#SWAAYthenarrative

How To Qualify Your Prospect As An Early-stage Founder

10 Min Read
Business

"Sales is two things. It's one part problem solving and one part project management." — Whitney Sales, The Sales Method and Acceleprise

With more businesses staying home these days, running sales calls are more important than ever. Calls are a great way to maintain a human connection with your prospects while assessing whether your product fits the prospect's needs. We've teamed up with Whitney Sales, Managing Partner at Acceleprise and creator of The Sales Method, to give you the best tips to tackle your next qualifying call with a potential prospect.

The Sales Method is a step-by-step approach to delivering the best sales experience to your prospect. Sales introduced her approach to two hundred SoGal Global Pitch founders and Chapter Leads at the SoGal Bootcamp leading up to the 2020 SoGal Summit & Global Pitch Finals.

ICYMI, the #SoGalGlobalPitch is the largest worldwide pitch competition for women and diverse entrepreneurs, spanning 25 cities across the U.S., Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, and Canada. She kicked off the 3-day boot camp with several other expert speakers in early-stage fundraising, media, product design, talent acquisition, and culture building.

Ready to tighten up your sales call?

The first part of your call should be just as fun as it is informative. Try to keep it short by shooting for less than 10 mins. Focus on building rapport, confirm your prospect's goals, set the agenda of the meeting, and really dig into understanding the responsibilities of the prospect you're speaking with. Setting a structure for the conversation is important, says Sales, so that you can maintain control of the conversation and learn what you need to from your prospect.

Laugh

Take 1–3 mins right off the bat to build rapport through laughter. Talk about something funny that happened in your life. Sales says, "Laughter establishes — or restores — a positive emotional climate and sense of connection between two people. It forces two people to take pleasure in the company of each other." Making a "good" joke makes you seem more competent too. Not only that, but Sales says it also increases neural activity, so you're literally making your prospect smarter by getting them to laugh.

If you don't have anything humorous up your sleeve, try breaking the ice by sharing a fun fact you found out about their company, a trend you've read about in their industry, or a story about a mutual connection (maybe the person who connected you?).

Introductions

Go over each person's name, title, and responsibilities, starting with your own. Responsibilities are incredibly important to understand since titles have a lot of different meanings these days. Discuss how you were connected to one another. Then confirm how much time you have for the entire call.

Don't forget to take notes. "If there are multiple people in a sales meeting," Sales says, "Take notes on the dynamics between the people. This will give you insight into the management style of the organization and how to sell to this particular prospect (top-down, consensus, executive committee)."

If you notice someone hasn't said something for a little while you can ask them a specific question to make sure they're engaged.

In many cases, Sales says, the person you're on the phone or video with won't be the ultimate decision-maker. They'll be an "influencer" or a "champion." An influencer is someone who feels the pain your product solves for, but isn't the person signing off on the deal. A champion is someone with influence in their company who can help you navigate the decision-making process. If you are selling to mid-market or enterprise companies, you'll likely have multiple people involved in the decision-making process. Sales notes, "Every time you add a new person to a sales process, you need to assume the new person doesn't have context about your company or product and you need to requalify (stay tuned for part three below).

Agenda: When setting an agenda, Sales suggests borrowing from the Sandler Selling System. Create an upfront contract with the prospect around the agenda (your goals, their goals, what success would look like, etc.). Confirm how much time you have. Lastly, set a structure for when questions should be asked since cultures respond to questions differently. Some wait. Some can't concentrate until they ask their questions. Help your prospect by letting them know when questions are appropriate.

Here's an example from Sales if you need an idea of what to say: "So I want to go over a quick agenda for the meeting today. My goals for the call are to get a good understanding of how you guys currently do XXX. Then discuss how we can help you with XXX. If there's a fit, we can go over the next steps. Sound like a plan? Great. Is there anything in particular that you would like to cover? One thing I do want to ask is that we make this a discussion vs. a pitch. Though I love to hear myself talk, your questions are much more enjoyable for me than the sound of my own voice. If you have any questions, please feel free to interrupt me."

Intros are made. The agenda is set. Now it's time to a better understanding of exactly what it is they need and if you're a good fit for their needs.

Founder Story

"Your founding story is the first pitch of your product told through the lens of you, as the customer," Sales says. "It should establish you as a thought leader who understands the problem your prospect faces, frame the pain point(s) you solve for and build trust and credibility. Help the prospect understand how they can be a hero through your experience with the problem."

Before diving into your story, ask them what they know about you and your company. It's a great buying signal if they've done their homework. Use what they know as a starting point to follow up with a structured description of how you discovered the problem, market trends that led you to the problem, how it impacted you personally, why current solutions in the market don't actually address the problem, and how you built your solution to ultimately fill the need. Try to keep this short, shoot for 4–5 sentences.

Need help crafting the perfect elevator pitch? SoGal Co-Founder Pocket Sun says a good elevator pitch "makes me feel like I learned something new with ease and that I want to do something about it." She adds, "It's about generating interest and establishing credibility."

Qualify

This part of the call is for you to gauge whether your prospect is a fit for you. Are they a good fit? Great. Are they not a fit? No problem. Sales says to let them know so you don't waste either party's time, but leave the door open to when the product is a fit the future.

