Managing a Startup Business

If you can’t find a way, then make a way!

Starting a business, any business is a brave step. But how do you manage a start-up business as well as find customers or put in place a customer acquisition strategy on tight or even zero budgets. Working with early stage and start-up companies I know first-hand how limited resources can be. The tendency for many small businesses is to focus on the product. They add in more and more features or take comfort in a well designed website or just even they talk about strategy rather than putting in place a plan to find and sell to customers so the business can getting on track to achieving  business success AKA revenue generation. The below list is some actionable business tactics to get your small business sales pipeline moving and put you on the track to success.

business-startup

Know your Target market – don’t try to sell to everyone

Product to marketing fit is critical to any business success however a business start-up should never try to be a great product to satisfy all buyers’ needs, this will simply not work as no one product will be for everyone. So step 1 is to try to focus in on one customer target group. It will make the business look more focused, knowledgeable, and professional plus it allows the business to channel its efforts into making one target group happy. The key now is to do a customer targeting exercise (figuring out who your customers are and what they want). I am not saying this is easy, especially if your business is new or you only have 1 or 2 beta customers. Brainstorm on what set of buyers or people who might need your product now by matching it back to what problem your product solves, this is sometimes called your USP- unique selling point or Value Wedge. Also check if it is a fluid market (low hanging fruit to be gathered) by doing some Google searches on related keywords. Balance the fact that you don’t want to define your target market so small or so tightly that it’s something people won’t search for. Think in terms of keywords, search terms or existing topics being discussed on forums or industry buzz.

One Swallow does not make a summer

The lesson here is stay focused on executing the business model and don’t get distracted. A good example of this is a company in the SaaS space I work with, received  a phone call from a big company about doing a demo of their product at their offices which would include a customization element. Even though the meeting went ahead, it came to nothing because my client company was not big enough nor could afford to serve companies in the non-SaaS way. They simply were not big enough to fulfil all the product amendments for this one customer or have a dedicated team to work on the project at the stage where they were trying to find the best product to market fit. This distracted the team for over 6 weeks when they could have been doing more productive lead nurturing work.

business-planning

Make a plan

A business plan will at the very least serve as a guide or a roadmap along the way. Too many small businesses talk about being agile or nimble. That is a process or a culture; it is not a business model. What this can often mean is that their limited resources are waiting to respond to the next challenge thrown before them. I am not suggesting that this is wrong as sometimes it is necessary but not all the time so try to build a business plan. The goal is to develop a sound business strategy that provides a reference framework to keep the business on track to grow by building its awareness, developing brand consideration, attracting new customers and closing sales deals.

Tip: Use this Free Business Tools to focus on your business plan to success, time is precious, do not waste it.

Develop a clear brand for your business

A branding is not just for large corporations; from tiny acorns big trees grow! This does not mean spending vast sums on branding but rather it reflects your mission, values and what your product stands for. The major action here is to determine the core attributes of your brand and promote this .Always strive to present your company in the same way, carve out an awareness level on what your brand represents (product innovation, cost leadership, service leadership ) so that it contributes to the overall business in a cost effective way.

Publish great articles

The old adage about content is king is true. Along with being a product or service company also think of your business as a content publishing house. Articles get search traffic via targeted keywords (SEO) but just as important it positions your brand and business as thought leaders. But you have to stand out from the crowd to get attention. Articles need keyword optimised titles PLUS great content, make them factual or research based to further boost readership. No point in publishing articles as a box ticking exercise, make sure the articles you publish are the best so people want to read or download them or don’t bother. Blunt but true.

A few tips on great content angles:

  • Be highly creative or controversial
  • Be the most knowledgeable
  • Have the most research
  • Write strange articles on your industry

Be Social Media Aware.

As a start-up you probably will read loads on inbound marketing, social media or social selling. Being social media aware is more than a few twitter posts or Facebook likes. Every business needs to have a presence and visibility on a variety of Social Media platforms. Create a social media plan (based on article sharing) and then schedule your social media activities so that you build relationships with social influencers, potential prospects, customers and the public. Learn the art of social selling – share to receive.

Keep it lean and mean – know which plates to spin

Like most start-ups you have a lean team so make sure you know what everyone is doing. Who is driving customer acquisition, marketing and sales? Revert back to your plan and prioritise the key initiatives (revenue and product) including major tasks such as content creation, social media interaction and social selling. Time management and knowing which plates to spin can sometimes be complicated for a small business as they dash around from pillar to post. Find and use the right tools, free business tools like Zoho or Trello should save you time or tears. Finally from me to you, a message of sincere best wishes in your business venture. Happy hunting!

