This post is for my fellow entrepreneurs. Especially, the one’s who love to code and create stuff, but find themselves clueless about “how to sell?”.
Everyone lives by selling something.
~ Robert Louis Stevenson
Image credit: Potentia.co.nz
We have done reasonably well in taking WebEngage to thousands of customers worldwide within 20 months of our launch. There’s a whole lot of ground to cover as the company has a long long way to go. Me and my co-founder, have written code all our lives – a whole lot of it, with one attempt resulting into, arguably, India’s first UGC-driven consumer internet brand (Burrp). When we started building out WebEngage, we did what we were best at – we created and rolled out a version 1 of our product in 5 months time. But then, the harsh reality kicked in – how do we now tell our prospects that there’s something worth their money? I decided to be to guy who would hunt for a few early stage customers.
These are what we learned and implemented in the last 2 years.
Selling is a state of being and a responsibility, accept it first
This is easy. All you have to do is to show respect for this function. Most of my developer-turned-entrepreneur friends find it hard to believe that software needs to be sold too! This doesn’t come as a surprise to me, because I was in the same shoes a few years ago – after all, its an automated world where everything is available at a click. Why does one need to “sell”. Right? Wrong, I’d say. Selling is not always “closing a deal”. Selling is a state of being. Selling is as much about creating awareness as it is about meeting targets. When you are selling early on, you are definitely not meeting targets – you are merely spreading the word and finding few believers in your idea. You sell to find a co-founder, you sell to find your first few hires and you sell to find your investor. Only then, you sell to find a customer. As I said, this is easy.
Selling starts early, very early
Its been over 8 years now. This is the 4th startup I am working for. There are a couple I advise. And there are hundreds I have come across globally. Most start by being in a “stealth mode”. I am too lame a duck to even understand what that means in today’s world. Then there are others who would spend ages creating a “MVP”. Oh, they were advised in several startup talks, forums etc to do so. Mind you friend, these talks are given by people who barely understand what a product and its viability mean in the very first place – they never created one in their lives. Stop taking such advice (including this one). Every product is different. Market and customers are the ONLY judge of your product’s viability. Unless you take the product to them, you are not even getting close to your MVP. Roll out an unfinished version, it is absolutely okay to do so. Keep iterating until your customers like what you have built. This cycle of build-sell has to be an iterative one early on. If you do any of these in isolation, you are doing it wrong. And no one else other than a founder would have the patience and resolve to sell through this cycle.
Also, it is in this cycle itself that you’ll come to know that features don’t sell. People buy products because they solve a pain big enough for the customer. We used to sell features to begin with. Later on, realized we need something else – the pain point. We build WebEngage with just one philosophy in mind, no matter what you want to do on-site with our products, you won’t be asked to change any code on your website. While it sounds simple, allow me to show you the depth: Marketers always want to experiment with things on the site. All their requests ultimately go to the dev team for implementation and production deployment. For a decent size website, any deployment cycle is 2-3 days of work. Imagine the pain these marketers and product managers have to go through if they had to run similar promotions pretty much all the time to measure and improve conversions. Its a pain. We don’t sell the core product anymore. We sell what its USP is – “no code changes needed, run it live on your website from a dashboard”. It works better that way.
Selling is a DIY job, YOU have to do it first
This is another dilemma. Most tech founders have this mythical assumption that with money they can hire someone for sales who will magically find answer to all their woes. Just because you raised some capital, doesn’t mean you start looking out for a “sales guy”. Good folks in sales can sell anything, including your product. That doesn’t indicate success because even the best of salesmen cannot sell a bad product to scale. Founders, themselves, are best suited to find first few customers. You’d be surprised to see the kind of moral boost your team gets everytime you close a deal. Take my word, that’s a BIG deal early on.
Selling is doing what you are good at, writing code for example!
Find it hard to believe? Alright, lemme show you our biggest selling tool – demo.webengage.com. Experience it once and you’ll know what I am talking about. Almost 50% of new visitors on our website everyday, take this demo. Being a slightly new category product that we are, it was a big challenge for us to explain the product in simple terms. We thought a live demo was a great way of putting across the message. Prospects come to our site, take this demo and sign up if the product matches their expectation. What better way to sell? Infact, in most of our phone calls or enterprise sale meetings, we end up using this feature to showcase the utility.
Also, selling involves figuring out channels of distribution for your product. E.g. we integrated with all major CMS and E-commerce platforms – WordPress, Magento, Blogspot, Bigcommerce etc. A whole lot of customers discover us inside these platforms everyday. Ain’t it wonderful to ride on what people have already built?
Now you know, software is indeed eating the world 🙂
Selling is more marketing, don’t underestimate it
If you have come across those blog posts or emails from companies like Hubspot, Kissmetrics etc, you’d know how big an impact can content marketing make on your business. Closer home, Wingify (maker of the A/B testing tool VisualWebsiteOptimizer) does a great job too. There’s a lot more you can do without spending a lot of money. Many a times these activities might not result in a direct sale – infact, it won’t. But you’d be surprised by the kind of recall value they build over a period of time. Based on my experiences, I wrote an answer to the question on Quora on “how should an early stage startup market itself?”; you might find it interesting, read here
Once you have scaled, there’s a lot more to selling than what’s mentioned above. We are going through that transition – building our insider-sales team and processes, figuring out alternate distribution channels, learning the intricacies of geographical expansion etc. I’ll definitely share my experiences with these once we have made some progress. For now, I need your wishes.
I hope this post wasn’t a waste of time. If it was, do share 😉
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