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Sales Prospecting

Conquering the Customer Challenge

This is an excerpt from The Startup Owner’s Manual, a recently published step-by-step guide for building companies.

Steve Blank




There are a million-plus apps for sale on mobile app stores and an infinite number of commerce, social and content websites, so the mere fact that you’ve launched a new one doesn’t make it a successful business.

Building your product is the easy part. The hard part is getting customers to find your app, site or product. It’s a daunting, never-ending challenge to build customer relationships, quite literally, one customer at a time.

Acquisition and activation

Let’s get started with the first two steps for “getting” customers: acquisition and activation.

In the acquisition phase, customers learn about a product before they buy. With web/mobile apps, the effort focuses on bringing as many customers as possible to the company’s “front door” – the landing page. There, they’re introduced to the product and hopefully buy it or use it.

The second phase – activation – is when the customer shows interest through a free download or trial, a request for more information, or a purchase. Customers should be considered “activated” even if they don’t purchase or register, as long as the company has enough information to re-contact them (whether by e-mail, phone, text, etc.) with explicit permission to do so.

Pull, don’t push

Unlike the door-to-door salesmen of yesteryear, your job on the web is to “pull” customers to you rather than to push your product at them.

Your first step in customer acquisition and activation is understanding how people buy or engage with your product. Here’s how it happens:

  • Step one: People discover a need or want to solve a problem. They say, “I want to throw a party,” or feel lonely and decide to find a hot party or a dating site. Then what?
  • Step two: They begin a search. Overwhelmingly, in this century, that search begins online. It often happens at, but it can happen on Facebook, Quora or hundreds of other special-interest websites from Yelp to Zagat to
  • Step three: They don’t look very hard. In fact people often only pay attention to the first few things they uncover (how often do you search beyond the first page of results on Google?). You must make your site, app or product as visible as humanly possible, in as many of these places as possible where your customers are likely to begin the search.
  • Step four: They go where they’re invited, entertained or informed. You don’t “earn” interest from your customers with hard-boiled sales pitches or bland information. You earn it by providing inviting, helpful or entertaining information in lots of formats (copy, diagrams, white papers, blogs, videos, games, demos, you name it) and by participating in the communities and social media your customers are likely to be.

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How to Handle Big Corporate Clients


Free or paid tactics – they both work

When it comes to acquisition, you can use free or paid tactics. Free is obviously the best cost, and includes public relations, viral marketing, search engine optimisation and social networking.

After you get the free acquisition programmes going, you should start to test paid tactics, such as pay-per-click advertising, online or traditional media advertising, affiliate marketing and online lead generation.

You’ll want to run some quick and simple acquisition tests to gauge customer reaction. Try controllable, inexpensive, easily measured tactics:

  • Buy R2000 worth of AdWords and see if they’ll drive customers representing five or 10 times that amount in potential revenue to the site or app and at least get them to register. Monitor performance and drop ineffective ones.
  • Use Facebook messages or Tweet to measurable audiences to invite at least 1 000 people to explore the new product. If none of the messages work, the product or offer may well be the problem.
  • Buy an e-mail blast list of targeted customers for R2000 or R4 000. Send at least two versions of the offer and expect to generate at least three times the potential revenue to at least sign up, if not purchase.
  • Find traffic partners, which are typically contractual relationships with other companies that provide predictable streams of customers or users to your company while you provide either customers or fees to the partner.

For web/mobile businesses, activation is the choke point – the make-or-break place where customers decide whether they want to participate, play, or purchase.

Quick activation tests include:

  • Capture the customer’s e-mail address and get permission to follow up with further information. Follow up with 1 000 customers and expect at least 50 or more to agree to activate.
  • Offer a free trial, download, or white paper or a significant discount to 500 or 1 000 customers. Try this with at least three different offers, hoping to find at least one that generates a five percent or greater response rate.
  • Call 100 prospects who don’t activate immediately. See if the phone calls generate enough of a response-rate improvement to warrant the cost. Three times the response rate is probably needed.
  • Try free-to-paid conversion: Offer a seven- or 14-day free trial of an app, service, or web/mobile product. Or offer the use of some but not all of the site or app’s features.
  • Monitor the results of all tests and, when you’re not satisfied, revise the programme and test again.

Sales Prospecting

3 Strategies For Closing Sales Without Picking Up The Phone

Cold calls generate follow-up conversations only 10 percent of the time, and lead to in-person meetings less than 2 percent of the time. Use these three strategies to skip the cold calling and get straight to decision-makers today.

Ryan Robinson




Anyone who’s been on the receiving end of a sales cold call, which is virtually everyone with a phone number, can attest to how annoying these unsolicited sales attempts often are. Even if you stay on the line long enough to hear what the caller is selling, your first question probably isn’t, “Can you please tell me more?”

