Walk Before You Run

When I discovered CoFounder Magazine last year at the Digital Freedom Festival, I knew I had to get involved.  Smart founders, setting up a magazine in a digital age.  They're digital too, have a podcast, cool website, etc.. .but Tarmo and team also have a real mag, with pages to flip through.  By the time I had finished my copy, my flight had made it over the Baltic Sea, I was well on my way home, but still hooked.  

I was honored that a few weeks later the team had accepted my contribution for this month's book.  You can check out my article re-posted below, but you really should be subscribing


Note: this article was originally printed! in Co-Founder Magazine.

Walk Before You Run:   How to Grow from 5 to 50 Without Growth Hacking or Acceleration Software

If you are running a startup you are all too likely aware of an enormous pressure to grow as fast as possible. And you have probably been tempted by shortcuts, growth hacks and software tools promising overnight success. Here, I am focusing on how to build a sustainable foundation of your first 50 customers without the hacks or software. How to find the right customer and build your business before you hit the gas.

As a revenue leader for Silicon Valley software companies, I’ve not just seen all of the growth hacks and sales acceleration tools, I’ve used most of them. When I grew my team at AdRoll from 3 to 32 in less than 8 months we used tools like Yesware, Infer and Datanyze to scale the outbound efforts of our team. And it worked! My team’s revenue grew 1,833% in 20 short months and our company was listed as the fastest growing private advertising company according to Inc Magazine.

But here’s the thing: what the growth hackers and sales acceleration tools don’t want you to know. This growth isn’t possible without establishing a few key elements for your revenue plan. If I were a click-baiter I might say it was “one simple trick,” but it’s not the hacks or software that grow companies. In fact, these don’t work unless you’ve already got down and dirty and sold for yourself. This way you can use the right hacks and choose the right software when it is time to scale up.

Find Your Ideal Buyer

Most founders think they know their customer. However, too few companies take the time to actually map out their ideal buyers. There may be a list of companies you know you want to sell to, but how do you know they’re the right fit?

Start by writing down your five (or best five) customers at the moment. Then, list the basic information that you know about each company. Where are they located? How many employees do they have? Who was the employee that signed off on the deal?

As you list this information, you’ll start to see some patterns in the data. Look for similarities and start thinking about how you can reach out to more companies that fit the same profile. Ultimately, pinpointing your ideal buyer is about more than just generating a list of leads. It’s about finding companies with similar needs that you know you can sell to. 

Understand the Buying Process

While most startup founders are well-versed in the art of product interviewing, many of them overlook the importance of doing buyer interviews. It is important to remember that the person who uses your product is not usually the person responsible for buying it. Therefore, the needs of the buyer are just as important as the needs of the user.

Learn as much as you can from the people who buy your product. You want to understand not only why they bought your product, but how they decided to buy it.

When speaking with your buyers, pay close attention and get as much information from them as possible. Ask them if there were people involved in the deal behind the scenes. Try to map out their buying process. If your customers are all similar-sized companies in similar industries, they probably make purchases in a similar manner. Understanding the buying process of your ideal customer will make it easier to reach out to the right people and build a sales process that complements theirs.

Expand the Right Way

As you start to close more deals, the most important thing to do is to make sure that your customers are happy. Do everything you can to ensure that they are. If possible, you’ll want to go into the office and train people on how to use the software (bring snacks!). If you want your clients to renew next year or recommend the product to their friends, you should be there to show them how they can get the most value out of it.

The on-boarding process can teach you a lot about your ideal buyer, as well. By spending time with customers as they start to use your product, you’ll be able to figure out if they are the right type of customer for your business.

Don’t Hire Salespeople Yet

Startup founders should avoid hiring a sales team until they understand the process themselves. While selling is a nightmare for a lot of founders, it is necessary for you to know your own selling process before you can hire someone else to do it. 

If you’ve done your buyer research and find yourself selling to similar companies over and over, you’re going to find that the same events reoccur from deal to deal. If you’re selling to large hotel chains, for example, you might find that lawyers come in a some point during all of your deals.

You don’t want to hire salespeople too earl on because you want to make sure that the people you employ have the skills necessary to work through your specific sales process. Just because someone has experience in sales doesn’t mean that they are prepared to work through the eight-week process that some B2B sales require. You need to look carefully at what your sales process entails and carefully assess the skills it takes before hiring someone.

Think About the Future

No matter what your product is, your startup is going to need more resources in the future. Whether it’s people, money or tools (most likely all three), you’re going to need resources to keep up your success. This means that you’ll have to look for potential problems before those problems even present themselves. Think about the changes taking place in your market and plan for ways that you can shift your business as they occur. It might mean that you need to add features or ramp up your technology, but the better prepared you are, the easier it will be. 

Fortunately, you can do all of this without the use of sophisticated software or clever hacks. You can develop a sales process, plan for the future and grow your company pretty quickly, just by getting out there and working through each deal on your own. If you learn to sell before you scale, you’ll have much more control over your own trajectory. 

Ryan Williams