No matter what your great startup idea is, eventually theres one thing that has to happen – you have to sell.
One frustrating thing that Ive observed about Irish startups is the green is greener scenario that they often fall into. When they hit obstacles in terms of sales, the instant reaction is to blame outside forces. They assume that theyre selling right, just in the wrong place, so they up everything and head stateside. This is where startups go really wrong. If you cant kick a ball in the local five-a-side game, why in Gods name would you think you can score goals in the Premier League?
The United States of Selling would be, on reflection, a better name for the land mass that sits between Mexico and Canada. Nowhere on earth will you find a more professional, more competitive sales process than in the USA. And yet somehow startups think they can roll into town and their sales worries will all be over. When they arrive, they learn the hardest, most expensive lesson of their lives.
Its not where you sell, its how you sell.
You have to understand the sales process, the actual process, not that imaginary thing you have in your head where every time a customer has a choice, they pick the one that favours you.
The first part of any sales process should be identifying customers who actually have the problem that you actually solve. Usually this is the first place startups go wrong. They try to sell to big, general markets hoping that theyll get lucky instead of picking smaller niches to start with where they can more closely match their offering to the problem that their customers are looking to solve.
The second part of any process is getting the attention of the customer and getting them excited about your solution. Marketing has a big part to play here, but again, life is just so much easier if youre actually talking to the people with the right product/market fit for the solution you provide.
The third part of the process is the one the really smart sales people understand. Sales are all about one thing, really – removing objections. If youre marketing the right solution to the right customer and the proposition and value are right for them, then the only thing left to do is remove the reasons that theyre hesitant to write that cheque.
And four – yes, theres a fourth part of the process thats often forgotten. Dont count your chickens before they hatch. Much like investment, a Yes doesnt instantly put cash in your bank account. One of the biggest issues in selling to big business is that even once the deal is done theres usually a pile of legal paperwork, security clearance and procurement matters to resolve before that cash is released. Make sure your sales projections and pipelines take this all into account. In most cases this is the longest part of the sale process.
At Teamwork.com, 70%-ish of our 370,000+ customers are US companies and weve never really set foot there from a selling perspective. Over 99% of our business is international, we actually have a tiny footprint of customers in Ireland. Weve built a different kind of sales model focused on customer happiness thats worked out pretty well for us, so we dont actually employ any salespeople at Teamwork but are still extremely conscious of the process. We interact daily with our US customers, take conference calls, run demos, etc., but we do so from our happy little home in Cork (which suits us just fine for now).
The USA is a great place to do business and, for the majority of businesses, will be the home of their largest customers. Just make sure if youre heading there to keep your eyes open and go for the right reasons, and not solely because of its promised land status.
Here are five simple facts to think about before selling in the USA:
Finding a decent, US-based salesperson is almost as hard as finding your first investor. Youll need help doing it. Remember, youre dealing with salespeople. Of course they sound good on paper and good in the interview. Theyre selling themselves to you! Personal recommendations from someone you know and trust are vital. Youll more than likely have to involve a recruiter in the process. Start with Fergall Kenny, Irelands man on the ground in New York City. Most of Irelands startup success stories have found their key US people through him.
Whatever a salesperson is costing you in Ireland, double or triple it for the USA. It will probably cost nothing less than six figures basic for anyone half decent, plus the full US package of healthcare, pension, etc. Add equity or some sort of stock package. A Sales Manager will almost certainly want a cut of every salesperson working under him or her as well. On top of that, account for the fact that whatever they make in salary, theyll expect the same in bonuses, not negotiable. And probably paid every month, not once a year, so make sure youre flush with cash.
The good salespeople rarely work alone. Theyre often closers, not prospectors. When they arrive to work, they want all the meetings set-up and ready for them, with full briefs on all the information they need to close the deal. That means you need a fully functional sales team – for every sales person, you probably need a sales associate running down leads, setting up meetings, etc.
Now if youve been adding up all that cost on a nearly napkin and it still sounds good, congratulations! Youre probably at the stage you need to be at to financially to consider a US based base of operations. If it scares the hell out of you, keep working on your process and sell to the USA from Ireland. Make sure you check out the awesome US Playbook recently released by Frontline Ventures for a brilliant guide to all the issues youre going to hit when you start thinking of heading stateside.
Final thought – if Ireland is really such a hard place to sell from, please explain why some of the worlds biggest and most successful technology companies have based their sales teams here. Were not back in the era of door to door sales. Nearly all selling now is done via phone or conference calls. Sure, the occasional face-to-face meeting is sometimes required for larger deals, but a smart, efficient, effective sales process tries to avoid them at all costs.
Google, Twitter, Facebook and AirBnB all sell internationally from Dublin. Why cant you?
DC Cahalane is an advisor to the Sales Accelerator being run in Dublin as part of the Newstalk Startup Executive Program in Q4 2015. The first open call for applications from the Commissioner for Startups office will happen in late September.