Top Five Sales Tips for Start Ups

Corinne Thomas

Corinne Thomas

Founder & Managing Director

Sales Tips for Start Ups

Top Five Sales Tips for Start-Ups

We recently interviewed three incredible founders about their start-up journeys. The discussion between Corinne and our panellists produced a lot of insightful content and inspiration for businesses embarking on a similar journey.

Read on for a whole host of practical sales tips and guidance on where to focus your efforts as a start-up geared for sales success! 

If you’d like to watch the full webinar, you can sign up here to access the session.

Our start-up panel:

Kim Palmer, Founder of women’s wellbeing app Clementine,

Ollie Collard, Co-Founder of Enterprise Orchard an organisation that helps small businesses scale up and grow

Chris Holmes, Founder of SMASH App an app that helps young people and adults make healthy food choices.

As well as discussing their own stories, our panellists offered some excellent and proven tips for sales success from their own experiences, which we’ve collated for you below. 

If you are keen for even more start-up insights, click here to read our blog post about Start-up Sales Journeys where we cover stories of success, failure and learning the hard way!

start-up sales

Tip One: Work back from your end goal to get key sales targets

When it comes to making sales, think in terms of ‘the funnel’ – how many initial leads you need to get those sales over the line, meaning that you need to work backwards from your final goal. 

“If you need to get 20 sales, then how many leads do you need to generate those sales?” asked Ollie. 

“A benchmark Enterprise Orchard worked to is 60 prospects to 10 meetings to two sales. The time this takes is anywhere from 4-6 months.”

Ollie also advised that if you’re not at the stage of launching your business yet, don’t be too scared about not having what he termed “the shiny things” in place, such as a website.

“You don’t need all these building blocks before you go out to market.”

How do you even work out your sales conversion rate?

This is a challenging question for start ups as they may not have enough evidence to know this figure yet. It’s often a case of trial and error, as well as knowing that inbound conversion rates tend to be higher than outbound activities. 

However, you’ve got to start somewhere and we always recommend setting targets so that the team knows what they are working towards, these can be tweaked as necessary when more evidence has been gathered over a set period of time (we recommend around 4-6 months).

Tip Two: Manage expectations and celebrate sales wins

When you’re excited about your product or service and its potential impact, it can be frustrating when the initial sales don’t come. It’s important to remember to be patient with yourself and the people you’re talking to. 

A fast paced start-up team will be working all hours to build their dream. But this team may have unrealistic expectations about how long those initial sales take to land and how much time prospects need to consider a new relationship. 

All our founders agreed that sales success took much longer than they thought it would, as well as costing more!

But when the wins do come, celebrate them! No matter your size, a win is still a win.

“Definitely bank the successes and celebrate them with your team,” said Chris.

“Don’t be limited by their size, as a small one is still a success, whether it’s a sales contract or just launching your product.”

Kim shared that Clementine has been working with a brand for almost a year to co-create some content, and even though it’s not complete, she’s already celebrating it. 

“When the brand gave the go-ahead it gave me and the team so much confidence, as it showed our method has legs. It also shows that the thing we’re creating together is so disruptive, it’s taking the business in a different direction I didn’t know we could go in.”

Tip Three: Be strategic about the partnerships you create

While partnerships are crucial for sales success, Ollie revealed that less can definitely be more. 

“We wanted to have lots of partnerships with different businesses to help our customers – lawyers, marketing, finance, etc – but it grew to too many, and some of those diminished because we didn’t go deep enough and have enough value.”

His advice was to think about a manageable number, which you can probably fit on one hand.

He also suggested researching companies that already have access to your target audience and see if there are ways you can partner with them.

Creating a tight network of referral partners can be hugely valuable to a start-up business but it is important to recognise that it is a two-way street.

How can your business add value to their work as well as the other way around? Consider doing some of the following to keep referral partners on side and bringing in useful leads to your business:

Invite your partners to co-host a webinar or podcast 
Showcase partners in regular newsletters or on your website 
Keep your partners front of mind by featuring them your Sales CRM and set reminders to re-connect with them on a regular basis 
Aim to offer at least one warm sales introduction a month to keep those partnerships alive. 

Tip Four: Keep going – the ‘no’s’ comes before the ‘yeses’!

“It took me a long time to really understand that,” said Chris Holmes, Founder of healthy eating app SMASH. 

“It’s much easier to say no than yes, as there’s a lot more work involved when you agree to something.” 

It’s crucial to be patient even if it feels like a prospect or potential partner is dragging its feet, as no answer is better than a no, things may be happening behind the scenes.

“But even a ‘no’ is OK as long as it’s ‘no, because…” continued Chris. 

“It might be that you could never meet their criteria, or that the business themselves aren’t ready.  For example, one brand said no because its range of healthy menu options wasn’t good enough and we inspired the team to go away and think about what they were offering.”

Building some resilience to the early ‘no’s’ is key to start-up sales success, we find that many start-ups give up on a sales activity, such as cold outreach, very early on because they get disheartened with the results. 

Sales outreach can be a success, with the right strategic approach. Our advice is to try a range of sales outreach methods in order to find out which is the best combination for your specific market niche. 

Tip Five: Be a visible founder

Don’t be afraid to be present in your business and to use your story and your personality.

I use my personal story a lot,” said Ollie. 

“I was born in India and my mum set up a Fairtrade clothes company, so I’ve seen first-hand the difference business can make to people’s lives, and I reference this a lot in my own work.”

LinkedIn can be great for visibility, both by authoring posts and starting up conversations with people. 

“I’m really present on LinkedIn and people approach us as a result of this, not necessarily because we make advances,” said Kim.

Ollie suggested using personalised video or voice notes to approach people on LinkedIn, as you can tailor it to them and their personal story. 

“Pick out some things from their social media and you’ll see a higher open rate.”

Our recommendation at Ethical Sales echoes our start-up founders experiences, Corinne our M.D is a visible founder and highly active on LinkedIn and considers it one of our leading sources of incoming leads. 

We help our clients to build their personal brands and undertake strategic outreach on LinkedIn and we have created a free guide to support those who are looking to improve their visibility on this key b2b social media platform. 

Other ways in which Founders can become more visible (and win more deals!)

Attend at least one in person or virtual event a month as a guest speaker/contributor
Collaborate with other Founders and champion their successes, why not set up a ‘lunch & learn’ group in your niche?
Write first-person posts on your company social media accounts on a regular basis to offer your community a chance to get to know you.  

grow networks and win business with LinkedIn

One last inspiring thought…

Chris revealed that one of the most important things anyone ever told him was that “this is the smallest you’ll ever be”.

“It made a big difference,” he said. “The success does come ­– you just have to be patient.”

If you’d like to watch the webinar recording in full, as well as seeing other webinars from our sales series, you can sign up here to gain access. 

We’ll also be running more webinars in coming months, so subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to hear about these exciting opportunities to learn from your community.