The Startup’s 4-step Guide to Building Strong Sales Pipeline

Sales and marketing event season just ended. If you weren’t overwhelmed with the number of technology choices out there, you didn’t go to the same events I did!

If you’re at a small company or startup, you were probably impressed and inspired by the highly sophisticated and advanced techniques that your peers at large companies with big teams are using to build lead pipeline. You might have been discouraged too – since you don’t have the same resources they do, and most of that shiny new tech is out of reach.

“Account-Based Marketing orchestration – sure, that sounds great,” you may think. “But I’m doing the job of demand generation, AND customer marketing, AND product marketing, AND the sales development team … with a bare minimum of tools to make that all happen!”

Small business building sales pipeline, sales leadsThat’s frustrating. But here’s the good news: In spite of your small size, you have access to resources and data on your target buyers that, just 5 years ago, could be found only in the rolodexes of the most experienced sales reps.

The availability of data is truly democratizing growth. As a small startup, the trick is knowing how to use it. You need to get your sales and marketing engine firing quickly, efficiently, and without a 50-person team behind it.

One-third of DiscoverOrg’s customers have fewer than 50 employees, and many are in startup growth mode. I spend time strategizing with at least one of them every week, helping them get their sales and marketing efforts off the ground. By far, the most common question is simply: “Where should I start, when I have limited resources? With inbound? With outbound? With ABM?”

My answer is the same: It’s not about inbound. It’s not about outbound.

It’s about being growthbound.

As an emerging business, you need to find the quickest, most efficient, and most sustainable route to growth.

Regardless of your industry, your deal size, your sales cycle, or your buyer, here are 4 simple steps that will get you to that next chapter – wherever you are in your growth journey.

1. Identify your most immediately viable target buyer

Who is your target buyer?

If your answer is either 1.) I don’t know, or 2.) everyone – Stop right there.

NOPE. Seriously, just stop.

Even if you really do have a total addressable market that could theoretically include everyone, you will never get off the ground trying to sell and market to the whole world.

“But Katie,” you might think, “I don’t have a operations team to help me build a model to focus on my target market. And quite frankly, I don’t have enough customers yet to even know who my best customers are.”

No problem. Let’s assume you have just 10 customers. Ask yourself what they have in common.

There’s usually a common denominator in at least a few deals. It could be, for instance, that 3 of them have similarities. Look for a pattern:

  • Industry
  • Size
  • A favorable condition like a new CTO, or new round of funding
  • Specific technology in place that your tool complements or replaces
  • Geographic location
  • …or something else entirely

You don’t need an advanced regression model to tell you if you sold your first big deals to Financial Services companies with a new CTO.

That’s perfect! You have all the info you need to start building your pipeline strategy.

Start with a market that you’ve already had success in, and find more companies like those. Remember, it’s just a starting place – you’ll come back and tackle the broader addressable market down the road. But first, let’s build a great group of customers in your sweet spot.

2. Build a targeted list of your most viable prospects

Let’s say, for example, that you’ve identified your first, most viable target segment as Financipal Services companies with a new CTO, because 3 of your first 10 customers had that in common.

Now it’s time to find potential buyers that look like those companies.

This example means that you are gathering two out of three types of prospect data: Fit, Intent, and Opportunity – which, collectively, is considered sales intelligence.

how startups can generate leads fast

“Fit” criteria is firmographic and demographic data. On the company level, this includes data like industry and company size and location; on the individual level, this includes contact information and job title. This type of data is basic, but critical: If a prospect is in a role that doesn’t have the authority to sign a check, for example, a sale will never happen – even if all the other pieces are there. In the example above, the company’s industry – financial services – is Fit data.

The example also touches Opportunity data – a newly hired CTO – which indicate favorable conditions, and the right time for sales outreach. Opportunity alerts often take the form of funding events, hiring events, new initiatives, and CXO moves – which indicate investments (i.e., sales).

Fit, Opportunity, and Intent data are three components of sales intelligence. Learn more here.

A tool like DiscoverOrg will allow you to build both a list of those companies with those characteristics, key contacts at the accounts, and detailed information about what’s happening within them, in literal seconds.

