Yesterday when I wrote about what can make your pitch deck sizzle, I alluded to the fact that there are excellent pitch decks out there. Rather than have you search for them, I’ve compiled two actual decks from AirBnB and Home61 here as well as templates recommended by two venture capitalists that I admire. Hope you find them useful.
Brad Feld, another of my favorite writers/venture capitalists also provides a counterpoint, namely focusing on the pre-deck face-to-face pitch. In his words:
Feld often prefers more of a free-flowing conversation. So how do you spark an investor’s interest in that conversation? “The pitch should be very clear about what you are doing, why you are doing it and why I should care,” said Feld. “If you can cover those things quickly and precisely, it’s easy for me to decide whether I want to spend more time with you or not.”
Twenty-five years after publicly announcing it, at a party in Cupertino, I’ve finally begun to work on my first mystery novel. The visit to Hampi, which ironically I did many years after I had visited Pompeii, was the catalyst to set my murder mystery in early 16th century Vijayanagara. If you think making daily sales calls is hard writing every day is harder still. And I’m not even talking about writing well, just putting words on paper.
As entrepreneurs, we have to be storytellers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about making stuff up. Each day, whether we are trying to hire a new person, motivate an employee who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, persuade an investor to make a bridge investment or trying to get a customer to buy or better yet pay us an advance, we are trying to persuade others. Make no mistake, persuasion is selling. In a manner of speaking, we are all sales folks. The sooner we accept it, the sooner we can get better at it.
It’s no accident that the best sales folks are good great storytellers. Here’s the good news, like most things storytelling is a learned skill. With a little attention to how others do it and a good deal of practice, we can all get better at it. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) – and there’s no reason you can’t make a resolution or start a new habit on the 1st of November. Make improving your storytelling skills a goal. Notice I say improving, for we are all natural storytellers. Any time you’ve tried to lie to your mom, or a friend or fudged the facts with your spouse (none of which you’ve ever done of course!), you were telling a story—not necessarily well. Let’s get started. One of the simplest and most fun ways to do this is to join a ToastMaster’s club near you. Your storytelling will get better (mine certainly did) but at the very least you’ll make some new friends. It never hurts to have a life (and a few friends) outside of our businesses.
To make things easy for you, I’m sharing one video (below) and one article.- Get rolling.
Every year I try to learn something new – be it a skill, a tool or just some facts. 2018 has been a time of great learning, thanks to my daughter, I wanted to share two tools that I’ve learned about from her and since put to good use for myself and customers.
Canva, as my primary online visual design tool – from making Twitter or web post headers, webinar announcements to trifold brochures and even eBook cover design, this has been an amazing tool where every day I’m discovering more. Here are some examples
Tableau as my data visualization tool has similarly been a much used for not just number crunching, but being able to create excellent visualizations as well as insights that aren’t always self-evident from staring at the data in Excel.
Here are two examples
The kicker is, both of them are available online, easy-to-use and you can get started for free. They also have great online communities that can help you get up the learning curve fast. So give them a spin today and share your own favorite tools in the comments.
There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words. Thomas Reid
Photo credit: Gerard Stolk (vers Noel)
The trouble with most of us who speak in the English language is that we assume that people actually understand what we are saying. This last semester, as I set out to teach a course on International Marketing, I happened to ask the class casually, “How many of you understand the difference between marketing & sales?” The faces, more than the raised hands, clearly communicated the confusion over the two. So as I set out to clarify the difference, I learned a thing or two and reckoned I’ll share that with you.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. And in the interest of not reinventing the wheel, I’ll share what I reckoned was a good definition from Diffen.com.As they summarize it
Marketing The goal is to generate awareness and interest in the product/service and create leads or prospects, by influencing the perception and behavior of the target customer group.
Selling is focused on converting prospects to actual paying customers. Sales involve directly interacting with the prospects to persuade them to purchase the product.
This means the activities done by marketing and sales can be quite distinct
consumer research to identify the needs of the customers
product development – designing innovative products to meet existing or latent needs
advertisingand digital marketing the products to raise awareness and build the brand.
pricing products and services to maximize long-term revenue.
focused on converting prospects to actual paying customers. Sales involve directly interacting with the prospects to persuade them to purchase the product.
So far so good. Now that we are clear about definitions, does this help us figure out when does your business require marketing (or sales) and how much of it does it require? As we set out to answer this for some examples, I realized that there was some nuance to this, especially when it came to a matter of
target customers – are yours’ consumers or other businesses
sales channels – do you sell direct or through channels
Of course, neither of the above is an either/or answer. You could have both consumer and business sales (think airlines, catering or training classes) and could be both direct or channel (advertising, over-the-counter medications).
