How to Convince Investors You Can Sell
Last week, I made an investment in a startup called PetPartner App that helps veterinarians and pet groomers connect with their clients across marketing multiple channels – from postcards to email to apps.
The company meets a true customer need with a valuable service. But that’s not why I invested.
Like all startups, the company’s success will depend on its ability to get customers to buy its service. I wrote a check because the company’s CEO, Taylor Cavanah, gave me confidence that the company can do that.
Because many founders are trying to convince investors that they can sell, I thought it would be useful to outline some of the ways entrepreneurs do that.
1. Show that customers value your product.
You can’t succeed as a startup unless you offer value to customers. PetPartner App offers customers an attractive value proposition. Two pieces of information convinced me of that. First, I talked with several of the company’s customers, and they all said that they benefit financially from PetPartner App’s service. Moreover, none of them could offer a scenario under which they would walk away from their supplier. Second, PetPartner App’s data confirm this customer loyalty. The company has a 99.4 percent monthly recurring revenue retention rate.
2. Demonstrate that the value of a customer is high relative to the cost of acquiring one.
The lifetime value of a PetPartner App customer is $12,800, but it only costs the company $1,900 to get a sale. To me, a lifetime customer value that is five times the cost of acquiring a customer is a compelling ratio.
3. Know your sales metrics cold.
Cavanah can rattle off his sales metrics the way most people can tell you their kids’ birthdates. He can tell you how many leads each of his sales openers can handle each month; their call-to-schedule percentage; the number of discussions per month openers can set and the number that sales closers can complete; the average number of days to open and close a deal, and the fraction of sales closed each month. Contrast that with many entrepreneurs, who can’t describe any of the numbers in their sales funnel.
4. Analyze your sales metrics to identify ways to improve.
Some entrepreneurs collect metrics, but don’t do anything with them. Cavanah looks at his metrics and figures out how to improve his company’s performance. Here’s a simple example: PetPartner App’s sales data showed that when openers schedule meetings with customers two to three days in advance, the closers have a 2.5-times higher chance of actually speaking to the customer than if they schedule the meeting seven to eight days in advance. So Cavanah set a rule limiting how far in advance openers could schedule meetings.
5. Figure out the sales model that works for your business.
Some businesses are better off having the same person open and close sales, while others do better with specialists in each role. PetPartner App figured out that they are better off using separate openers and closers, because that approach yields much higher conversion rates in their industry. In their business, it turns out, some people are great closers, but lousy openers. So if they have the same person opening and closing, they end up with a lot of great closers having nothing to close.
A lot of investors think about a founder’s ability to attract customers when considering putting money into an early stage company. While checking off all of these “sales” boxes won’t guarantee that investors will finance your startup, it will peak their interest, like PetPartner App did for me.
Scott Shane is the A. Malachi Mixon III professor of entrepreneurial studies at Case Western Reserve University. His books include Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths That Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live by (Yale University Press, 2008) and Finding Fertile Ground: Identifying Extraordinary Opportunities for New Businesses (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005).