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Sales Strategy & Management

That’s Not Going to Fly

Sales leaders share their wisdom on why a business will not grow without a sales strategy and a value-driven sales process.

Ivor Jones

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Yes, you do need a sales strategy

Here’s why: No strategy = no business. It’s that simple. With a sales strategy in place, research is better targeted, cold calls are more productive, sales resources are more cost-effective, and sales performance is more predictable.

The nuts and bolts

For a sales strategy to be effective it must have these key features:

  • The strategy must be specific and detailed
  • The strategy must be measurable
  • The strategy must be attainable
  • The strategy must be realistic
  • The strategy must be time sensitive.

Without a sales strategy, a business will chase its tail – pointlessly pursuing something and moving no closer to its destination. Without getting too complicated, a sales strategy simply describes a business’s approach to selling a product or service. Strategy is the most effective way to drive more sales.

Everyone believes that strategy is important, so it’s surprising to see how many businesses have no sales strategy at all. Regardless of the size of your business, the effectiveness of your sales strategy is what will determine success or failure. Without this fundamental element in place, it will take that much longer to get a business off the ground, or to grow a business that has set its sights higher.

As a framework for fine-tuning the marketing mix, the four Ps of sales strategy – product, place, price, and promotion – continue to serve sales leaders well.

1. Product

This is your tangible product or service. You need to think about the needs and wants of consumers, market conditions, how to keep production costs down, and quality high. When it comes to the product, can you improve on what your competitors are offering? Or can you add value in some way for the consumer?

2. Place

This is the location where the product or service is to be sold. It may be brick and mortar or online. You need to look at areas where buyers would seek your product, ways to access the right distribution channels, and differentiate yourself from your competitors.

3. Price

Pricing your product involves research, planning and careful consideration. You need to cover all expenses and have a reasonable profit margin. You will also need to look at elements such as pricing strategy, suggested retail price, volume discounts, wholesale pricing, seasonal pricing and price flexibility.

Determine whether you can price your product or service better, and how you want to position it – is it aimed at the high or low end of the market? The narrower your target market, the less you will sell and the higher the value needs to be.

4. Promotion

To reach your target audience, you will need to get information out there about your product or service. This involves a promotional strategy, advertising, public relations, publicity and media, among other elements.

Related: How to Build the Ultimate Sales Team

Identify the total available market

A common (and very important) item missing from many entrepreneurial businesses is a breakdown of the company’s total available market, which is simply everyone you wish to reach with your product.

Here’s an example: You live in Mpumalanga and you’ve decided to start a business that manufactures and sells fly fishing flies. Let’s say your town has 150 000 people. Through market research, you may find that the total possible demand for your business in your town is 15% (or 22 500 people), with spikes in demand occurring during the April and December holiday periods.

Bear in mind that if you have a competitor in your market, your total available market would be smaller since you will be sharing this market with another company.

This process is really about finding out where the opportunities lie, who your competitors are and whether or not they are doing a good job. Much of this type of research can be done electronically, thanks to the Internet.

I always advise entrepreneurs to take the time to go through this process systematically. In addition to more analytical research, talk to friends and family. Talk to people in your social network who you know and trust.

Customer segmentation

Most market sectors today are comprised of a diverse range of niche players who have varied needs and business drivers. Companies that target any market as one broad vertical run the risk of developing positioning that misses its mark, making the sales and marketing process more difficult and more expensive than it needs to be. To maximise your marketing and sales effectiveness and minimise selling costs, it is necessary to understand the market from a more detailed perspective.

Once you have identified your total available market, you should begin to segment your customers. This separates prospects and customers into sets of people or companies that are similar and related from a marketing or demographic perspective. For example, a business that practices customer segmentation might group its current or potential customers according to their buying habits, age group, special interests.

Use data sources that are freely available about companies’ lines of business, areas of operation, number of employees, IT infrastructure, fleet sizes and so on to give you an idea of what the potential could be. The ability to calculate or estimate the potential spend or purchases of prospects or customers in the target market you have chosen means drilling down to a granular level to calculate the average spend of each customer in each area or sales territory.

Prioritise the geographical areas with the greatest sales potential and the least cost to cover.

Sales force structure

Once you have prioritised the areas depending on size and potential within each, you can structure the sales team. How are you going to cover all prospects, from telesales through to taking care of existing business, and breaking into the lucrative new market potential within the area? Territory reps, product reps, major account reps – all must be aligned with the identified potential and deployed at micro market level according to expected future opportunities.

The one factor that will determine success is how well the sales people are trained with regard to handling the opportunities and the relative size of the organisation. Critically, they must also know their competitive position – are they breaking in, sharing or dominating?

Remember that circumstances change constantly. For this process to work, you cannot do it once and then forget about it. Continuous updating of data, either through research or a CRM system is essential. Your sales people play a huge role in keeping data up to date. Make sure that all new information is fed into your system all the time. Then, analyse, reassess and recalculate on an ongoing basis. There are many companies that gather, analyse and sell data to businesses of all sizes – it’s worth making use of their services.