While the role of marketing remains building awareness and generating demand – its relative contribution and nature of activities depend on which of these combinations your business falls into. With the rise of internet and e-commerce, certain categories of consumer-targeted businesses can operate without any sales force at all. Similarly, business-focused sales channels, which are businesses themselves such as aggregators or distributors, rely primarily on the marketing of their principals to drive demand. Even these folks have to market themselves to stand out from their competition.
Here’s a useful framework (and some examples) to think about this. What is the product or service you are selling and to whom are you selling it and how will you sell it to them? And what marketing will be directed towards whom? And what sorts of sales activities and personnel will you need to meet your goals?
Here are two different examples of companies that sell primarily to consumers (airlines, cars) or businesses (Facebook ads) and what they do for sales & marketing. Of course, all these businesses serve both consumers and businesses to varying degrees.
I’d love to hear how this looks for your business. Happy hunting.
Marketing is probably one of the most misunderstood of functions – particularly in startups. Product development or even sales seem easy enough to understand but the average entrepreneur struggles with marketing. One of the reasons for this is our common confusion of activities (what does marketing do) and outcomes (what should marketing accomplish). The emergence of the internet, mobile and social media has only muddied the waters further. Popular media, particularly television and to a lesser degree the movies haven’t helped, painting a picture of marketers as either slick Madison Avenue types or slimy snake oil salesmen.
Theodore Levitt, the American economist, said “marketing … view(s) the entire business process as consisting of a tightly integrated effort to discover, create, arouse and satisfy customer needs.” Whilst I certainly agree with Levitt’s definition in his book “The Marketing Imagination” I’d simplify it to the following assertion:
For startups, at any stage, marketing has to achieve only one goal or outcome – profitable growth!
I’d argue there are only one of three ways to achieve this.
shorten the selling cycle
optimize the selling price
maximize profit in absolute terms
A little math before we jump into each of these. Regardless of whether a business offers products or services, profits boil down to
Profits (P) = Revenues (R) – Costs (C)
This would imply that anything that improves revenues or decreases costs, is likely to increase profits. So ideally marketing will increase R and decrease C thereby maximizing P. As our Chairman was fond of saying, there’s the minor matter of managing cash – it’s better for money to come in today rather than tomorrow – in other words we could be profitable on paper but still fail as a business because we ran out of money.
So what should marketing do? Marketing needs to be doing whatever is required to achieve one or more of these objectives which will result in the desired outcome – profitable growth (in case you missed it the first time).
Shorten selling cycles If your customers buy whatever you are selling sooner (than they would if you didn’t do any marketing) then you are doing something right. So if the brand value (or recall) will help shorten selling cycles you’d do that. If educating the customer (inbound marketing) or free trials (freemium), partnerships or Google ads shorten the selling cycle you’d do those. Alternately, any of those if they have no impact on shortening selling cycles, you’d abandon them. In other words, rather than doing what you did in your previous job, or what your competitors are doing, or what TechCrunch or HBR say is the hottest marketing trend, let the results drive what you do. You may use some or all the previous methods, but measure and keep only those that shorten your selling cycles. So any time your marketing team proposes a campaign or a strategy, you’d want to know will this shorten my selling cycle. Shortening selling cycles is the knob that you likely have the most influence over.
Optimise Selling Price One way to shorten selling cycles is to drop your price – it’s also a good way to go out of business or rush to the bottom at least. If you make a loss on each unit, no amount of sales volume is going to make it up. And dropping price alone does not make selling (or revenues) easier. Ask all those mobile app developers trying to sell a $0.99 app. And if that is hard, making a $2,500 course or $60,000 service, you’ll discover takes even longer. Selling at the highest possible price, that the customer is willing to pay or market can bear (real estate anyone?) is one way to maximise revenue. However, this may affect the number of units you may move and the time it takes to make the sale. The market for 5 million-dollar homes is finite – say you make one a year. Then again you’d have to sell fifty (50) $100,000 homes to make the same $5 million revenue, which may mean one a week!. So marketing has to make two critical determination – who’s our customer and what are they prepared to pay and how do I get them to pay me the best price? Again brand perception, may command a high price ($120 white T-shirts) or positioning – can you afford to risk your family’s safety (Volvo) – the cost of alternates or non-purchase (insurance) are all things marketers may do – with the optimising selling price. Different segments (homeowners vs farmers) may consume the same product (insecticide) in different volumes (frequency of use), form factors (storage constraints), and therefore price. The higher unit sales, at lower price (but high margins) of homebuyers may underwrite the lower price (and margins) at high volumes of farmers (which drives unit cost of production down). So segmenting, positioning and pricing are strongly correlated.