“Before I bought any tool other than a CRM, I would spend money on data. Great data is the number one sales and marketing productivity tool on the face of the planet.” – Trish Bertuzzi, CEO, The Bridge Group

 

Even better, when you follow those companies and contacts in DiscoverOrg, you will be alerted daily when conditions change so that you can continuously refine and improve your list.

With a list in hand of viable prospects from companies that you KNOW are a great fit for your product, it‘s time to start developing your outreach strategy.

3. Develop specific, relevant messaging and content for prospects

One of the most effective ways to create a message that your targeted buyers will listen to is to let their peers – your customers – tell the story.

So start with a simple case study and testimonial from one of your lookalike customers, highlighting why your product created value for them and be specific about the characteristics that make them similar to your target buyer:

  • Publish a case study on your website
  • Create a PDF of the case study for sales collateral
  • Shoot a 30-second video from your customer/s
  • Write several blogs that speak directly to your target buyers’ needs
  • Create 1 – 2 whitepapers, research reports, videos, or ebooks that put a unique spin on your story. (More on this in the next section)

One last thing: Make sure your team on the front lines knows how to tell these customer stories.

We do a lot of storytelling and roleplaying at DiscoverOrg; this is one of our most valuable training techniques. The more you can put your value story front and center – BEFORE your product features – the more likely you are to really connect with your prospects.

4. Test up to 5 demand generation tactics

Now it’s time to put down the pen to paper, and grow the pipeline.

Remember when I said that the most common question I hear from startups is where to start: Inbound, outbound, etc.? The right mixture depends on the unique profile of each company – there’s no magic bullet.

We always recommend a mix of both inbound and outbound, without overloading your capacity.

Demand generation for a startup:

  1. Build a clear, simple website optimized for your target buyer’s needs and wants, and make it easy for them to contact you for more information. A strong website is key for your long-term growth – and buyers expect it – but don’t expect it return an influx of inbound leads right away. This will take a little time.
  2. Invest in paid advertising for your top 3-5 keywords – Focus on those keywords that are most often searched by your target buyer when looking for a solution like yours. Paid advertising on search engines and social channels will build brand awareness and drive a quicker influx of inbound leads.
  3. account-based-cold-emailBuild an outbound prospecting sequence of emails, phone calls, direct mailers, and social engagement for your target accounts. I recommend a minimum of 10 touchpoints (20 touchpoints is better) in that sequence that are personalized based on the target buyer’s company and role. Since you have limited your initial targeting to [financial services companies with new CTOs], this should not be an unmanageable task. There are lots of relatively simple engagement tools out there that can automate most of this process for small companies, including Tellwise, SalesLoft, and Outreach -without requiring you to invest in a heavy platform.
  4. Invest in basic content syndication services through companies like TechTarget, Netline, IDG, or others that allow you to push your content (blogs, whitepapers, videos, etc.) to an audience that you have clearly defined. When those targeted potential customers download your placed content across a variety of sites on the web, they are sent directly to you as leads. You totally control the budget you want to spend here and only pay for leads that fit your criteria. Your brand awareness increases, your database grows, and you now have a reason to call.
  5. Host 1 – 2 private events with key influencers or partners in your industry to expand your reach. Breakfasts and lunches are always less expensive than fancy dinners. Invite a mixture of customers and prospects, and design the event to educate them and provide best practices on a topic that keeps them up at night. The event and topic should NOT be focused on your own product. This will give you an opportunity to build personal relationships, without blowing out your budget on high-ticket events and tradeshows.

After trying a variety of tactics, you’re likely to figure out which ones are most effective for your business. Fail fast and try something else. Invest more in those that work until you’ve found a successful formula for your business.

Build this playbook for your first target buyer segment, document everything, and then you’ll be able to replicate and tailor the approach as you target second, third, and fourth segments and expand your viable addressable market.

Don’t be fooled, though – none of this has an easy button. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half all of business don’t survive 5 years.

Those that do survive do the hard things – but they don’t overcomplicate them.

1.) Build a great product that meets a market need and that people are willing to pay for; 2.) Know your customer inside and out; 3.) Create a story that connects with that market; and 4.) Engage your target buyers through a variety of highly relevant and personalized methods – again, and again, and again.

Businesses who can do this are growthbound: They start small, and they know the next stop on their path to the goal – whatever that is.

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Katie Bullard

As Chief Growth Officer (CGO), Katie brings 15 years of marketing, product, and strategy experience in global, ..read more