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Startup diary: Generating leads may be easier said than done - but it's vital to create momentum


Build your list: Seeking out even a very limited sales pipeline is better than none at all. Stock image

Build your list: Seeking out even a very limited sales pipeline is better than none at all. Stock image

Build your list: Seeking out even a very limited sales pipeline is better than none at all. Stock image

A critical tool for your startup is your sales pipeline - a formal list of all the people you're talking to, or plan to talk to, that could write you a cheque.

You keep track of the chance that they will actually get out their chequebook, and how much they'll pay.

Multiply these numbers together, tot it all up, and you have a reasonable estimate of how much revenue you'll see in the next year.

This does need a certain amount of discipline, so using a good software tool to help you is essential.

I covered all this in detail last week, but you might be wondering about the elephant in the room.

That elephant is the terrible, and terrifying, problem of finding people to put into that sales pipeline list in the first place.

These are your 'leads'. Without leads, nothing will flow through the pipeline, and you don't have much of a business.

Even if your close rate is abysmal, or you only have five people on your list, or you know nothing will close this quarter, or even if they have all said 'no', this is still better than no list at all.

It is still better than having no leads to your name.

What you will discover in your own startup is that if your product or service is any good at all, if it is of any use to anyone, you'll be able to close deals.

You'll be able to sell, even if you're an outgoing introvert who sells by looking at the other party's shoes rather than your own.

What you will discover is that lead generation, the finding of prospects among the seven or so billion souls on this planet, is a much more difficult problem.

When you have built a sales pipeline, even if your sales performance is woeful, you can at least do something. You have material to work with!

Got a no from everyone? At least you know not to generate leads from that type of prospect in future. That's better than nothing. In my former company, we initially targeted advertising agencies.

We thought we could help them build mobile apps for their customers (we were copying another company that seemed to be successful at this).

This was back in the days when 'mobile' was still a buzzword - halcyon times!

We spent a lot of time on pointless pitch meetings. On one particular occasion, every staff member of the prospect realised that they had been dragged into a time-wasting meeting, and found an excuse to leave.

We literally ended up just sitting there in an empty room, halfway through our deck.

About 10 minutes later, one of them came back to sheepishly usher us out the door, tails between our legs.

It took us far too long to realise that this category of customer was not right for us.

Later, in speaking to the company that we copied, they told us they were getting out of that line of work because it was too tricky. Oh well.

This is the reason you have a marketing department - a very big part of their job is to prime the sales funnel, to generate those leads.

But what if you have no marketing department because you are, you know, a startup? How do you generate leads? This is the challenge that Voxgig faces at the moment, and here are some of the tactics that we are employing to execute the strategy of using a formal sales pipeline process.

(That theoretical mission-strategy-tactics article published a few weeks back should be starting to make sense now.)

Without a marketing department (and we, of course, have people who do marketing, but they also do other things - it is a startup), you need to go guerrilla.

That's why we started doing newsletters and podcasts. But we did not initially use these activities for leads.

There's too much of that in this world, and we wanted to build a string community first.

The best and easiest place to find initial leads is through your own network.

Part of the reason, contrary to popular belief, that most successful startups are founded by people in their 40s is that a professional network from the first 20 years of your career makes sales much easier.

You can just fill out the first 10 or 20 entries in that pipeline.

But you can also look for 'micro-niches'.

These are small subsets of your target customer base that have more acute needs, or are easier to identify.

We are starting this tactic now, and this is where our newsletters and podcasts come into play.

Professional speakers need a lot of coaching, and companies pay speaking coaches to improve the abilities of their senior staff.

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg had to take quite a few such classes - check out his early videos and compare them with today.

Speaking coaches therefore represent a very important early user base for Voxgig, and you will be hearing more about them over the next few months.

Indo Business