Skinned knees—what an MBA didn’t teach you for rebel sales in a software startup

The pitch you want to give, yet need to create

The next in our series “Skinned knees—what an MBA didn't teach you for rebel sales in a software startup”, let’s talk about the challenge of doing a sales pitch for a product that has never been pitched.

Every day at a startup has challenges. You know this. That’s why being a founder or a member of the founding team can be very exciting. Having been in your shoes, I find that developing the sales pitch can be both heartbreaking and exciting. Starting from scratch and being ready to take on the world is noble, yet the downside is having absolutely no historical examples to jumpstart the creative process.

You may be lucky. Your software startup may be biting at the heels of one or more big competitors. If this is the case, you simply position yourself against their value proposition and say that you are better at something then the big guys.

Maybe you are also cheaper than the big guys (I hope not because pricing can always be lowered due to competitive pressures). Creating a value proposition that is “cheaper” may not be enough to differentiate you in the long run, but there is no question that it can be an advantage if your cost model still allows you to be profitable.

Do Not Internalize Doubt

But what if you need to create a unique value proposition and you cannot copy the value proposition of anyone else? What if your offering is so unique that it is hard to find another company and copy their idea?

First of all, if you are so unique that no one else is doing this, are you too unique? Is there anyone to actually sell to? Did you identify a missed goal that no one else can see, or is it a market that isn’t really there? Do you have a solution looking for a market, or are you in a market looking for a solution? This is really important, and I discuss it in my book, Eliminate Your Competition since competitors prove your need to be in the market. If you have no competitors, you may not have anyone to sell.

By the way, these questions come from many of my successes as well as failures. In my career, I have been fortunate to have amazing mentors. If you have them too, see if they can do a thirty-minute coffee break with you. Ask them your questions. They may not have the immediate answers you seek, but they will have encouraging words that may lead to somewhere you had not yet considered.

Another consideration is to find peer founders at your incubator or accelerator. Obvious cautionary tale, please rephrase your questions so as not to give away any intellectual property or competitive advantage. Polling your peers does have the advantage of boots-on-the-ground knowledge. Having founders who are in the thick of operations and execution will get you another perspective.

Do Something About It

Before your first customer order, you need to use the time-honored practice of A/B marketing. Whereas, my prior suggestion focused on opinion gathering, now I want you to put some of that knowledge into actual use. You should have enough material by this point to create a compelling story.

The downside of A/B sales pitches is that you run the risk of completely blowing a sales pitch to a prospect you desire. That is fine as it is almost as important to understand what NOT to say as it is to understand what you should say. After all, we all grok that “No” is never final and you can always go back to that rejection and explain that you didn’t explain it well and ask to speak again.

Once you have closed a few deals, then you need to have positive feedback from those early adopter customers. To ensure you are truly addressing a need that no other company is solving, you need customers to part with their precious cash in return for your product. Nothing else will prove your value proposition as well as cash.

After you have those first 5-10 customers, ask them what your value proposition should be for your company and product. They are probably not marketing folks with exceptional abilities to write concise and pointed value statements, but they can give you the essential words or philosophies. Hire a copywriter to take those basic statements to craft a message that is unique to you and epitomizes your message.

This method was recently discussed in an article on First Round. The article is about the email marketing success of Watsi. Grace Garey of Watsi explains: “For the longest time, we had it in our heads that people donate on Watsi because they are moved by a patient photo or story and they act on impulse. When we started to see droves of people sign up to donate continuously through the Universal Fund, we realized that users’ motivations were really varied and there might be new ways to reach them we hadn’t ever thought about. We didn’t expect that people really bought into a much broader vision for what Watsi was about — that they didn’t want to just help the person whose profile they were looking at, but underserved patients in general.”

Watsi found a value proposition for their fundraisers by listening to their donors (customers). They were able to learn from those successes to fine-tune their value proposition. You can do the exact same thing with your startup.
By the way, you should seriously check out Watsi. 100% of your donation funds life-changing surgery. It is a great organization, and you can donate here: https://watsi.org/crowdfunding. Agile Stacks doesn’t have any relationship with the charity, but we are seriously interested in making the world a better place.

Topics: Startup, Sales, Business Development

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