off
Following the earlier courtship metaphor ‘go in for the kiss’ when you’re confident they trust you, understand your product and the value it will give them (this bit sounds vague, but after a few successful sales you will know when the time is right). Various data tells us it averages between 5-8 touchpoints before a sale is made** - so don’t quit too soon.
Remember the work doesn’t stop once you’ve got the sale, it’s much easier to sell to an existing customer than to convert a new one. So don’t neglect your customers, keep the communication lines open and continue all of the soft touch relationship queues you’ve been developing. A quick win that’s often overlooked is, if you have a happy customer ask them if they have any contacts in the industry who your product may also be useful for. Most professionals will have contacts who perform the same job title in different businesses. Even in competing companies, people in similar roles will often happily share contacts. Even if they don’t, ask your customers if they’d be open to giving a review or testimonial.
Once you’ve exhausted the 50 prospects you created at step 2, start again and follow through steps 2-5. Rinse and repeat. Simple.
This may feel uncomfortably uncomplicated, but simplicity wins. Hiding behind big, irrelevant numbers isn't the answer. People buy from people, and showing that you actually care about your prospects and their businesses is a great first step. Developing long term, mutually beneficial relationships with people and managing them effectively, is the key to B2B success.
Try it for yourself and let us know how you get on in the comments below.
* this is a guide I used when selling brewery test equipment (avg selling price £3500), it’s a good starting point but don’t hold it rigidly. Dependant on your product, sale values, trials req’d etc prospects will move at their own pace - and that’s fine
** some will take longer, some will take less - don’t over analyse it