Business Strategy Template

Download this business strategy template guide to assist in business planning for a start-up business or implementing a business strategy.  A business strategy is a template for business success.

Download here: Business Strategy for Growth

business planning

The success of a business strategy depends on the resources (financial, people, time) available to the business.

5 Step Planning Process

  • Imagine – what products or services
  • Dissect – data and customer feedback
  • Expand – market research and tasks
  • Analyse – results, information, investment
  • Sell – customer acquisition, marketing, sales

Business Plan Template

Download these free business plan templates to help you formulate a business plan for your business.

business-planning

image with business planning options

Business Plan Template

Business Plan for a Startup Business

 

Sales Strategy Plan

A sales strategy is the process of matching the business purpose or mission with a sales plan, then putting in place goals, metrics and sales tactics. The sales strategy will also map out courses of action and allocating resources to achieve the selected goals and tactics.

sales-strategy

A sales strategy is really about answering the one critical question “What is the best most viable method for the business reach paying customers for the product or service? Is it sell to or sell through, direct or indirect?

Before a sales strategy addresses how the sales team will sell or, it must first address how customers are buying. Today customers are seizing the balance of power in the buyer-supplier relationship, more and more aspects of the sales process is being played out online, so companies need to structure the sales plans and resources for this new reality.

  • “57% of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier.” (CEB)
  • “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.” (SiriusDecisions)

Today’s selling reality.

Potential customers or prospects will have researched a supplier based on digital reach and industry influence before a sales rep ever gets to talk to them

Sales and marketing are now one team, an integrated “Smarketing” team that functions to target and acquire customers.

Understanding customers buying behaviour define the product offerings.

To sell more and win market share a business needs to offer more seamless customer service touch points through lower cost channels

Vanilla flavoured selling will disappear, sales teams need to be specialised, social enabled and multi-channel savvy.

Sales reps have to work at adding value in the sales process rather than just quote features and benefits.

Sales complexity and the sales process needs to be minimised to ensure selling costs are controlled in a tighter margin environment.

The key Sales Strategy Questions.

Asking and answering a series of sales strategy questions will help a business identify and take advantage of the best opportunities to sell better and more often. Also Sales leaders who acknowledge the new selling reality need to know how to answer questions like:

  • Does the business have a market development lead strategy (selling more of same product to same/new customers) or a product development strategy (selling new products to same/new customers)?
  • Who is the business selling to? Does it know which market segments have the best growth rates?
  • What is the most effective means of reaching target customers and what is the cost in taking this route?
  • How does marketing and sales share the workload and collaborate?
  • How does the business equip the sellers (direct, indirect, partners) with the right content, expertise and skills to navigate the customers’ buying journey and then differentiate the business value proposition?
  • Does the business collect and analyse data to forecast which products customers are likely to buy or trends developing?
  • What is the most effective sales and distribution model?

“To compete in today’s customer educated world, companies got to have something different. The product must higher quality, easier to use, more convenient to buy, or a better fit than the competition.”

Sales Strategy Selection.

The sales strategy selection should cover what is the customer sweet spot, what are you offering them, sales deployment for customer coverage based on customer sweet spot, sales and marketing activities, what sales and marketing enables/tools will the business use, how you will manage and track performance against the goals.

  1. The target market. This is the customer selection, customer sweet spots where the sales and marketing focus will be.

Give it some detail. Once the target market has been defined, give it some detail. How big is it, profile of customers, buying preferences then create a hit list. The hit list should be number and data driven, do you have 100 or 1000 or 10,000 prospects on the list.

  1. Reaching the target market. What is the primary reach method or put another way “what is your customer acquisition plan”, is it on-line, social media, cold calling, partners, channel or networking?

Regardless of the method to reach paying customers, reaching the target audience takes “Smarketing”, sales and marketing working together on tactics like content marketing, social selling, industry influence, thought leadership, blogs, and whitepapers, audience reach on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn etc.  Effective sales strategy using Smarketing means a business drives marketing qualified leads (MQL) and sales-qualified leads (SQL) into one sales funnel, then measures, monitors and ensures follow up on the leads generated for the business.

