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Navigating Sales In Early-Stage Start-Ups

September 27, 2023
February 27, 2024
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Navigating Sales In Early-Stage Start-Ups

Building pipeline and scaling sales as a startup is not easy. 

Learn about the challenges with navigating sales in early-stage start-ups — and how to overcome them. Understand the power of account-based sales with Praveen Das, Co-founder of Factors.ai and Ankit Jain, Co-founder of Clearfeed. 

What we’ll cover:

  • Common challenges startups face when they begin their sales journey.
  • How high-growth teams like Clearfeeder overcome these challenges.
  • And why account-based sales is important for early-stage businesses.

Q. As an early-stage company, you have an unknown brand. Your product-market fit is yet to be achieved. Your ICP is evolving. And there’s limited tooling and team bandwidth. Getting to those first 20 customers might seem…impossible. How should you go about it? What was that journey like?

A. Startups are like hourglasses. You start with very broad ideas and segments. Then starts the journey of going as narrow as possible: “we serve this one ICP in this one segment”. And finally, you achieve growth. 

  1. We identified 4-5 segments we care about. Within those segments, we identified a list of relevant, high-level problems our technology could solve. 
  2. Then, we performed customer discovery by reaching out to about 200 people in each of those segments to validate our problem-statements.
  3. After these conversations, we identified a “pull” towards one of these segments (Customer success teams from series B dev/infra SaaS start-ups using Slack) and ran with it.
  4. Based on this insight, we built a product that this specific niche of people loved — which gave us our initial boost in customers based on referrals and virality.

Q. At this stage, what did your go-to-market engine look like? Was it mostly outbound or inbound? How did you go about GTM? 

A. At this point of time, we didn’t have a market team. It was just the founders and a few engineers so there was no question of inbound. 

The other consideration was whether we’re creating a category or are in an established category. If it’s the latter, you can “buy your way out”. We didn’t have this back then, so it was primarily an outbound motion:

  1. A list of 3500 ICP accounts based on firmographics and technographics
  2. Reach out via sequences of mails, calls, and LinkedIn
  3. This approach helped land 8 meets per month, out which 2-3 convert. 

A quick break from questions to discuss engagement-based sales models…

Engagement-based sales is a sales strategy that focuses on targeting highly engaged accounts and customizing the sales approach to fit the needs of each account (As opposed to a cold approach). 

For context, the “old way” involved a standard process of defining ICP accounts, researching target accounts, reaching out to contacts within those accounts, and measuring success with KPIs.

The challenge with this is approach is:

  1. Researching target accounts involves several hours of tedious effort
  2. Measuring success with KPIs involves pulling data from disparate sources
  3. AND you’re missing out on anonymous accounts that are already engaging with your brand

This is where Factors.ai comes in. Factors identifies and unifies hidden account data across ad campaigns, product review site, website, and CRM to capture demand, monitor engagement, and personalize outreach & nurturing. 

Engagement-based sales is the new way. Here’s how Factors helps:

  1. Identify anonymous inbound traffic across channels
  2. Track granular account engagement to measure intent
  3. Personalize outreach based on engagement and intent
  4. Finally, measure marketing & sales KPIs under one roof

Ankit and Clearfeed’s experience with Factors and the new approach

“Why aren’t we personalizing outreach to improve response rates?” is a standard question amongst founders and the standard answer is usually “it takes a lot of time to meaningfully personalize outreach”. 

Then, the question was “how can we find which accounts are most engaged, so we can personalize outreach to them alone?”. Seems reasonable. So with Factors, we identified accounts from our top of the funnel awareness campaigns as well as organic traffic from educational content assets. 

This set of accounts were, at the very least, problem aware. SDRs could now prioritize personalized outreach to this set of “higher-intent” accounts. This has resulted in a 5x improvement in response rate and our ability to book outbound meetings. Real-time alerts with Factors also helps with speed to response rates. These insights are also signals on what accounts care about or why they’re visiting our website. 

Read more about how Clearbit leverage Factors here: factors.ai/customers/clearfeed

Other tips to improve outbound performance include:

  1. Achieve a comprehensive understanding of target accounts through their website, customers, growth, and other signals
  2. Pinpoint the exact channels your ICPs prefer (LinkedIn, mail, calls, communities, etc) 
  3. Keep experiment and iterating on bottlenecks, wins, and learnings

Q. Today, Clearfeed is further along its growth journey — running ads, content, etc. How has Factors come in handy at this stage?

A. As a founder, I always want to know what’s working. With Factors, we can see what accounts that have converted interacted with pre-sales. What are their touchpoints? What pages have they visited? What topics resonate most? and more. This helps guide our content strategy, paid strategy and beyond. 

The Factors advantage for engagement-based sales may be summarized as…

  1. Unified account data and scoring: Qualify and target the right accounts based on website engagement, intent signals, and firmographics
  2. Advanced analytics: Optimize demand gen and content marketing investment
  3. Real-time alerts: Stay on top of new ICP accounts and closed lost accounts showing engagement

Want to learn more about Factors?

See how we can help your team over a quick call or an interactive product tour

Want to make the most of your LinkedIn ads?

See how Factors can help

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