Sales and marketing

Once you have identified your market, segmented your customers and structured your sales team, your go-to-market strategy becomes a lot simpler to implement than you might think: You have your product, your people, and your areas. Now you have to focus on how you will sell – that is marketing. People tend to grossly overestimate what is required here. If you have done all the previous steps properly, how you actually fulfil the transaction is easy – whether it’s through a direct sales force, tele-channels, distributors, retailers or online, the groundwork is done.

There are many consultants out there who will create marketing campaigns for your business, usually at great cost. Once again, remember that much of the information you need is available online. If you know what your business is trying to achieve, time and effort is all you will require to create the right marketing campaign for your business.

Marketing and promoting your business is after all where you can get really creative. Have think tanks with your team on how to promote your products better and as cleverly as possible within the budget you have.

Advertising, for example, can eat a great deal of capital. There are other imaginative ways to reach your target market. The point is that if you know who they are, you will know exactly how to find them.

One word of caution: Strategic sales and marketing is often where companies fall short, and where they can be extremely inefficient with budgets. This is because there is no concrete, definitive blueprint. So much depends on gut feel, experience and market knowledge. That is why it is so critically important to do your homework.

Whichever route you choose to take, remember that the online world has given people the ability to compare products and service and to decide what they want to buy, often before they even meet a sales person for the first time. Online has given everyone the ability to compare, which is why it’s critical to have a web presence that is professional, attractive, informative and easy to navigate.

Related: Don’t Let Those First Sales Go Bad

Ivor Jones is the chairman of ThinkSales Corporation. He was employed by Dun & Bradstreet from 1972 to 1981. In 1982 he launched KreditInform, building it into South Africa's largest business-to-business credit management solutions company. It was sold to Experian in 2008.

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Sales Strategy & Management

Key Tips To Retain Customer And Improve Sales In Ecommerce Sites

If the ideas you are selling are fresh, innovative or even intuitive, you might gain customers, but retaining them actually determines the exact ROIs you can gain from your venture.

Peter Davidson

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Ecommerce in simpler terms is the activity of buying and selling of goods and services over the web.  With the increasing reach and accessibility of internet day by day, online mode of business transactions is gaining prominence. For any business, retaining customers is more advantageous than acquiring new ones.

Number Check

The root of customer retention for any business digs deep. And here are few stats to show the depth of its importance:

  1.  Almost around 41% of online revenues generated are from retained customers that too just by 8% of the retention rate.
  2.  If an ecommerce site can increase their customer retention by mere 5% rate their sales can increase by 25% to even 125%.
  3. Unsatisfactory customer service takes a toll on a business. About 71% of unsatisfied customers end their relation with the vendor.

As the importance of customer retention is being cleared, the next question to pop up is the method of retaining customers. You have to keep note of the important aspects that lead to retaining customers effectively. Here are a few handpicked proven ways to retain your customers and thus improve the sales.

1. Gesture of appreciation

A simple gesture of appreciation or offer or discount can do wonders in enhancing sales. Unexpected surprises or gifts are something which is appreciated by everyone and can cement your relation with your customers.

For this you can add extra discounts, offer vouchers or can send the customer some gifts with a handwritten ‘thank you’ note couple of days after buying. This unexpected gesture of appreciation will divert customers’ attention towards your site.

Related: 6 Steps To Building A Million-Dollar Ecommerce Site In 60 Days

2. Email marketing

email-marketing

Your customers already provide you with data about their choices and preferences. However continuous email campaign is a subtle but effective way of expanding your customer database. Expand the items that are being added in the emails.

Try to innovate the offers and discounts, add newer items to increase your customer’s preferences and keep tracking them. Track which sequence of emails is gaining the highest hits.

3. Gold membership

Probably the most used, yet efficient way of customer retention is VIP privileges and Gold membership etc. A policy including reward points and hierarchical VIP status enabling your customers to various privileges offers etc. act as significant ways of improving sales. The alluring offers and VIP memberships will entice your customers to shop more.

4. Customer Services

A seemingly consistent and personalised customer service is what controls most of the brands nowadays. Most of the market researches show that it’s the customers who modulate and decide the fates of the brand. So be where your customers are for cementing a professional relation with them.

5. Showing diligence

Just occasional email campaigning and gifts and vouchers aren’t enough for successful customer retention. In the era of high-end competition, if you are not careful about the needs, preferences, requirements and most importantly, the complaints of your customers, no matter how much offers or VIP privileges are provided, customer retention is impossible.

Being proactive to the needs of customers, engaging them continuously as well as collecting and reacting to their feedbacks are the three major steps for any customer retention scheme.

Related: Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses

6. Create value for Customers

If you are buying online , will you choose to buy from a website that sells low quality products at a cheap price? The answer is certainly no because everybody desires for quality in terms of shopping. Also, cost alone isn’t valued by customers, there have to be multiple components of value addition to optimise the overall shopping experience for your customers. As an e-commerce company, you need to master the elements of making a successful e-commerce website and later work upon your plan.

7. Limited period offers

Almost all ecommerce sites nowadays follow the policy of giving limited period offers and big bash discounts etc. A large-scale promotion before the said offer period, and some lucrative offers along with VIP privileges can help.

