It was early 2009, and we were seated in a conference room at a Tel Aviv office tower. Leaders from Israel’s cellular carriers and top mobile startups were seated around the table. Bo Ilsoe, a corporate venture capitalist at the world’s #1 cellphone company was giving a strategic briefing (Nokia, if you’re that young). It was less than 2 years after the iPhone’s launch, but the picture was already quite clear, and for Nokia, quite grim. Apple, with less than 10% market share, was projected to collect 90% of the profit in the global smartphone market.

Sure enough, within the next 3 years, iconic brands built over decades were relegated to the backbenches of the cellphone market — Nokia, Motorola, BlackBerry, and Sony Ericsson, to name a few. And Apple? Apple’s market cap soared twenty-fold since that meeting. …

Last week, we had the good fortune of having two Masters of Sales join our meeting to shed some light on best practices in Sales:

  • Pete Kazanjy, Founder & CEO of sales performance analytics co. Atrium, and the author of Founding Sales the startup sales handbook.
  • Alon Zaibert, Founder of Emotional Relevance and the travel industry’s leading sales coach.

Our beloved lead-generator-in-chief Shani Shoham, Founder and CEO of 21 Labs and advisor to moderated.

This post will attempt to summarize the main points from the event…

Initial sales in a startup should be done by a founder.

There’s so many reasons why that’s true. For a detailed “why” and “how-to” — Pete’s excellent presentation “Founder-led Selling” is the go-to resource. …

You are a smart, scrappy entrepreneur. You are hustling, trying to get in front of customers, partners, investors. You are closing your first pilots, your first seed investments, your first distribution partnership. And you are staying organized, right? You probably have a spreadsheet somewhere, or a beautiful Coda shared doc. CRM? That’s for when you have salespeople, lots of them. Right? After all that’s how it worked in your previous company — the salespeople used Salesforce, the creators used Jira (or whatever). And you, as a founder, are a creator.

No you’re not. You’re a business leader. …

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Follow the path on the left

If you read The 7 Pilots That Will Crash Your Startup, you know all about the pitfalls of a pilot-driven sales / business development process, and you’ve seen a list of tell-tale signals that a proposed pilot stinks. Of course, the bigger question is how to do it right — what is a strategy for successfully navigating B2B business relationships that ends in profitable, win-win customer relationships.

It’s About Alignment

What you want to get out of a given pilot depends on where you are in your product life-cycle. If you’re at an early stage of product development, you want an environment to test things out — a partner that gives you the freedom to try and insightful feedback on your efforts. If you have a product that’s ready for the market, you want a customer, and the pilot should prove that the product is the right fit and delivers the value that justifies the price. …

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Running A Pilot ? It Pays To Look Ahead (think too)

If you’re running a B2B startup with a high priced product (say >$100K Annual Contract Value) then “pilots” / “trials” / “Proof of Concept” are an essential stage in your sales pipeline. If you’re at an early stage and your product is a component in your customers’, signing these PoCs is often your stated goal and how you validate progress — Putting your 3D camera in Microsoft’s next gaming console, your LIDAR in BMW’s next car or your encryption algorithm in Cisco’s next routing product is pretty much your objective for the next 2 years, and the PoC is the all-important stepping-stone. Investors are asking how many PoCs you will sign this year and with whom. …

You are a brilliant engineer and/or product manager. You saw an opportunity in a market, teamed up with your favorite co-founder(s) and hacked together an MVP. Through personal relationships, endless cold-calling or some elevator pitch at an industry event you managed to land your first customer.

Early success led to the second and third. You raised funding and turned the company into a business. You even hired business development or sales people. You have a great pipeline, the trend-line is up and to the right. Marketing? You have a website, you have beautiful PDFs you send customers. Your business development (sales) people attend all of the best industry conferences. You have all the marketing you need. You’re covered. …

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Image Courtesy of McKinsey & Co. Who Believe in Actually Doing S@$t

You’re going to investor meeting after investor meeting and find people aren’t buying. When you ask for peer feedback, you’re told that you’re simply not “selling hard enough” — your projections are too low, you talk too much of your risks and too little about the opportunity, you lack confidence.

You are about to launch your product and find reasons to delay, to put an extra touch on it, you know it’s supposed to be an MVP, but you’re going for “Minimum” with a capital M, not just a minimum viable product. So you wait.

It’s time to reach out to that big customer, but you need just a little more extra oomph in proof, more salient product marketing slogans, a better designed presentation, the right alignment of Mars and Venus in the evening…

A quantitative assessment of market conditions.

If you run a startup these days, there are some truisms you keep hearing — “the party’s over”, “conserve cash”, “extend the runway” and so forth. Most investors are basically saying “Expect less money from us and our colleagues”, and “we’re in a recession, so things will slow down”.

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James Reynolds’ “Waiting It Out”

While these statements are obviously true on the macro level, your day-to-day is on the micro level:

  • Do I lay people off? How many? Which part of the organization? Engineering? Sales? Business Development?
  • Do I try to engage my customers or are they all sheltering in place with pillows over their heads? …

So you’ve been doing this for awhile now. Maybe you’ve gone through the initial excitement of idea / team / frenzied MVP development / seed funding. Maybe you’re even further along — reached some level of product-market fit, raised an A or B round, and are trying to grow the company and the metrics.

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Here are some things you’ve most definitely noticed already:

No One Prepared You For This Job.

Unless you’ve been through the wringer successfully multiple times, sooner (usually) or later you’re going to be doing things and finding yourself in situations you’ve never been in before. Maybe it’s going to investor meeting after investor meeting and getting rejected despite your obvious preparation and great results. Maybe it’s dealing with a co-founder or board member that just doesn’t see things your way, or a troublesome star employee. Maybe it’s a VP of Sales that you need to hire and have no clue how to build a compensation plan for. …

Electrification is an inevitable trend. Whether driven by the need to avert climate change, governments wanting to boost a future industry, or the many advantages of electric propulsion — simplicity, cheap maintenance, torque… With autonomy generally accepted as something that will take much longer to deliver at scale, the automotive industry’s focus is turning back to Electrification as the disruptive wave that you either ride in or be drowned by. But when is it coming? And what will be the inflection point?

Electrification is THE disruptive theme in the automotive industry in the coming decade.

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Tesla’s CyberTruck

Despite all the Tesla press and the announcements by leading automakers that they are switching focus to electric vehicles, for instance VW’s announcement last month and Daimler’s farewell to IC engines earlier this year, the fact remains that EV sales represent small single-digits of the US vehicle market. According to EV Adoption less than 2% of sales in 2018, growing 50% YoY. While this rate of growth is significant, we are still looking at decades before internal combustion cars are eliminated. So where is the “iPhone moment” for this industry, and what will bring us there? …


Nadav Gur

I help startup CEOs be 10% better. Founder / CEO of WorldMate (acquired by CWT), Desti (acquired by Nokia). Did time at a VC, and a startup studio. Opinionated.

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