Maximize absolute profit “We make 200% (or even infinite) margin on each unit we ship,” would be a true statement for products such as software – where incremental unit costs are negligible or even for a sandwich or burger. But such unit margin is illusional if you take the cost of all the software engineers or cooks (and the rent to house them). Unit (or gross) margins are important, but high or at least positive net margins are nicer. Even if you make a profit on each sale, funding new product development or growing your revenue requires more money – in which case profit (gross or net) cannot be a matter of only measured in percentage terms but in absolute dollar terms. Almost for any business (there are exceptions) this means growing revenues while maintaining or even growing margins, so that you can at least keep up with inflation that leads to increasing salaries or other input costs, even if you don’t wish to innovate or grow. Marketing can help achieve this by bringing growth – be it demand creation (new markets), greater market share (revenue growth) that will not just increase revenues but profits.
Everything else, you’ve learned or heard about marketing whether the four Ps (product, price, positioning, promotion) or four Cs (consumer, cost, communication, convenience), inbound or content marketing, paid or earned media or any other flavor-of-the-week are all mere methods or tools to achieve these objectives.
A former colleague reached out to me recently seeking help. He’d inherited responsibility for a set of retail outlets in medium-sized city. Unfortunately the inheritance did not come with a marketing budget and he was wondering how he could set the business on fire. We briefly discussed what their business was about, what challenges he faced, what his competitors were already doing and such. We brainstormed a little and then tried to put down some specific action items or at least things to try.
As I reflected on our conversation it struck me how much of what we’d discussed was true not just for this retail gig, but for any business. As with all great truths, they seem simple enough to articulate, but is well worth reminding ourselves periodically. More importantly, regardless of the tactics we’d use, and these will change with both our business types, time and place, these three strategic steps will rarely change.
Creating Awareness People need to know you exist, before they can buy from you. It’s even better if they know why you exist, what you stand for and how you are different. But you gotta start with folks being aware. How do you create awareness, especially when you don’t have a marketing budget? In my friend’s case, it begins with the tried and tested real world methods such as handing out flyers at the street corner or a man with a sandwich board neither of which costs much. In his case given milk and dairy products he sells, targeting local apartment complexes, with both inserts in newspapers as well as display booth maximizes number of folks who get to know he exists. Of course getting his current customers to spread the word – word of mouth – is a great way to get the word out. This works whether you are an online school, SaaS B2B service provider or social network for new moms. Thought leadership, writing for the local (or hyperlocal) paper, presentations at local schools (or corporates) are ways to identify your brand/store/product to value for the prospective customer. Content marketing in many ways enriches all the above and builds a long tail of awareness creation.
Generating Footfalls Ok, now you gotta a lot of people aware that you exist. Now you gotta get them into your store – physical in my friends case, possibly online in your own. This is what marketers think of as Call to Action (CTA). How do you get someone who’s aware of you to act upon it – usually by visiting you. Promotions, contests or freebies are common ways of generating footfalls – for instance the chappie handing out flyers at a street corner, could offer a free ice cream (or n% of a second purchase) as a way to induce footfalls. Online free e-books, flash sales, or other forms of giveaways could be used to induce footfalls. Keep in mind, what tactics you use to generate footfalls will change with the nature of your business, physical vs online stores, target audience, time and place. In fact tactics that work at one time may not work or worse yet backfire at other times. Generating footfalls need not be only about price or giving away stuff for free, but is always about providing value for the customer. Skin type testing, bra fitting, financial education – all these are things of value to the user that can help them cross your threshold, and it need not cost you money, at least not a whole lot.
Building a relationship All of us, however good or bad, can get one customer or some customers to buy. The trick is how do you get a lot of them buying on an ongoing basis, bringing others in or inducing others to buy. This requires that we build a relationship with our customers. Just because we want to have a relationship with them doesn’t mean they’d want one with us. Worse yet, if you did a poor job with creating awareness, either by misleading them or worse, they’d want nothing to do with you. Also if you generate footfalls under false pretence – using bait and switch tactics or worse, they not only run away but tell 10 other people to avoid you. So being authentic, understanding their needs is the first step in building a relationship. Consistently serving their needs, ideally anticipating, setting and exceeding expectations is the way to build lasting relationships. While not trivial, it’s not rocket science either. In my friend’s case, it’s knowing the regulars, keeping in touch with them, not just in the store but outside. In your business it may involve newsletters, making recommendations or connecting with partners or other service providers and above all listening to them, what they are saying and what they aren’t.
