5 Steps for Kickstarting Your Online B2B Sales Operation

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David’s article originally published on the Salesforce.com blog


If you’ve been down the road of launching a new B2B web service, you know there’s no silver bullet or quick path to success. Building and monetizing a sales machine for a new business involves lots of hard work, learning, and iteration. But whether you’re starting from scratch or already a ways down the road, here are five steps to help you kickstart your operation.

Step 1: Figure out what metric your target audience is really willing to pay for.

If you’re looking to drive revenue, the key is figuring out what your customers are actually willing to pay for. Is it a specific feature set? Storage space? Ability to add users? Pay per use? You may start with a hypothesis of what this is (totally fine), but the key thing is to deploy, test, and iterate quickly in order to refine. Since monetizing your product and driving revenue are key to getting your business off the ground, getting this formula right as soon as you can is a good thing!

Tip #1: Resist the temptation to monetize the feature(s) that help your product spread.
Tip #2: Make it easy for people who love it, to share it.

Step 2: Engage your users consistently to understand the value they get from your service.

Regardless of what you thought you were building your product for, only once you get it into the hands of real users will you understand how they internalize and articulate the value. When they tell you, listen and use these insights to refine your monetization strategy. At this point, if you don’t have enough resources to personally reach out to the majority of your users, consider hiring some “product coaches” to assist. Be helpful and listen.

If you’re having trouble getting users, proactively reach out to some in-target early adopters and offer to let them use the full product for free. This feedback — and, specifically, the words they use to describe the value they get — is critical! Use those words in your marketing and in the stories you tell about the product, but the key is, stay close to your users.

Step 3: Create awareness of your market and value proposition.

Awareness helps you sell more product by expanding the scope of your audience, making it easier for you to explain what it does, and making it easier for your audience to understand it. When services like LinkedIn and Twitter were first introduced, reactions of “Now, why the heck would I want to use something like that?!” were not uncommon. Your goal should be to catapult the value proposition of your product into the mainstream consciousness as quickly as possible.

So how do you do that? Well, if your topic is sexy and relevant, get people talking about it and about your business. Press mentions in industry, tech, and business publications help create buzz and awareness. If you’re in a new space, demonstrating thought leadership is important. A great place to showcase this content is on your blog (blog early and often!). Loop your early clients into this process and help them tell their story to the world. Once you’ve overcome the awareness hump, conveying value in your sales pitch becomes much easier.

Tip: I’m a big fan of Peter Thiel’s “secret” concept: that great business ideas are built on universally understood secrets that have yet to be exploited. The upshot is, if your business revolves around one of these secrets, the path to creating awareness and explaining your value proposition will be much easier.

Step 4: Understand your customer’s buying cycle and help nurture them along.

There are two universal truths to the way people buy products:

1. Most people won’t buy your product on the first visit to your website.
2. People have a certain way they research, evaluate, and execute purchases that you need to accommodate if you want them to buy from you.

From marco to micro, getting into the head of your target audience and addressing their needs and concerns is key to converting them. From what you do with their contact info once they sign up, to how and why they should use your product, how they can try it out, who else uses it, and the ROI they can expect, your customers have operational and emotional needs that must be met. That’s why it’s important to understand the steps your prospects take as they attempt to buy your product and have your site/sales process mirror those steps.

Providing the right information and experience at just the right time is key to developing frictionless sales cycle. A great way to catalyze this effort is to assemble a team of product/community coaches, i.e. actual people who can personally reach out and engage your users, answer their questions, and funnel their insights back to your product/marketing team. It also helps to make a flow-chart of your customer’s buying process and to match the various stages/tools involved in your sales process to it.

Step 5: Continuously refine with the help of data.

As you look to build a repeatable sales process, understanding what your target customers look like and how they behave on your site and in your product is imperative. If your users are mainly small or medium-sized technology companies, marketing to hospitals is probably not a good use of your time.

Understand what your sales cycle/funnel looks like, where the pinch points are, and relentlessly focus on improving one part at a time. Measure enough things to make educated business decisions about how to refine your sales approach, but don’t go nuts and start defining metrics you have no intention of acting on. Remember, only your mother cares about how smart you are…everyone else cares about results!

Bonus Tip: Make it as easy as possible for your customers to give you money.

Sounds silly, but making the payment process as simple and frictionless as possible is key. Provide opportunities to easily upgrade and pay at key points. Eliminate errors and inconsistencies in your checkout process. Employ a simple billing approach. And the best advice—provide amazing and personal “Four Seasons” customer service!

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