To determine fit, ask no more than three of what Sales refers to as Value-Based Questions (VBQs). This sort of question should be open-ended. Use phrases such as, "Walk me through how you currently do X," and "Help me understand how you currently think about/approach X." Keep in mind what you need to know about the prospect to understand if they are a good fit for you. Sales says to then give only Value Based Responses (VBRs), which means you want to educate your prospect on how the problem plays out in their industry with quantifiable data. VBRs are not a pitch; they are about framing the problem in your prospect's mind and using your knowledge of the industry to challenge your prospect's thinking about the problem.

Do you have some relevant prospects' names you can drop? Sales says to go for it. "Casual competitor name dropping in your VBR is a great way to peak curiosity, build credibility, and engage your prospect," she says. "Statistics are also a great way to guide the prospect's thought process and quantify the problem you are solving."

Now you've laid down the framework for what you can offer and why it fits into their overall business. In this next phase of your call, establish credibility for your business and identify their KPIs to design an ROI story for your prospect.

Use Case

If you choose to give a demo during a meeting, deliver a demo through a customer's experience. This frames the benefits of your product as facts instead of opinions so you sound more credible, include the ROI, make it relatable to their pain points, and tie it back to what you've learned from your VBQs. If you're just starting out and don't have a previous case study, use customer discovery or beta customer stories instead. If your prospect has an objection, don't sweat it. Sales recommends saying something like this: "That's actually something we hear a lot. X had the same concern. When they started using the product they found Y."

"If you're doing demos on the first call, show the specific aspect of the product that applies to their needs. You don't need to show the whole product, unless they ask," Sales says. "Focus on the parts of the product that are relevant to this prospect. We know you're proud of your product, but this meeting is about them, not about you. It's not show and tell. If you are a higher-priced product, hold off on the demo until you have all the stakeholders in the room. Avoid using your product/deck as a crutch to pitch versus asking questions."

Sales quotes Paul Graham's saying, "It takes 10 customers to get to 100." Each prospect creates a use case that can be repeated across other prospects, which creates more use cases and so on. Think of it as a hub and spoke model. As your portfolio of use cases develops, make sure you're using the most relevant cases to your current prospect's needs.

Sell

Once you've gone through your relevant use case, it's time to outline the specific ROI you can offer the prospect by going back to your VBQs. What exactly do you need to know to put together a clear use case for the prospect? Be intentional with your questions. When you enter the selling portion of the conversation, use your VBRs to show empathy to gain a deeper understanding of the prospect's personal experience with the problem.

In other words, this is when you want your prospect to vent to you. As Sales says, the VBRs "should be focused on relating to the prospect's pain, educating the prospect that this is common for people in their role, and validating the problem your product solves."

ROI

Explain how using your product/service will solve the problem you learned about when you qualified the prospect. Identify their key benefits from your VBQs. Tie the benefits of the product to a clear ROI for the prospect. The prospect should be able to see themselves using the product and how it will benefit them day to day. Clarity is key here, especially if they need to take this information back to their company stakeholders. Although the time for questions is up to you, make sure you have room for some questions here.

Hot tip: Sales says questions fall into two buckets: value and process. If someone asks a value-based question, this indicates that they still haven't bought in on the problem your product solves. You need to go back and re-qualify. These questions also make great topics for content as you scale because they are knowledge gaps in the industry. If your prospect asks process-based questions such as what the setup process looks like, this a buying signal.

You're almost there! Map the close, confirm everything, and schedule the next steps.

B.A.N.T.

After you feel that you fully understand each party's goals, repeat what you learned back to them and get confirmation that it is correct. Use the B.A.N.T. outline:

  • Budget: How do you typically evaluate tools like this? Is this something resources have been allocated for? (If your product requires technical integration) What does your sprint cycle look like and how do things get prioritized in your sprints?
  • Authority: Is there anyone who needs to see the product/service or be involved in the decision-making process? If so, what is their role and what do they care about? (Notice you're not asking if they're a decision-maker.)
  • Needs: Needs should have been established previously.
  • Timeline: Have you ever purchased a tool like this before? What was the process like? Do you have a legal process? Understand if the purchase is tied to an internal deadline to drive urgency.

Next Steps: Spend the last minutes of your call clearly outlining the next steps. What are your action items? What are theirs? Confirm you understand what will happen after you hop off the call and when. Always schedule your next step and when you both hang up, follow up with an email of action items, and shoot then a calendar invite for the next meeting or check-in complete with an agenda for your next conversation.

And there you have it! After the call, jot down important notes and you're on your way. Record your calls. Sales doesn't recommend using the recordings as scripts, but rather as a resource for your learning and future training for your team. "Each salesperson is different and has their own style." Sales says. "Record all your sales calls (even the bad ones!) so your team can learn from founders and develop their own style from what they've learned."

Whitney Sales speaks at the 2020 SoGal Global Pitch Boot Camp on February 28. Photo by Kathryn Lane Photography.

We're pleased to share Sale's method and expertise with the SoGal community who couldn't attend our bootcamp. We hope you find this approach helpful and would love to hear your feedback if you use the approach in your next sales call.

You can learn more from Whitney at @thesalesmethod or on Linkedin.

To get involved with the SoGal community, subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on social, and check out our related articles.

3 Min Read
Business

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.