A business needs to map out the sales cycle and sales process. This is all about getting the sales team selling. The “Smarketing” effort should have a target of generating leads via inbound marketing, landing pages, request for information, social selling on LinkedIn and other social media sites, cold calling or field visits.

  1. Customer Nurturing. The sales process should be void of any unnecessary complexity or obstacles in customer interaction. The sales process has to include social selling, where the sales team gets engaged with social selling to the prospects. This stage is where prospective buyers are sourcing, digesting and reviewing information and content. A recent report by Act-On showed that 85% of Business-to-Business buyers said it takes three or more pieces of relevant content to help make a decision on progressing with a supplier. So, a business can lead nurture by influencing the buyer to take action by feeding them with relevant content on their terms or personalised preference.

Make sure the sales teams are delivering on what the marketing message promoted. Vanilla feature and benefit selling is gone, train the sales team to be industry experts, build the customer relationship. Don’t expect them to stay with you or use you for other needs if you are not taking the time to build a relationship with them. The sales process does not end with the sale.

  1. Collect and Analyse Data. This is one of the most critical aspects of a successful sales strategy. As a business moves forward with the sales plan it must collect, track and analyse how well the sales tactics, product offerings or pricing is working. Every sales rep to sales leader should be asking these questions:
  • How did it go?
  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • Did we hit the numbers?

Collecting the data gives the insights as to what works and what does not so a business can tweak the sales process.

So to recap, the Sales Strategy should cover:

Target Customer Profile – Customer Segmentation – Sales /Distribution Model – Sales Process Definition (i.e. Sales Cycle) – Sales Funnel Calculation – Pricing Strategy – Upselling and Cross selling Strategy

The actual Sales Plan Components should include:

Sales Materials – Content Materials – Sales Team – Smarketing, Sales Pipeline – Customer Nurturing and Channelling – Sales Cycle – Closing Techniques – Sales Forecast – Timeline – Budget

The challenge for sales leaders today is to better execute on their sales strategy. Buyers and business even consumers are going through changes in what they buy, how they buy, and what they are willing to pay for it. As buyers change how they buy, vendors need to change how they sell. The way a business sold its products or services is not going to cut it in the future. Sales strategies need to be nimble, social driven and customer lead. Now is the time to revisit and revise the sales strategy.

Business Plan for Growth

Devising a Business Plan and Strategy for Growth

Business plan and implementing a business strategy is more than simply achieving business goals. It inspires people to work hard, makes the team feel part of a purpose; it incites actions and ensures that activities happen. Simply constructed, effectively executed, a business strategy is a template for business success.

  1. Take Time to Think

A business needs strategic thinking before any strategic planning. Maybe the biggest strategic obstacle to any business is if they can out think their competitors.

“If today was the last day of your life, would you do what you are about to do today” Steve Jobs

  1. Ask and Answer Key Business Questions
  • The purpose of the business
  • Strength of the team
  • Current effectiveness
  • Financial resources of the company
  • Target market trends
  • Current market position
  1. Know the Business Why
  • Real planning and growth strategies are founded on “Business Purpose”
  • Vision: where the business is going in the long-term
  • Mission: the business purpose and reason WHY for existing
  • Values: Who and what the business stands for
  1. Business Mission
  • Think about the Business Mission
  • The business mission concentrates on the here and now. A mission statement defines the fundamental purpose of any business. It identifies who the company is, what it does, and who it serves.
  1. Why do Business Planning?

A business plan gives a business options, it can Die Quickly, Die slowly, survive or thrive. Doing nothing is not an option; a no business plan is the weakest plan of all.

 business-planning

  1. A business strategy to Thrive
  1. Start with goals – what do I want out of this business?
  2. Create a vision of what the business needs to look like in order to accomplish your goals.
  3. Create a business mission to guide you along the way.
  4. Develop strategies to get you from where you are now to where you want to be in the future. Strategies require investments – which mean budgets, resources and timelines.
  1. What is strategic business planning?

Strategic planning is the process of determining the primary business purpose (the “WHY”), putting in place goals and tactics, then adopting courses of action and allocating resources to achieve the selected goals and tactics.

What causes business success?

  • Has history shown us that the No.1 business killer is lack of market?
  • When a great business team meets a stagnant market, market wins. When an average business team meets a great market, market wins. But when a great business team meets a great market, then something really special happens.
  1. Ideal Growth Plan
  • Desirable products or Services
  • Big enough market
  • An economical way to target and serve it.
  • Note: Product quality will not create market size; Steve Jobs learned that lesson with his NeXT business.

business strategy options

  • Market Penetration – selling more of the same things to more of the same customers
  • Market Development – selling more of the same things to different customers
  • Product Development – selling new products or services to the same customers
  • Diversification – selling new products or services to different customers

Market penetration

Market penetration is the name given to a growth strategy where the business focuses on selling existing products into existing markets.

