Knowing how to sell is definitely one of the most important startup skills needed to attract both first customers and investors. However, according to Monika Holland, business advisor and “TechHub” pre-accelerator mentor at the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA), startup founders rarely have Sales and Marketing background, so they frequently face significant challenges in developing a startup.
“As we all know, when it comes to go-to-market, timing is everything. It is great if founders attract a Co-Founder with commercial experience who believes in their mission and shares their vision early on. Otherwise, I would strongly suggest to seek external help from Sales & Marketing professionals in order to reduce business risk, gain traction early on, shorten time to market and lift off at the right time with the right customers and investors on board”,– says M. Holland.
However, according to the mentor, not having a person experienced in sales might be fine early on if the founders are guided by external professionals in this field who help them lay the foundation for Sales and Marketing Strategies. There are specific steps to be completed by Founders with any background before they can start selling the product.
Obsess with the problem, not with the solution
“42 percent of startups fail due to lack of market need. This means that the founders obsessed with the solution to the problem they thought was crucial to be solved for a lot of people and went all in on building out the solution before finding product-market fit”,– says M. Holland. According to her, to have an in-depth understanding of the problem your solution intends to solve is one of the core steps that has to be completed when creating a startup and if done wrong, might be almost impossible to fix later on.
Validate the market before building the product
“The problem you are solving would ideally be affecting a lot of people, would be a growing problem, hopefully, urgent to be solved, expensive if not solved, perhaps mandatory to be solved by new legislation; or at least falls under a couple of these conditions. If that is not the case, achieving product-market fit might be more challenging than you thought. You can only understand this early in the journey by talking to your potential customers early and often with the aim of understanding the problem in-depth“,– says the mentor.
As she points out, the most advisable way to validate the product in the market is to solve the problem manually or by building a simple MVP (Minimal Viable Product) before building the product itself. This is the best way to reduce risk and give your idea a chance to become a profitable business.
Define your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) clearly and redefine it often
It is necessary to fully understand who your customers are, says M. Holland: “How are they solving the problem today? Are they aware they have a problem? Are they willing to solve it and why would they solve it with your solution? Fall in love with your customer. You will have to deal with them for the entire existence of your business. It is also crucial to understand that defining your ICP is not a one-time event, it is a process. This is a common misconception.“
Define and communicate your value proposition to your ideal customer
“Fully understand how their lives would change after they solved the problem they have with your proposed solution. How big is the impact? Measure the impact. Learn to talk about the problem the way your potential buyers would. Spend time to understand how your potential buyers would go about educating themselves and eventually purchasing your solution so you can wrap your internal Sales & Marketing strategies and processes around the buyer’s journey.“
Have a plan on when and how you will become profitable
“You will have to adjust the plan multiple times before you do become profitable, however having a plan will make all the difference. Your plan will be the North Star in the chaos and ambiguity that you will have to deal with as a Founder in the startup journey. If you are missing the right expertise in-house within the starting founder’s team, seek external help early in the journey. You will thank me later“,– says M. Holland.