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Startup sales: #1: Map your sales process

Sales is a critical activity for B2B startups. It's also a bit of a black art, that many entrepreneurs learn on the job, whether or not they come from a sales background. Entrepreneurial sales is a tough job.

Here are some principles and tips that can help you make this activity more reliably successful. I'll be publishing a new one each day until I run out of things to add. Why not publish them all at once? Because no one will read the 2-3000 word article that would result. Also, because I'm clearly evil and want you to come back regularly to check for more, bwahaha.

Anyway, here goes!

#1: Map your sales process

At the beginning, selling is a highly chaotic activity. That's only natural: you don't really know what you're selling, what your key selling points are, what typical objections are, what the bottlenecks are, etc.

However, over time, a process emerges - documented or not. Every client is unique, but there are some steps, some activities, which are common with most clients. "Set up an initial meeting/phone call", for example, or "send a contract", or even "do some preliminary research".

If you never make the effort to map this process, it continues to feel chaotic. As a result, your salespeople (whether you have one or many) will feel more and more stressed as the volume of sales increases, because they feel responsible for everything, from the lead generation down to the closing.

Once you have a process mapped, this enables you to:

  • put metrics in place and start measuring what's going on where, when, etc;
  • use these sales metrics to predict where the business will be in 3 months (all other things being equal, 3 times as many qualified referrals this month probably means 3 times as much business in a few months);
  • figure out the bottlenecks and deal with them: if the process constantly gets stuck in the same place, it's worth paying extra attention to this step, and solving the problem;
  • systematise parts of the sales process so they can be either outsourced or delegated to new hires, so you can free up your best salespeople to focus on the hardest parts of the sale;
  • and more.

Mapping the sales process is a starting point. It doesn't have to exactly map every sale. As I said, every client is different. But if it applies to 80% or 90% of your sales, that's enough.

To get you started, here's a typical sales process, broken down in high level steps:

  1. Lead generation (networking, workshops, online, referrals, etc)
  2. Pre-qualification and triage
  3. Contact and sale
  4. Close

If your sales process doesn't have those four steps, you're probably missing something important.

More from the library:
Recruiting in the Valley: the recruiter honeypot
What is a startup?
What have you done wrong?