Market penetration seeks to achieve four main objectives:

  • Maintain or increase the market share of current products – this can be achieved by a combination of competitive pricing strategies, advertising, sales promotion and perhaps more resources dedicated to personal selling
  • Secure dominance of growth markets
  • Restructure a mature market by driving out competitors; this would require a much more aggressive promotional campaign, supported by a pricing strategy designed to make the market unattractive for competitors
  • Increase usage by existing customers – for example by introducing loyalty schemes

A market penetration marketing strategy is very much about “business as usual”. The business is focusing on markets and products it knows well. It is likely to have good information on competitors and on customer needs. It is unlikely, therefore, that this strategy will require much investment in new market research.

Market development

Market development is the name given to a growth strategy where the business seeks to sell its existing products into new markets.

There are many possible ways of approaching this strategy, including:

  • New geographical markets; for example exporting the product to a new country
  • New product dimensions or packaging: for example
  • New distribution channels (e.g. moving from selling via retail to selling using e-commerce and mail order)
  • Different pricing policies to attract different customers or create new market segments

Market development is a more risky strategy than market penetration because of the targeting of new markets.

Product development

Product development is the name given to a growth strategy where a business aims to introduce new products into existing markets. This strategy may require the development of new competencies and requires the business to develop modified products which can appeal to existing markets.

A strategy of product development is particularly suitable for a business where the product needs to be differentiated in order to remain competitive.  A successful product development strategy places the marketing emphasis on:

  • Research & development and innovation
  • Detailed insights into customer needs (and how they change)
  • Being first to market

Diversification

Diversification is the name given to the growth strategy where a business markets new products in new markets.

This is an inherently more risk strategy because the business is moving into markets in which it has little or no experience.

For a business to adopt a diversification strategy, therefore, it must have a clear idea about what it expects to gain from the strategy and an honest assessment of the risks.  However, for the right balance between risk and reward, a marketing strategy of diversification can be highly rewarding.

  1. All Business Plans need Resources

Money – to fund cash flow, product, materials and resources

Information – Market and product research, market trends, market size, customer profiling, customer acquisition

People – The team needed to facilitate the growth plan, to execute the plan, to manage the costs

The success of a business strategy depends on the resources available to thee business. A good tip is to follow this 5 Step Planning Process

  • Imagine – what products or services
  • Dissect – data and customer feedback
  • Expand – market research and tasks
  • Analyse – results, information, investment
  • Sell – customer acquisition, marketing, sales

Every business should develop a “strategic hypothesis” and test it out making very small bets. Try to sell the idea to a customer before it’s built, look for a supplier, and ask a mentor or advisor who has some expertise in the new area.

10. People don’t plan to fail, they just fail to plan

A business plan for growth should be grounded in your Business Purpose, Mission and Core Values, a solid business strategy will help you develop a plan of action and maximise your likelihood of success in achieving your vision.

 

A Strategy for Business Success

The strategy for business success are built around three pillars: The Product, The Market and The Team. Each pillar or a combination will most likely determine the success or failure of a business. The core pillar or strategy to focus on is “the product to market fit”. In business schools they say that a business fails for two reasons, lack of funding or lack of strategy execution. Strategy execution should centre on getting the product and market fit right. If the product to market strategy execution by the leadership team is not right, the cost to fund the business for customer acquisition, sales, marketing and product development increase to the point where value cannot be captured.

What causes business success?

In business which strategy pillars contributes the most to success of the enterprise, the team, the product or the market? Or put another way “what is the biggest cause of success”? Also which is the weakest link: a bad team, a weak product, or a bad market?

Let us briefly dig a little deeper into these three pillars. Investors and venture capitalists often say they don’t invest in businesses they invest in people, so the team can be defined as the potential effectiveness of the CEO, co-founders and senior staff relative to the market opportunity. Can the team execute against the market opportunity they have identified, will their effectiveness overcome any lack of experience, and has the team the ability to deal with the “never seen it before” obstacles.

