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Startup sales: #3: Cut out steps you don't need

Third part... first, second

#3: Cut out steps you don't need

Most startups will inherit their sales process from similar companies in the industry. In the web-world, that generally starts with the dutiful, almost religious copying of the Basecamp pricing tablets handed down by God on Mount Sinai. In offline sales, it often begins by copying what your competitors are doing.

In order to speed things up at the beginning, it makes sense to look at what others are doing and emulate it. There's nothing wrong with that.

But very often, the incumbents have various random steps that aren't really needed, particularly when you consider the benefits of technology. Online, many credit card forms from 10 years ago are unnecessarily ugly, complex and off-putting. Offline, e-signature is an obvious optimisation: why require someone to print out, sign, scan, and email, when they can just go to a website and click a couple of buttons?

I find this is particularly the case in the closing stage of the sale. A typical sales process involves signing a contract, and then paying an initial fee to get the work started. Why split this into two steps? If the reality is that the work will not get done until the initial fee is paid, make that the close. Specify, in your contract, that payment of the initial fee indicates acceptance of the terms. Get rid of the signature step altogether.

Every step in the sales process is an opportunity for the prospective customer to delay, get distracted, forget about you, or even just say no. Every step is an opportunity to lose customers. So cut down on these steps ruthlessly.

One important point in that respect, about lawyers. If you ask a lawyer whether you can safely cut out a step, they will tell you you can't. "Can we do business without getting a physical signature on the contract?" "Well, it's probably better to keep the contract step."

Lawyers aren't paid to be dynamic, business-minded, and try out new things. They're paid to protect you from potential mistakes. Taking the signature as an example, there are ways to accept an agreement that don't involve a signature. Even verbal agreement can be admissible in court. Ultimately, you're a business owner, and that means you'll have to take some measured risks to grow your business. How often do your deals end up in court? If that basically never happens, then you should prioritise making more sales over paying your dues to procedural anachronisms like physical signatures.

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