It’s time to expand to new verticals
Facebook started with Harvard. Then Ivy League. Then US colleges. Then other colleges. AirBnB started with the San Francisco Bay Area. Then San Francisco. Then California. “Going global” sounds great, but make sure you do it if it makes 100% sense, and only then.
Focus on a niche. At all times. Then take the next closest niche.
Sales should not be a mind-blowing intellectual challenge. But it is if you make it. If every sale you attempt is in a different market, buyer persona, buyer journey, and use case. Then you will need to jump hoops mentally. But also product-wise and commercially every time you try to close a deal.
Unfortunately, that is what I see happening all the time with entrepreneurs. They are “big logo hunting”, chase every inbound lead and try to “Always Be Closing”. Because money is always short, ego is there and the prospect might even ask for the deal. But with this sales “strategy”, the phrase “Your tech startup is a glorified consultancy” might apply forever. Because you are selling and delivering custom, project-based services. Instead of product-based subscriptions or an otherwise scalable offering.
This is why focusing on a niche is as I see it the most important, but most neglected decision to stick with for any successful company.
Expansion is dilution. Dilution kills focus. Focus is your biggest asset.
This is (not) working! So we need to conquer new markets now!” If things go great, entrepreneurs strive for expansion. If things go bad, entrepreneurs strive for expansion. I have seen this go as far that every person in a company “leads” a different market offering or even business model.
The thing is: You are and will for the foreseeable future be resource-constrained. Too constrained to dilute your efforts on various offerings, geographies, or even business models. Focus is one of your biggest assets. But expansion kills focus because you’re trying to achieve too many things at once.
This is why focusing on a niche is in 90% of cases the solution to your focus problems. Now you might object “But I don’t know which niche I should focus on - how can I be sure I tackle the right one?”. That is a great, valid question. But there is a huge difference between validating a niche and taking an informed decision to conquer a niche.
Expand when you conquer a niche. Until you do, don’t.
It seems to find a niche and achieve product-market- fit is harder than scaling sales from 500k to 1M annual revenue. Because the second one is doing “more of the same” to a certain extent (the crossing the chasm challenge is real!).
Finding product-market t is hard because there is often no defined process to it. And it might be more individualized for your case than “just” closing 10 more deals in the same niche.
This is why you should invest a ton of energy into understanding the attractiveness and “readiness” for many niches. You can apply advanced lead generation methods and talk to as many potential buyers as possible at the beginning for this.
Stop selling until you understand the problems in your niche well. Then win 5-10 customers in that niche, create 1-2 case studies. And then approach 20-50 other companies in that niche. If you can execute on this within 6-12 months, it seems like you found an attractive niche. If not, dig deeper to make an informed decision if you are the problem. If the product is not ready. Or if you are ignorant to existing challenges. Or if trust is not there yet. Then decide if the niche is (not) a great t for your company.
Only once you have validated the niche, drive expansion to another niche. But not any niche, but the closest one, applying “ceteris paribus”. Change only one variable such as geography, adjacent industry. Think e.g. investment banks -> private equity firms -> family of offices -> hedge funds. NOT automotive and not even insurance.
It’s time to establish a sales organization
“I have 7 Kalashnikovs (Account Executives), but no ammunition for them.”, a VP Sales of a 5M+ ARR scale-up told me. Because all but one of their SDRs quit recently. If you must establish an organization, establish a lead generation engine. Predictable lead generation typically leads to predictable revenue. With or without 7 Account Executives.
If in doubt, fill the sales funnel.
There are tons of problems in B2B sales that kill companies. Such as neediness to close a deal or not enough conversations to validate a niche. Or frustrated salespeople that leave because they don’t get enough deals done.
Filling your sales funnel often helps to make the above go away. Because more leads mean less neediness to get one specific deal done. Sales reps have more conversations and learn faster which niches, sales arguments, and offerings work or not. And salespeople thrive because they actually close deals and make money.
Sales is also a numbers game to a certain extent. Double the amount of qualified leads and you will typically double your opportunities, new customers, revenue, and cash.
“We build shit and we sell shit and everything else is bullshit “
“Learn how to build. Learn how to sell. If you can do both, you will be unstoppable”. This is one of my favorite quotes from Naval Ravikant. Because it captures the essence of entrepreneurship in fewer words than most people take to introduce themselves.
Most people who give advice to early-stage startups have been or are still working for much larger companies. They need a sales organization because they have 10+ salespeople, but at least 10+ FTEs at all.
But as a startup, you for quite some time do not need people whose main job is to keep things organized. You need people who build shit and sell shit so you generate enough revenue. This way you build trust with customers and investors if you need them. And cash flow to pay salaries and other expenses. And market traction as this has the biggest potential impact on the mission you set out to achieve.
Middle management before 10 FTEs might be too early
Establishing a sales organization is not contributing (yet) to the above. Because you do not need one yet. Focus on building and selling, and the rest will take care of itself. OK, let’s be honest, the CEO aka CFO / COO / VP Product / Head of HR / Head of Problems will take care of itself. Hire managers once you can afford them to enable you to build and sell more yourself.
Sales myths busted by Manuel Hartmann. Find more on: https://thesalesplaybook.io/mythsdebunked