As the writers Sean Platt and Johnnie Truant advocate Write, Publish, Repeat, to become a successful writer, building business is all about Create Awareness, Generate Footfalls, Build Relationships. Repeat.
Neil Patel’s QuickSprout blog has always been a great source of marketing information. This last week I caught up with some of their earlier posts and this great infographic on The 6 Elements of a Powerful Blog Post caught my eye. In summary,
Include engaging photos or pictures
Use clean design and layout
Have a unique voice
Connect with social media
Have a call to action
Go against the grain
You can see Neil’s original article and infographic here.
Every startup should engage in Public Relations (PR) from day one. Does this mean you hire a PR firm? Absolutely NOT! When you talk about your start up at your local college, a Meetup or a friend’s wedding, you are doing PR.
Of course, as with all such activities, if you do it in a systematic and smart manner it can pay off in a big way. It’s easy (and wrong) to imagine public relations to be a matter of hiring a PR firm and talking to the media. It’s really about letting your stakeholder community know that you exist and shaping their perception of you.
As all-knowing Wikipedia quotes
“The aim of public relations by a company often is to persuade the public, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders to maintain a certain point of view about it, its leadership, products, or of political decisions. Common activities include speaking at conferences, winning industry awards, working with the press, and employee communication.”
With that said, here are three reasons for a start up to do PR.
Customers If customer’s haven’t heard of you or know that you exist, it’s hard to get them to buy from you. A well thought-out PR plan, even if executed by one person, usually the founder, can do wonders. This is particularly true for anyone in the B2B business. It’s nice if customers have heard of you before you show up at their doorstep. This can be done in any number of creative and no-money-spent ways from blog posts, contributed articles or op-ed pieces in your local paper, talks at industry bodies or local associations, or newsletters. A side benefit of such PR activity is that you get to practice and refine your company’s story, which is always a good thing. It’s also a great way to figure what resonates with your target audience and in some instances, even refine who your target audience really is!
Employees If you grow, or land that first or tenth customer, you’ll find you’ll want to be attracting employees. Even more importantly, if you’ve hired folks, you’d want to retain them and keep them motivated. Nothing works like seeing your company’s name in the paper, a poster, on the TV or in social media, to both attract and inspire folks. If like most start ups you’re asking them to work hard and make sacrifices then such inspiration is not an option. In time, you can get your team to do the PR, which will help build their own personal brands and bring goodwill and repute to your business.
Investors At some point if you wish to raise money, whether from friends, family or other fools, or professional investors, it helps – much like with customers – if they’ve heard of you. While a lot of ink offers no certainty of raising money, it provides folks the comfort that you’ve been around, survived and hopefully thrived by the time you approach them. The beauty about PR done well is that it allows you to drive the conversation about what your company stands for and sets context, so that you are really not an unknown or worse yet, a . Imisunderstood quantity to prospective investors.
So darn right, as long as you spend a finite amount of time and constantly measure the effectiveness of your activities, I’d assert every start up should invest in public relations from day one!
This last quarter, I met several interesting startups, that had a clutch of good customers. When I asked them “How can I help you?” at least three of them asked for help with sales. Not what you’d think, as in find me customers or introduce me to prospects but how do I manage my sales pipeline. In fact two of them specifically had the question “How do I track my sales pipeline?”
Over the last several years, while I’ve used a variety of tools from mere contact managers through sophisticated deal trackers to full-fledged CRM suites, I’ve found myself returning each time to a simple spreadsheet-based sales tracker, at least in the early days. The tracker has not only evolved as I’ve learned but stayed surprisingly simple and has worked just as well in a fund-raising function at non-profits as it has in a for-profit startup.
As I promised these founders, I’m open sourcing the sample tracker as an Microsoft Excel spreadsheet as well as Google docs template. The tracker can be used for selling products or services or combinations thereof. You can download it here.
The tracker has three parts.
1. Setup – your business basics
Based on the nature of your business (product or service), actual sales offerings and the sales process your business may have to follow, you can tweak the setup. All this is done in a single worksheet (the last one, titled “Stages, Categories, etc.” of the online sales tracker). This one time set up of your product or service offerings, your sales persons (or deal owners), and stages of your selling process, makes maintaining your sales tracker easy and minimizes human or data entry errors.
Figure 1 – Typical Sales Stages
Sales stage this is simply the series of steps you have to go through from start to finish to close a sale. It begins with you first identifying a potential target customer for your product or service and runs all the way through receiving payment from the customer (never forget collecting the money is a critical part of making a sale). Figure 1 shows one such typical sales cycle.
