June 18, 2021
Aparna Krishanan
Sales Leader and Advisor to Startups
Blogs /

Experiments with Sales - Part One

From initial funds to getting early customers to hiring the right people to legal matters and of course making the product/service better, there are so many challenges small business owners face on a daily basis. A strong sales function can ensure the business continues to grow and is able to address all these challenges. Getting the first set of customers, consistently acquiring new customers and increasing the group of loyal customers – these three areas are important parts of turning a product/service into a sustainable business with consistent revenue.

In my years as a sales leader, I have supported many businesses, small and large on how to build and maintain their sales engine. There has been some rich learning on this journey and also a lot of experimentation. I am honored to have the opportunity to share some of these with you through this blog series. With each post, I hope to cover one key element of sales in small businesses and I hope this sharing of experiences and insights helps you shape your sales function better.

“Experiments in Sales” is a three-part series on my understanding of the sales process. Over these three write-ups I will cover topics such as acquiring customers, on boarding customers and engaging with them for a long term relationship. So let’s get started!

Part I: Acquiring Customers

Welcome to the first post in this series. Here, I will talk about one of the earliest challenges we see – to acquire our first set of customers and keep this acquisition consistent in our business. 

There are four key elements that determine how effectively we acquire new customers -

1) Who we approach - Creating a good lead list

It is important to have a defined list of likely customers. Extended family like distant cousins, maybe referrals from your old customers and family members, WhatsApp groups you are a part of, community events you attend – these are all great places to find your first set of leads. A simple spreadsheet or pen and paper list of everyone we meet on a daily basis and their phone numbers is a great starting database. You will realize that there are more prospects around you than you imagined. 

2) How we approach - Creating a communication plan

Ideally WhatsApp/Telegram groups or individual messages on these and similar apps are the most effective way to spread the word on your product or service. The RestartIndia team has come up with a free toolkit on digital communication which covers easy and effective ways in which you can reach out and communicate with customers via WhatsApp – videos, photos, special schemes – the tutorial has it all. Feel free to reach out to the RestartIndia team to know more.

It is also a good idea to keep communication periodic. If your communication is non-intrusive and timed well, it will ensure your customers engage with it.  

3) What we say to engage - Good quality interactions

The quality of your interaction with an interested prospect is critical. The following two elements make the engagement very effective.

Consistent and Uniform messaging: Keep the important info on key features, discounts etc. the same in every communication (meetings, messages, emails). This does not mean each mailer you send has to be the same. For e.g. you can plan to send 3-4 messages over a span of a month. The first one can be exhaustive and in detail and the second and third etc. can be highlights from the first communication. The last message or mail you send can be a countdown. E.g. last date for special pricing or free gift etc.

Highlight any special discounts repeatedly in all communication you send. 

In every message, keep the contact and payment information clear and in the same spot so it is easy for the customer to find. 

While keeping each communication attractive and well designed is good, it is more important that the customer is able to understand the product and recall the benefits and key info. 

Objection Handling - In your first 5 or 6 interactions, document all the questions the prospects are asking.  You can keep recording these as you continue on paper or spreadsheet and on one day of the week, read them and think about how you should respond. You may not be too well prepared for the first few interactions but as you go along, you will start to find that your conversations are much more effective because you are able to handle the queries well. As you develop a list of these frequently asked questions and queries, you can also start making boilerplate responses for each. These are pre-prepared answers to the questions which will help you be more decisive with the customer and also enable you to resolve queries faster.  

4) How long we engage - Knowing when to let go

It is always important to realize when a lead is not going to become a customer and stop pursuing when that happens so that your focus can go towards the other more likely opportunities. Two process elements help here:

  • To keep follow ups structured:  You can structure your follow up messages or emails and also define a last interaction beyond which you would stop communicating regularly e.g. send a final offer of pricing and say that you will wait to hear from them. Defining these follow ups gives you milestones at which you can keep reviewing whether the sale will happen or not. 
  • To assess the prospect in stages of maturity. Once you have spoken to a prospect, you can simply keep noting down ‘Yes/No/Maybe’ for whether they will buy or not.  This will keep changing after every interaction and at a certain point periodically you can choose to take out all the ‘No’s and refresh the list with new leads. Larger sales teams use more complex definitions of stages like opportunity, high maturity and so on which small businesses can mature to once they have achieved scale or if they have expanded their teams

About Author : 

Aparna Krishanan is a sales leader and advisor to small businesses and start-ups. Aparna has about 13 years of experience in sales, people management and start-up operations and has worked with MNCs and start-ups alike.  She is passionate about planning and implementing new sales and business models and more importantly learning from these implementations to continuously improve. She believes learning is the most important element to focus on for an entrepreneur or professional rather than success and failure.‍

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