23 Lessons on Sales, Marketing and Funding it Took Me 20 Years to Learn
Business moves at light speed. To convert site visitors and casual passersby into customers, you have to make your business both appealing and easy to trust. In fact, that’s the whole point of marketing -- to create a positive image of your business and, in turn, drive sales.
Through nearly two decades of entrepreneurial experience, I've learned how to make educated decisions based on my perceptions, build sales momentum, and create content that customers actually want to read. I've figured out that raising capital involves a whole lot more than finding an investor, and that leveraging marketing technology is a genius move for almost any business. Here, I'm going to share with you how to take advantage of these tips, and more, so you can build your brand and drive sales like a pro.
1. Raising capital requires a unique alignment of circumstances.
It’s like baking a cake -- you won’t succeed with flour alone, even if you have the perfect amount. Rather, you must possess a variety of resources and combine them under the right circumstances. Raising capital requires excellent timing, the ideal team and opportunity.
David Beisel, co-founder and partner at NextView Ventures, suggests a specific formula for determining whether the time is right for funding. It's all about making sure you match your business type with your long-term goals and realistic expectations. Make sure you're at the perfect point in your business's journey before seeking capital from outside sources.
2. Family and friends, seed capital, bridge (if needed), Series X (2-3 rounds), PE or IPO -- in that order.
No two businesses are exactly the same, but the way they seek capital often should be. Start by seeking funding from family and friends, then move on to finding seed capital. From there, if you need it, you can move on to bigger methods.
3. You must build relationships across segments of influence.
It can feel a little scary at first, but to raise money for your startup, you may have to rub elbows with those with significant influence. Take the time to build positive, mutually beneficial relationships with those who have excess resources and experience. You may even find a lifelong mentor!
Related: Bootstrapping the Smartest Way
4. Loss of momentum is your worst enemy.
Both fundraising and sales require momentum. You should be gaining opportunities to raise money, not losing them. You should see a constant rise in potential and confirmed customers, not a dip. If you're not sure how to keep that momentum going, start by finding a mentor or revisiting your business goals.
5. All decks need less text, bigger text and bold charts with stats.
No matter your industry or whom you’re pitching to, your deck shouldn’t be overly complex. Potential investors don't want to rack their brains to figure out where a business stands in the startup process. Your pitch deck should be short and sweet, with large text and statistics to back up your claims. Bonus points if you present these stats in the form of a visual, like a bold chart.
6. Tell a data-driven story when you present.
Storytelling is one of the most valuable skills an entrepreneur can possess. Investors love to support businesses with great stories. But there’s one type of business they like to support even more -- the kind that backs up its story with data. When you present to potential investors, make sure your story makes sense in a data-driven context for twice the effect.
7. Perception is reality.
If you think your product could be improved, it probably can be. If you believe that customers are struggling to trust your brand, they probably are. Maintain a realistic sense of intuition, and when you experience that “gut feeling” -- or think your customers aren't quite satisfied with your product -- check it with statistics and facts.
8. People buy solutions to problems.
People don’t shop for features and benefits. Instead, they seek solutions to problems. No matter your product or service, market it in a way that proves it will solve a problem -- even if it’s one your customers don’t yet know they have.
9. Understand corporate hierarchy for each stage of your business growth.
Small business, mid-markets and large enterprises all consist of different corporate hierarchies. Your company’s internal structure will shift as it grows and changes, so become familiar with the hierarchies for each stage of business.
10. Circumvention is tricky. Be smart about it.
Entrepreneurship is full of obstacles. Some you hop over with ease; others you have to break down or circumvent. While circumvention is often the best course of action, be careful -- you don’t want people to think you’re sneaky or untrustworthy. Also, consider the long-term implications of sidestepping an obstacle. Will this come back to haunt you later in the form of bigger problems in the future?
11. Check your emails two times before you send.
You should be doing this already, but if you aren’t, start now. Check your emails for grammar, spelling and tone before you hit send. You don’t want to come across as rude or uneducated in your online communications, especially when you’re talking to vendors, backers and customers.
12. The 80/20 rule is real. Focus your time on the right customers.
The idea behind the 80/20 rule is that, in nearly any context, 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes. Don’t spend immense amounts of energy trying to squeeze big results out of every single customer. Focus more effort on the 20 percent that will do the most for your business.
13. Create a simple, effective message and convey it in a number of ways.
Not everyone will be willing or able to take in your message via the same format. Take the time to develop a clear message that effectively describes your brand and its goals, then convey it through storytelling, social media, community work, guest speaking, public relations activities and more.
14. Making something simple is harder than making something complicated.
Creating that simple message for your brand is harder than it sounds. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to describe every aspect of your business. Elaborate on the most important bits, and allow interactions with your customers to explain the rest.
15. Great design and swagger separate you from everyone else.
Don’t skimp on your logo, website, social media pages, product or service design, or your office or storefront. Customers tend to judge a book by its cover, and you don’t want to disappoint them before they get a chance to know your business. Work with confidence, and you’ll have the edge over your competitors.
16. Sell ahead of yourself by just a little. You’ll be ready when you have to be.
Even if you think you won’t quite be able to meet demand, sell anyway. By the time you have to follow through with the deal, you’ll be ready to fulfill it.
17. People respect a good salesperson.
Be thoughtful, helpful and organized -- not nagging and pushy. Follow up with potential customers more than you feel comfortable with. If you establish yourself as an expert resource who's there to help, you'll find that familiarity often translates into trust.
18. Master the understanding of leads, MQL’s, SQL’s, purchase funnels, CAC, trajectory, retention, churn and LTV.
Whether you’re a shiny new business owner or a serial entrepreneur, glossing over the basics of B2B never hurts. Give yourself a crash course marketing-qualified leads, customer acquisition costs, customer churn and other business basics so you can maximize sales opportunity.
19. Content and inbound marketing best align with how customers buy.
When launching a content marketing campaign, pay close attention to the way your customers do their research and purchase products. Do they prefer to buy goods and services online? If so, social media, free ebooks, and search engine marketing (SEM) may be the best mediums for advertisement. Even if your core demographic tends to purchase goods and services in person, the internet is a great place to educate people about your product and demonstrate its advantages over competitors' products.
20. Creating content without a distribution strategy is a waste of time.
Don’t bother writing pristine blog posts and recording podcasts if you don’t know how you’ll distribute them. Create a clear and realistic plan for you will distribute and promote each new piece of content, then focus on creating great content.
21. Make quality content or don’t make it at all.
In 2015, more than 211 million bits of online content were generated each day. Consumers and search engines alike have evolved to ignore low-quality content and cut through to the good stuff. If your content looks like clickbait or offers nothing new or valuable, don’t create it at all.
22. Leverage marketing technology, or you’ll lose the digital acquisition war.
The digital world is a customer acquisition battlefront, where companies from any given industry are all fighting for leads at once. Leading businesses leverage marketing automation, social media analyzation, and other tools to gain an edge over their competition. Take advantage of marketing technology in a way that will benefit your business most; otherwise, don’t bother stepping into the war zone.
23. Google’s first page of results is practically your homepage.
Branded keywords are your no. 1 referral source of traffic. When a web user Googles your company, your brand or its keywords, they should be met with plenty of reliable links that will help to establish trust in your brand.
You don’t have to push through 20 years of entrepreneurship to gain a sense for sales, marketing and funding. Instead, take these 23 tips based on the advice and lessons of entrepreneurs who have gone before you. You'll be glad you did.