How would you feel if you were to trust your startup’s future to an agency you have never heard of? And what if it’s also located on a different continent? Nervous? Uneasy? Suspicious? Probably all of these and many more intense emotions. I know I would feel it too. I would even question myself if such risk is worth taking. This is the reality of most entrepreneurs who come to us; early-stage founders willing to risk it all to bring their innovative ideas to market.
As a salesperson, believing in what you offer is extremely important. But truly understanding your client’s emotions, their immediate and long-term needs, and their buying journey is what makes you stand out from the rest and show you care. I’d like to share our team’s process and sales approach best practices that have helped us forge great partnerships.
Empathizing with your client
At the beginning of 2021, amidst the pandemic and crazy uncertainty levels, we began revisiting our services’ value proposition. This process led us to, among many things, pivot our sales focus to developing partnerships with growth-oriented startups working on meaningful products. After struggling with the typical question, “which industry do you specialize in?” we concluded that our ideal customer isn’t encapsulated in a specific industry. They share in common that they are in a particular time of their business journey—one where our team is most capable of adding significant value.
We ran a series of activities to understand better our client’s reality, emotions, worries, priorities, and many more aspects to help us adjust our service offering, sales processes, and even our company’s culture. We began by putting ourselves in our client’s shoes, picturing different scenarios where our ideal client would need to source software design and development talent.
The next step was to pin down certain assumptions to help us empathize with our client’s situation. We asked questions about budget availability, the founders’ technical and entrepreneurial expertise, past experiences with overseas agencies, team size, tech stack, upcoming deadlines, time zone requirements, culture, values, and purpose.
I will use one of our examples to help illustrate our process and the valuable insights we got from it:
We are entrepreneurs with a clear business idea looking to design and develop our first MVP and test it in the market. We have a strong industry sector background but little experience founding a startup. We have a technical background, so our knowledge about software development cycles and processes is up to date. We might be doing this on the side, still working another job.
Our initial budget is limited, formed mainly by our savings and our friends’ and families’ help. Thus, we can’t afford to hire direct employees or a local agency. Additionally, this is probably our only shot at building this business, and we have never worked with an overseas provider.
After reflecting on this construct, we came up with a long list of feelings: anxious, nervous, suspicious, distrustful, worried, insecure, excited, and hopeful. We also worked around adjectives to describe our current situation. Words like these were mentioned: chaotic, uncertain, volatile, and ground zero.
That is how we imagine the trigger moment when our client realizes they need overseas help to build their idea and when they begin to research and assess options. It is the first step in their buyers’ journey, and it describes the context in which we will have our first contact. We might find each other through different channels, but the entrepreneur’s emotions and context will be very similar. We have improved our understanding and advising incoming prospects by embracing these learnings deep into our team.
The first impression
The first impression is NOT the first meeting. It is the prospect’s first contact with our brand. It might be a cold email or message, a referral from someone in our network, ads, blogs, social media posts, or pure organic search inbound. The truth is, almost no prospect will take a meeting without googling the service provider.
The effect of online content on prospects is the first critical moment in the buyer’s journey. The one when they decide you are worthy of their time and qualify as potential service partners. Our website and content reflect our firm and how committed we are to our purpose as service providers.
Startups look for quality, but above all, they look for reliable and transparent partners, who share their culture, are customer-oriented, and are willing to go the extra mile and commit to their cause. Flexibility, dialogue, openness, and boldness are key attributes to this matter.
Such findings triggered many actions at our end. From updating our website, adjusting the content we share on social media, sharing our culture and processes openly through blogs (like this one) and other means, to redefining our strategies and methods to help us genuinely deliver what we enact. We are all-in for developing long-term sustainable partnerships with like-minded startups. Partners are reliable, transparent, honest, experts in their field, and their relationships are more than just transactional. We aim to learn and grow together with our partners.
Building trust from moment 0
Our goal is not to sell but to listen, ask questions, and professionally advise our prospects on whether we are or not fit to work with them. Through an honest and detailed explanation of why we could be their next digital partners, and most importantly, how working together would be. Building genuine trust is what we seek.
Working in B2B sales for the past decade, I have found the following actions very useful towards building trust from scratch:
- Always do your homework.
Thorough research before your first meeting is a must and always pays off. Shared interests help connect personally, but being aware of your prospect’s business activity and pain points is much more critical. A good tip for the pre-meeting stage is to send an email with screening questions and a proposed agenda. This foreword will help everyone prepare better and make the time worthwhile.
- 30 minutes is 20 minutes
If we schedule a 30-minute meeting, we plan the call to last 20 minutes or less, giving enough room for questions and unforeseen discussions. Show up on time, confirm your prospect has enough time, and end the call once your time is up. Planning your call will help you focus on the relevant topics and show that you care about your prospect’s busy schedule. A quick tip – have at least 15 spare minutes after the call ends in case your prospect wants to extend the discussion.
- Speak clearly and well-articulated
Like many other service providers out there, English is not my mother tongue. Therefore, daily practicing my English is critical to improving my vocabulary and, most importantly, my pronunciation and diction. Your prospect probably prefers working with someone they can relate to and talk freely, without worrying you understood their message. My take on this – practice speaking daily with your colleagues, teacher, friends, or apps and read as much as possible.
- Ask smart questions
Asking intelligent questions has been highlighted as our clients’ main reason to work with us. By asking the right questions, you show the value you can bring to the project, that you have actively listened through the conversation, are genuinely interested, and care. This is probably the most complex and essential skill to pick up. Our tip; prepare the meeting responsibly, write down questions beforehand, and team up with a technical colleague who can complement your skills. Finally, do a post-meeting analysis and spot what you could have done better.
- Be honest
My fifth and last piece of advice, be honest. Your goal is to explore whether your firm is the right partner to your prospect’s interests and vice versa. You are not there to sell. You are a decision-making agent who listens and gives professional advice to help make an informed decision on moving forward with their project. It is tough to land an intro meeting, but that doesn’t mean you are the right fit. Pushing for a deal just for the numbers will probably end in a horrible project experience for your team and client and lead to unhappy teammates and terrible word of mouth. If you do believe you are a great fit, then prove it. Put great effort in writing a detailed project or partnership proposal, and spare no details when setting expectations and describing how you picture working together.
Food for thought
Working in B2B sales, especially in very red oceans like the software services market, is a neverending uphill battle. The road is plagued with frustrating moments, thousands of ignored calls and messages, high-pressure, and very long sales cycles. However, so is a startup’s road to finding great partners. They are also under high pressure, uncertainty, and nervousness about choosing the wrong provider and risking their business future. Many of them may also carry multiple past bad experiences. Check out our article on how to find a tech partner in Uruguay for a quick guide on vetting nearshore agencies.