Figure 2 – Sales stages for a demo-based sale
Sales stages obviously can vary for your particular business – one common variant that I encounter is when a demo installation or trial period needs to be offered to a customer (something you ideally want to get away from, but unavoidable particularly at tech startups in the B2B space). In this case there may be more interim steps (or stages) in your sales tracker.
Similarly you can set up your product or service offerings, as in actual names or code names that tell you what product or service you are talking about.
Tip: Typically I’ve found it useful to precede the offering name with a numeral such as 1-Bluetooth Stack or 2-SEO Consulting, as this makes sorting and other types of numeral based operations easier. For instance variants could all be numbered within say 100-200 so reports can be easily generated.
2. Sales Tracker
The sales tracker is a straightforward spreadsheet, with each prospective sale or deal on a separate row. For each deal, the row (or record) spells out, who the customer is, what is it that’s being sold (opportunity or offering), what revenue (or selling price) you expect, what sales stage is the specific deal at, who owns the deal and what the target close date is. You can of course have additional fields such as comments, or next steps, key customer contact. Figure 3 below shows a sample tracker for product sales.
Figure 3 Sales Tracker
The tracker also has variants of the sales tracker, if you need to track number of units (N) and have a unit price (P) and therefore compute deal size based on NxP (tab, Sales_Tracker_B_Units). Similarly there’s a tracker variant for service or project selling, (tab, Sales_Tracker_C_Project) where you can add descriptors for a project in addition to any opportunity or offering name you provide. Of course your business may require yet another variant, but you can simply by adding columns make the tracker your own.
By using the Filter function in Excel, you can look up deals
of a particular size or greater
expect to close prior to a specific date
belonging to a particular sales owner or product (or both)
at or before a certain sales stage
that have closed but you’ve not gotten payment
In other words, an individual sales guy (that’s you) can see which of his deals he should focus on this week to close, what is the value of deals you intend to close this month (or week or quarter), which deals have NOT moved for more than a month – you get the idea, you can pretty much filter it any way you need.
3. Summary Report
Figure 4 Report Master
The first tab Report_Master, is a quick overview report of your sales pipeline. It presently has both #deals and deal value by sales stage. I’ve set these up as formulas – these could just as easily be set up as pivot tables if you so desire. You could do without this master report sheet, by merely filtering the sales tracker sheet itself. Alternately if you find that you are running some searches often, you can just have them set up as reports. Its also useful to have a report if you multiple folks are using the tracker and you want a big picture view.
Good luck with your sales – as and when you make improvements do share and spread the love and knowledge. If you have any questions please feel free to ask questions in the comments below. Spread the word. Happy selling!
A question posted in the HeadStart Forum once again reminded me of how easy many of us find it to build the product first before figuring out how best to get customers. Having bootstrapped two startups and mentored several more, here are three tips on bagging the first (new) customer.
Your ex-employer if you’ve worked before you started up on your own, your ex-employer & ex-colleagues are the best place to start. They know you, hopefully don’t dislike you & you know how much money they have. They also likely can give you honest, even if not favorable, feedback on your product or service. Other than your mother, this is likely the most friendly reception you might get from a prospective customer.
Your ex-employer’s customers This is how I got my first break – when my employer turned down a customer who was deemed too small. I approached them with a request to be able to address their requirement and was given the go-ahead. This let me take the PO, a 30% advance and then start my first company, with a customer and cash in hand. Don’t hesitate to ask and don’t be surprised if your ex-employer and their customers are amenable to such an arrangement – as everyone prefers to deal with a known quantity.
Reference customer Visualize who’d be your ideal customer and more importantly the customer for whom your solution would be ideal. Strike a deal – such as a free trial or finite number of units or one [week | month | year] of free product or service – whichever make sense depending on what your offering is – in return for a strong endorsement or further references. So if Amazon India or Procter & Gamble or some other name brand or market/channel leader is prepared to endorse your product or service, it can open the flood gates to more customers. This requires you to be able to articulate your value clearly to your prospective customer and explicitly asking them for a reference.
Of course as with looking for a job or in the Indian context, looking to get married, it’s a good idea to let everyone you know, that you are looking for customers. So trade shows, your website, entrepreneur community forums, family weddings are all fair game to chase customers. While this is more likely to result in business cards and contacts, it will be ripe for the picking once you have that first customer. Happy hunting!
Over the last several years, I have written about startups, entrepreneurship and business in general in the Hindu BizLine and Wall St. Journal. I have compiled these for easy access in the column below.