During 2023, most conversations in our network revolved around sales cycles getting longer and longer, so B2B revenue leaders were forced to innovate in their sales techniques to keep their businesses thriving.
Towards the end of last year, we hosted our alumni roundtable “Founder Talks”, and instead of focussing on how long sales cycles had gotten, we asked founders from our previous FinTech programmes how they are fighting them.
To kick start your 2024, we gathered their insights and summarised what you can do to not drown in endless negotiations and land deals quicker.
Knowing how to sell - a lost art.
In a context where sales conversations can extend for several months, scale-ups are strongly focussing on conversion rather than purely lead generation. After negative experiences with salespeople, founders are opting away from the “numbers game”, automation tools and massive lead gen, and betting on a stronger relationship building with prospects and partners.
In agreement with the group, one founder stated:
“The idea that you can just pound it out and get hits, I think it's evolved. And I think what you need now, it's working events, creating a persona, creating content, stuff that people want to find out about you, getting people to lean into you.”
Like most things, sales patterns are also cyclical, with ‘old faithful’ techniques coming back around. Being a valuable source of insights, information, inspiration and showing personality builds a trusting relationship with your network and makes people want to listen to you, because you’ve got something interesting to say! Naturally we can’t leave outbound activities behind, however you need to mix-up your sales channels.
“Corporate ghosting” - is anyone out there?
Once scale-ups have gotten over the first hurdle of making contact and establishing some form of relationship, scale-up teams spend valuable time tailoring their solutions and putting out proposal after proposal, only to never hear back from corporate executives (head in hands). ‘Ghosting’ is something founders stated they got a whole lot more of in 2023.
The reality is, founders have very thick skin and are simply seeking honesty, transparency and feedback (obviously good feedback is preferable!) and so writing a rejection email or suggesting to check-in at another time takes only a couple of minutes. Corporate stakeholders should be aware that it does impact the reputation of their brand and the ecosystem does talk.
“It's not as if we're children and we're going to burst into tears when someone says sorry. It means I'm not going to waste any more time chasing you and I'm going to move on, we know exactly how the game works.”
We tried to land on the reason for corporate ghosting but we would’ve needed a lot longer. All in all, our alumni agree that it has become a toxic practice in the sales process:
“for some time I thought that people would not come back to you because they were too polite to say no. But then I realized that politeness and being courteous are exactly the features that can allow you to communicate that it is a no or that something is not going to go down. I usually try to send an email which try to be as polite and courteous, but be a bit blunt about the fact as to whether this is interesting or not - I think it helps actually find out which prospects are hot or not at all or should be pushed to the back burner.”
It seems, persistence, politeness and a touch of bluntness is the preferred approach.
The cybersecurity blockade.
Old IT infrastructures and non-innovation-friendly processes and systems are a recurrent blocker for partnerships between corporates and tech scale-ups. Our alumni said cybersecurity issues tend to come into the conversation way too late and therefore extend sale cycles and delay contracts.
“You could be six or nine months into a conversation, maybe even longer, when the commercial people will ask you to go through a security questionnaire of some kind and, lo and behold, you find you've got a problem on your hands when you don't have a certification that they're looking for or whatever”
How can we get around it?
Be direct. If IT or cybersecurity related questions are not brought up in early conversations, make the first move. It usually depends on who you are talking to in a company, but involving the right stakeholder to clear this out earlier is beneficial for both corporates and scale-ups.
A less obvious route is involving Partners. A well-connected enabler in the ecosystem is a good way to get around the hurdle, as they will be the ones establishing the relationship with the corporate, from a legal and security perspective. With a partner that is compliant to cyber requirements, certifications and more, the implementation process is practically seamless for a scale-up.
Do your homework, if you know another (non-competing!) scale-up has won a contract and delivering work with your prospect, reach out to them for a bit of friendly founder-to-founder guidance.
And finally, many industries require certifications and regulatory stamps, you can invest early if you know which ones you’ll need as it one founder states
“We always knew it was important, but we never really put the focus on. Put the effort in to get it done, some of these things that if you've got the tick in the box, it builds credibility in the eyes of the customer, just makes it that little bit easier.”
How much should you tailor your product offering to win?
A tricky balance when you have been waiting for that sale, a client asks for things that perhaps you know they don’t need, or that they want something that your product does most of but are tempted to change to close the deal. Some products are built to be modular and flexible, whilst many offer white labelled solutions, others are a bit more rigid - it all depends on what you are selling. Some of the founders share their experiences.
A lot of the selling process is helping them realise and make the conclusion they only really need what you are selling
“really what it boils down to is helping them to figure out what they want and what they need rather than this sort of imaginary world of things that they just dream up as the conversation develops. If you can lead them to the promised land, guide them to where they need to be and try and keep them within the parameters of cost and time that you have already set then that's the sort of perfect world.”
If that doesn’t work then you have to way up the costs and time effort vs pursuing another opportunity at that point in time:
“the client wanted something that is so specific that it was almost recreating a platform for them. It's not that we declined, but we had a competitor who said that, yeah, we're going to do it and we're going to do it for free.”
And where you can, always try and get any product alterations paid for, free of charge can leave you high and dry if it then doesn’t convert not to mention it seriously devalues your time, effort and product.
“I'm never going to do a free pilot or PoC. When you give something away for free, they don't appreciate the value. It can feel like they're doing you a favour rather than where you want the relationship to start, which is this is a commercial business transaction. If I set that value at zero on day one, it's very hard to reset it later on. I'll be quite brutal in terms of saying, well, if you want all that customization, it's going to cost you what’s fair.”
It's always different for each sector and product offering so if you have any questions or need a sounding board, just in get in touch!