It’s more like, “How did you get my number?” Or maybe, “Can you please remove me from your calling list?”

Yet cold calling has been a widely used sales tactic for decades, and is often considered a rite of passage for veteran salespeople. But it’s high time for that to change. There are simply more efficient and effective ways to sell products in the digital age.

Time not well spent

Cold calls generate follow-up conversations only 10 percent of the time, according to a Harvard Business Review study. The other 90 percent of the time, they’re most likely alienating potential leads, even the ones who may actually benefit from the product or service being sold.

Related: Have We Lost Our Face-To-Face Sales Ability?

Moreover, not even 2 percent of sales calls lead to an in-person meeting, according to HubSpot research. That means you have to spend a lot of time on the phone before you get the chance to make an in-person pitch.

All of that time spent researching prospects, refining sales scripts and training your sales team to pitch your product on the phone, drives up your cost of customer acquisition immensely. Not surprisingly, HubSpot also reports that cold calls cost roughly 60 percent more per lead than acquisition methods like email marketing and social selling.

Cold calling is an aggressive approach, and today’s consumers don’t want to be pressured into making a purchase, they want to buy into your product and your company on their own terms. The internet has changed how consumers make buying decisions, and buyers now want to be in charge of the purchasing process.

Instead of interrupting customers with annoying sales calls, rely on the following three guidelines to build a better sales strategy:

1Start With Inbound Marketing

The guiding principle behind any successful inbound marketing program is to provide value first and sell second.

If customers understand the value that your company is offering, they’ll be far more likely to do business with you.

HubSpot helped pioneer this approach, and now companies like Sapper Consulting are taking it to the next level where they combine precise targeting and unique, creative email content with the insights — generated by big data to help companies get B2B leads and secure high-quality meetings with decision makers.

A successful inbound marketing campaign is based on a specifically defined audience or a set of customer personas. Companies like HubSpot and Sapper help people target content directly to your personas and establish a voice that resonates with them. According to a study by marketing company Captora, 61 percent of consumers are more likely to make a purchase from companies that use custom content to reach them. Clearly, knowing your audience is key.

Related: Click-2-Call: Securing Sales By Retaining The Customer’s Attention

2Don’t be afraid of public speaking

TED Talks

The popularity of TED Talks and similar forums is evidence of the fact that people want to hear what experts have to say, either in person or over video. But even if you don’t consider yourself an expert yet, public speaking can help you achieve that status.

By speaking at industry-relevant meetings and events, you can start developing brand recognition and a unique perspective on topics related to your business. Plus, you can repurpose speeches as content to use in your future inbound marketing efforts.

A well-delivered speech can be one of the most effective ways to generate sales because you’ll often have prospects in the room when you’re speaking. Grab their attention during your speech, and you’ll likely be handing out business cards afterward.

3Keep an eye on ROI

Content marketing is only effective if you actually use your content. In 2013, SiriusDecisions reported that somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of B2B content goes completely unused. That’s a problem. It shows that many companies are essentially throwing away time and money and calling it content marketing.

Instead of wasting precious resources on your content marketing efforts, clearly define the business objective you hope to achieve with each piece of content you create — beyond page views and click-through rates.

Work to understand the ROI you’re getting out of each piece of content. Quantify your customers’ pain points and create a sales strategy around the solution to those pain points.

Related: 5 Tips To Generate Sales Leads Through Social Media

Thought leadership and content campaigns will also help you engage with consumers and get a better sense of how your content is contributing to sales. Then, repurpose high-performing content and update content that becomes dated to continue attracting new leads.

Likewise, you should keep content that demonstrates your company’s capabilities and other valuable knowledge gated so that you’re not giving away intellectual property — such as industry analysis, buying guides and RFP templates — for free.

Cold calling is a time-honored practice, and it’s likely not going away anytime soon.

But with these tactics, you’ll have much more success acquiring new customers and gain a big advantage over competitors still glued to their phones.

This article was originally posted here on

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Sales Prospecting

When Your Market Is Declining Fish Where The Fish Are

Shift your focus from barren and ‘over fished’ markets to customers who are looking for the right solutions.

Ed Hatton




Just as some anglers forlornly cast their lines into fished-out waters, some companies and sales people continue to focus on markets where nobody is buying any more. Sales and profitability decline and business owners blame downgrades, corruption and labour issues, while their real problem is chasing non-existent sales.

Many sectors in the economy have declined, and suppliers to those sectors will face reduced sales and increased competition. The poultry, steel and mining industries have experienced sharp reductions and face serious challenges. The automotive and manufacturing sectors have experienced reduced volumes, cost cutting and retrenchments. If your primary target market is in any similar sector, and you continue to operate as if nothing has changed, you are taking very high risks.

