Start-Up Sales Journeys

Corinne Thomas

Corinne Thomas

Founder & Managing Director

start-up sales

Three inspiring start-up founders share their sales journeys and successes.

During our recent webinar ‘Sales Strategies for Start-ups’, our founder Corinne interviewed several inspiring founders of three very different purpose-driven businesses.

We spoke to the founder of the women’s wellbeing platform Clementine, the CEO of healthy eating trailblazers SMASH app and the co-founder of start-up community Enterprise Orchard about their own start-up sales journeys, including the successes and hard lessons they’d learned along the way.

Please read on to discover their journeys and key insights around the following b2b sales experiences:  

Start small, think big

Sales is a journey, not a destination

Lead sales with your vision for change

Or, if you would prefer to sit back and watch the full 1 hour webinar, you can sign up here to access the session immediately.

Introducing our start-up panel

Three awesome start-up founders joined us to share their inside sales secrets:

Kim Palmer, founder of women’s wellbeing and hypnotherapy app Clementine, recently highlighted as one of the ‘top seven apps every woman should have on their phone’.

Ollie Collard, co-founder of Enterprise Orchard, an organisation that helps small businesses scale up and grow and host of top 20 start up podcast ‘Founded and Grounded’.

Chris Holmes, the CEO and founder of SMASH, an app that helps young people and adults make healthy food choices.

The hour-long session was full of fascinating insights, all of which are incredibly helpful for start-up businesses embarking on a similar journey.

With so much useful information discussed, we’ve put together three of the key insights we learned from the session.

Start small, think big

Successfully establishing a start-up business requires you to start with small steps. At the same time as always have the bigger picture in mind.

“There’s no one big thing, such as one big conversation,” said Chris Holmes, CEO of SMASH.

“Instead, it’s thousands of little conversations, and you get there by doing loads of little things. For our B2B sales, we had to have the courage to say to a customer, ‘I’ve got a crazy idea, what do you think?’. You need to have lots of different conversations. Then your next conversations get more sophisticated depending on the answers.”

Start up founders were advised that they must be prepared to ‘light many fires in the hope that one will catch’.

Sales Funnels

The concept of ‘the funnel’ was discussed . The idea was that you email 100 people, to speak to 20. After that you have great conversations with 10 of them, to get five final contracts.

A cautionary note from all three founders was that all of this takes time and patience. No matter how long you think it will take as a high-speed start-up, it will always take longer!

“This was the hardest lesson for me to learn,” revealed Kim. “I had no idea how long the cycles were, and I found it quite frustrating.”

Ollie shared a hugely inspiring story from a wellbeing supplement business from his Enterprise Orchard community.

The founder of the business had started it because her mother had an adverse reaction to high blood pressure medication. She was looking for a natural, proven alternative. After creating her product, she invited a local rugby team to test it, which led to recorded improvements in sleep and recovery. This then led to talks with the biggest rugby team in the world . This is the perfect example of starting small but thinking big!

Sales is a journey, not a destination

Sometimes you might have a clear idea of where you want your business to go. However, you also need to listen to what your market is telling you. It might take you in an unexpected direction.

“At the start of 2020 we were focussed on B2C sales at Clementine, but then the pandemic hit,” said Kim.

“We decided we should explore B2B as an employee benefit. We put together our pitch deck and started approaching our network. But what we hadn’t considered is that HR directors were so overwhelmed with trying to keep up staff morale. They just wanted simple solutions, so our app wasn’t really what they were looking for.”

But what was happening organically on the side was that Clementine was being approached by massive B2C brands. That’s when Kim took the decision to pivot.

“We ditched our initial approach and, as the energy was with the brands, we asked what the proposition could look like.”

As a result, Kim decided Clementine’s role was to become a powerful, aligned customer engagement ingredient for B2C businesses, and put time aside to work on this.

A key learning from this experience (and the other founders backed this up) was that success can come from being prepared to pivot if that’s what’s needed and is what you are being told, so don’t be afraid to listen to others and respond to what the market is telling you.

Healthy Choices

Similarly, SMASH has evolved from its initial idea of helping young people make healthy choices when eating out.

“Our mission was to shine a light on healthier stuff in the restaurant sector for the under 25s. Then lockdown hit and there was no-one to talk to, and no-one eating out,” explained Chris.

“We had to decide whether to pause or to evolve.”

Instead of losing momentum, Chris and the team saw it as an opportunity to move into the grocery sector. They were working with companies such as Unilever, and a range of food challenger brands such as Deliciously Ella and Kate Percy’s.

“More recently we noticed that half our downloads were being done by the over 25s, who would then get a notice saying the app was only for under 25s,” said Chris.

“So, we created a paid subscription service for over 25s which allowed us to leverage the content and offer it to a different market.”

This is a great example of how you’ve got to “keep listening and keep twisting your proposition to keep in the market” as Chris described it.

“We pivoted but at the same time kept true to our mission to help young people live healthier lives.”

The mission of SMASH stayed the same – it just took on a different direction.

Ollie summed up this discussion well with a useful tip. “Go with an open mind as to where you get the traction and how you pivot, as it might be in a different area to where you initially think.”

Lead sales with your vision for change

As a purpose-driven business, you have an idea of the change you want to be in the world. How can your product or service help this. How can you achieve credibility as a new start-up?

Kim initially worried when Clementine was asked to pitch to what she describes as a “mega global company”.

“I didn’t know what to put into it – we’re tiny, we’re not Headspace. But then I realised that there was a reason they wanted to talk to us. They wanted to because we are different. I leaned into my story and my vision, and got them on that.”

Mission and purpose is everything

For Kim, mission and purpose is everything. “Brands want to talk to us because we lean into the things that make us special,” she explained.

As this story demonstrates, it’s not always about having huge numbers of users or customers. It’s more about your business’ impact on the world.

Kim often cites the high engagement rates Clementine receives as proof that the app work. Chris used scientific studies from St Guys and St Thomas hospital as proof that SMASH would be a success when he was funding the app. He was also leveraging the backing he’d received from Paul Lindley of Ella’s Kitchen and Biteback 20-30, a youth food campaigning organisation founded by Jamie Oliver.

Another good tip from Ollie when it comes to credibility us to talk to the companies who have a mission alignment with what you want to do – those brands who share your outcome for the world.

“Really think about who already has access to your target audience and how you can partner with them.”

This will help to build credibility for your start-up, even in the early days when you might not have everything else in place.

More start up sales insights….

There were many more insights than we could fit into one blog post. If you’d like to watch the webinar recording in full (and find out why Chris is doing such a big high five on camera!) you can sign up below to join our community and gain access immediately.