The product can be defined as to what problem is it solving and how impressive is the product to any customer or user who actually uses it: How easy is the product to install/set up and use? How feature rich is it? How fast can the benefits be seen? How transformational is it? How well-crafted is it? How has it been tested and what were the results?

The market is the size, number, predictions and growth rate, of those addressable customers or users for the product.

One other pillar that has to be planned for is “the Cost of Customer Acquisition”; meaning that the cost of acquiring a customer is lower than the revenue or profit that customer will contribute. The rate of customer acquisition has to do with execution and the ability of the team to move enough prospects through the sales funnel. Remember also that product quality will not create market size; Steve Jobs learned that lesson with his NeXT business. What a business needs is a desirable product, a big enough market and an economical way to target it.

business-strategy

So which pillar is the Number.1 building block for business success?

If anyone conducted a survey amongst business people on the question of which is the most important factor in business success, they probably would get three different answers.  Some will say team, some on the product, while others will choose the size of the market.

As written about earlier in this article, if you ask entrepreneurs or VCs which of team, product, or market is most important, many will say team. This is an obvious answer because most of their knowledge and reference points in the beginning is the team as the product may not be built or ready to market plus the market will not have been fully evaluated yet.

Marketing and techies will say the product is the most important factor. The business is product driven, creates great products, then markets buy and use the products. The most valuable companies today are brands such as Apple and Google because they build the best products and without the product there is no company. Right? Try building a great team and having no product, or a great big market and having no product.

This leaves “The market”, where researchers, students of business success and business leaders will tell us that the market is the most important factor in a business success or failure. The argument is that in a big market (fragmented market or badly served by existing solutions), a market with lots of real identifiable customers, then the market needs will pull products out of the business. The market is ripe for change, has an appetite that needs feeding and the market will consume, viable products that will feed it. Maybe the product doesn’t need to be the greatest; it just needs to work. And, the market doesn’t care how good a team the business has, as long as the team can produce those viable products.

Has history shown us that the No.1 business killer is lack of market?

To expand on this a little further, maybe the business killer is not just lack of market, but more importantly a lack of product to market fit. Could the building blocks for a successful business be about being in a sizeable market with a product that can satisfy enough of that market to make profits?  Is being in business about “making things that people want and will pay for”

Take the example of search engines, smartphones, online marketplaces even cars, when there is a growing, sizeable market with an appetite for change. Is this the story of telephone directories morphing to the web as search engines, the evolution of the telephone into people’s pockets, the buying and selling of goods being streamlined online or the transportation of people becoming about journeys.

The flip-side is in a market with little appetite for change, a business can have the best product in the world and super leadership team, and it may not matter, the business is going to fail. A business can spend a heap of money digging for years trying to find customers willing to pay for a product, little reward for a lot of effort and the team eventually will disintegrate, and the business folds.

Has history shown us that the No.1 business success factor is market?

When a great business team meets a stagnant market, market wins. When an average business team meets a great market, market wins. But when a great business team meets a great market, then something really special happens. Now this is not to say a business can’t screw up a great market, it has been done many times, but assuming the team is effective and the product is accepted in the market, a great market will tend to return success for the business and a poor market will tend to return failure to the business. So does Market matter most?

A few things worth remembering

Great products are really, really hard to build. So surround yourself with a great team, as a great team will always beat a mediocre team, given the same market space and product appeal.”

Great products can sometimes create new markets. Product that are so transformative to business or consumers it creates a whole new big market and the business becomes a gorilla. Think Microsoft.

The team needs to know how and on what battle ground it will take on and beat the competition to gain market share.

As a business leader or start-up, what should you do next? Focus on the thing that matters; get the product to market fit right. Product to market fit means getting into a good sizeable market with a product that can satisfy that market and capture value for your business. Do whatever is required to get to product to market fit. Seek out people who can help build your vision, change the product, change the sales model, move to a different market, tell customers you need some customer validation for the product, whatever is required.

Lastly, build a team that can make the product to market fit happen.  A team that can go out and get customers buying the product. Next get product usage growing across a wide range of paying customers.  Customer acquisition and market acceptance of the product means the team has got the product to market fit right which means the business can grow by hiring marketing,product, sales and customer support staff. The strategy for business success will always be the product,the market and the team.  So the business plan and go to market strategy needs to address all three.

Sales Strategy – Marketing Services – Sales Consultant – Social Selling – Inbound Marketing – Lead Generation

I'm always available to have a chat on your business plans and any challenges in lead generation, social selling, marketing or sales.