In some instances, the decline of the target market stems from an event like the horrific massacre at Marikana and the changes that brought to the mining industry. Then you know you need to react, but most change is gradual, and some entrepreneurs may not notice, or shut their eyes to the bad news.

Related: Savvy Sales Skills To Grow Your Franchise Footprint

Others cling to the hope that this decline is temporary, and do nothing. We all love our comfort zones and find many excuses to stay there, and so we sink with the declining market.

Making the right change

Once you have appreciated the problems with your current markets, look for similar markets that are stable or growing. For example, if you sell mining supplies, the construction industry may offer good prospects. Be creative; think how you can use your expertise to supplement declining markets by entering more successful ones.

Focus on high growth business sectors. Perhaps health and fitness, education, green energy or IT services could provide opportunities. Where could you leverage your technology, source of supply and sales processes to enter growing markets?

Look for success stories, there are many, including those profiled in this publication. It is clearly preferable to sell to a company growing rapidly than to one clinging to the edge of the cliff by its fingernails. If you sell business to business, examine the state of your customer’s customer.

If your customer is operating in a declining market, you will follow them downhill unless you take action. Find ways to use your products and services to make them more competitive, to halt their slide and grow at the expense of their competitors.

This is a good time to look deeper into the real needs of your existing customers. While we are selling well, we assume that we are satisfying customer needs appropriately. Are we really doing that? Are there other products or services that would be valuable to our customers? Find out, and then provide solutions.

Get out of your comfort zone


It’s easy to say that you should move out of your comfort zone and switch your efforts to more lucrative sectors, but less easy to do. Institutional knowledge, systems, databases, credit records, sales processes and products are all geared to the once-successful industries.

Related: Have We Lost Our Face-To-Face Sales Ability?

Instead of throwing away all of this know-how, it makes sense to adapt the systems and information to new markets in a gradual transition. Start new initiatives by withdrawing resources from the old and using working processes and skills to open new markets.

You are likely to need a core of your operations for your existing markets and customers, but your focus should be on the new initiatives.

Your sales teams may need additional training to work in new areas. They must learn to understand the customers and their needs and adapt to their terminology and business practices.

Continual retention of sales people is a good idea even without change; it is highly desirable if you want to enter new markets successfully. Train all staff who will be a part of that drive, so your whole company becomes capable of delivering great products and even better service to new customers.

Successfully enter new markets

  • Which sectors are similar to yours?
  • How can your current solutions be repackaged for different uses?
  • How can your solutions help customers to be more competitive?

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Sales Prospecting

Attention: The New Consumer Currency

Spendthrift customers are unwilling to part with their attention absent the CX factor.




Spendthrift customers are unwilling to part with their attention absent the CX factor.

In the Customer Experience War, brands need to either minimise customers’ attention spend or make the spend worthwhile, or both. Expectations are high.

Less is more

Customers can get what they want through voice recognition now. Busyness equals status.

Brands need to eliminate the journey between here and there. Think groceries direct to your fridge.

Painful attention suckers must go. Old problem like a laptop ban on flights? Qatar airways will loan you a free laptop during your flight.

Related: Vital Insights You Must Consider To Keep Up With Your Consumers’ Needs

Eliminating certain customer experiences is the way forward for brands. Assure the customer that any negative socio-economic impacts of your product are minimal so they don’t need to do the research.

On the flipside, help customers multitask to maximize their attention spend at one point in time. Audiobooks are winning out on ebooks.

More is more

Customers are seasoned experience collectors. In a social media frenzied macro-culture oversaturated with the flashy, only the most authentic transient tales count.

The masses don’t just want the quick, easy and dead. Detail, delivery, delighting in delicacy is the new deal.

Customers demand the unexpected. Playfulness in an over-adult world is a very real phenomenon. Think rainbow-coloured foods and Mexican tequila rain.

Amidst the hype, people want to feel better about themselves. Purposeful progress on a path toward self-actualisation and a story worth sharing is worth its weight in attention spend. Make it look like an adventure, and your brand is on its way.

Museum workouts and trancing out to Chromatherapy yoga show that you are an edgy go-getter expanding your transcendental horizons. Event spaces more permanent than pop-ups heighten the experiential community. Creative hubs for coworkers fuse funkiness while easing the isolation funk.

Related: 3 Innovative Tactics To Thrive Through The Consumer Evolution

Experiences need to be tailor made to unique specs. Minimalistic approaches can also still grab attention far more powerfully than grandiose firework displays that fizzle out quickly.

Seamless processes, enthralling product

Netflix aims to make watching great content as easy as possible, but wants you to watch the content.

Optimise your CX strategy through a pragmatic approach. At times you will want to spare the customer’s attention spend, and at times you will want to encourage it.

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