Improvising the existing privileges too can lure the existing customers into more shopping and hence enhance online retail sales.

8. Transparency in sales

Honesty is the key to success in any field of life. An ecommerce business site is no different. It takes painful long period of time for building up a company’s reputation. The only cue card that vouches for the reputation is transparency in sales and company’s policy.

The more transparent you are the better feed you get in return. So, whatever be the service you provide, keeping hidden policies and hidden charges is a strict no-no.

9. Promise and supply gap

It’s good to aspire for more, for bigger contracts, more sales but aspiration shouldn’t blindfold your capabilities. Continuous offerings to customers, more discounts and bigger promise for retaining them shouldn’t go beyond your limits and you end up giving lower outputs in reality.

This, in long run, hinders your company’s reputation to a considerable extent as well. So, promise only according to your limits and not beyond.

Related: The Future Is Now – Ecommerce Retail Trends For 2019

10. Building up a customer community

Humans are social beings by nature. The brand you are selling can actually act as a platform for different customers. Add a community chat room in your site where your customers or the Gold members can login by their credentials and discuss the pros and cons, offer fresh ideas, match and compare their services etc.

This allows for a rigorous service assessment, customer needs, and fresh idea generation for increasing sales and knowing the pulse of the shopper.

11. Enhancing social shares

social-media

This is an add-on feature of the preceded one. Your clients are your potential buyers some of whom are even potential giant-scale buyers. To churn the need of buying in them, incentivise your social platforms. You can do that by putting brand ambassadors’ photographs and ask for a competition amongst the clients.

Alluring offers and gifts for the winners will also make it an enticing professional deal. This can act in both retention and outreaching to newer clients. Also, these gifts and competitions can enhance the word-of-mouth publicity as well.

To wrap it up

Retaining customer is as important as reaching new ones. In fact in long term, customer retention plays a pivotal role. So a proper, polite and courteous customer service, a prompt feedback and complaint resolving team, transparent policies and quality performance on-time are few attributes that can retain customers and take your business sky high.

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Sales Strategy & Management

The Pros And Cons Of Selling To Your Friends And Family

Don’t ignore the first stages of engagement, just because they don’t result in immediate purchases.

Lisa Illingworth

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“When starting out in business, the first people that you rely on to test out a product and pricing are those closest to you or as we teach the kids in the FutureProof programmes, low hanging fruit. But what do you need to keep in mind when using this as your first customer set? The feedback loop from selling to these people will be skewed and if you know this, you can build a business that will survive outside of “easy targets”, says Lisa Illingworth.

Pros

1. Confidence Boosting

Starting a business is ridiculously hard. To take the plunge is often the scariest thing that we attempt and with the failure rates being heavily stacked against business survival, it should be the goal of every new entrepreneur to boost your confidence. And nothing boosts confidence like an eager customer.

Friends and family make great confidence boosters. It’s their mandated job to enthusiastically follow your business Facebook page and buy every product you have to sell, even if it is in early development phase.

2. Gentle Criticism

Intrinsically linked to the first pro, is the second pro that friends and family should deliver criticism in a gentle manner that will not break your fragile spirit. These people should be heavily invested in your personal growth and if this is true, they will be concerned about your infatuation with this business, and not breaking it.

And this may only be because they don’t want to field phone calls late at night after the idea tanks or pay your rent when the funds dry up.

3. Cash Flow

The life blood of any new business is the constant trickle of money coming into the business in the early days to keep yourself, the entrepreneur alive and fed. Don’t underestimate the necessity of keeping money flowing, even regular but small amounts. Friends and family are great sources of quick, regular purchases and they are more likely to choose your small business over a larger one because of the emotional investment in you.

Related: 7 Lessons For The New Entrepreneur To Take Into 2019

Cons

1. Inflated Expectations

Please don’t be fooled by the outright enthusiasm that your family and friends have for your new product or service as the general sentiment carried by those that have no idea who you are. You will be sorely disappointed when you find out that all that hype was based on a personal connection and investment in you, the entrepreneur.

When people outside of your personal network see the value at the price you’re charging, you are then quite literally, on the money. Until then, keep your expectations in check.

2. False Feedback Loop

I think like most of us who could just not bare the deflated façade creep across a friend’s face if you gave them cold, hard feedback that the homemade mix of spices they have randomly thrown together and called ‘Chai Tea’ is not a tasty as she thinks it is. And thus, we buy a jar and stick it in the back of the pantry hoping it gets forgotten.

This type of feedback loop, whilst protects the relationship, does not protect the young business person from the harsh reality that their product is just not that good. You may be concerned about how a friend will take the news and the impact it will have going forward, a customer will not be that forgiving. The false feedback loop sets an entrepreneur up to fall even farther when the real feedback starts coming in.

3. Market Exhaustion

If the only customers you actually have are those purchasing based on their investment with you this market will quickly become exhausted. If you have not devised a strategy to tell others outside of your network about your business, you will not be developing a continuous stream of new customers through a customer journey.

Related: How Taking Risks – And Failing – Can Lead To Business Success

In marketing, it is almost never that people buy on the first encounter with a business. There needs to be a ‘dating’ like process where customers get to know, like, trust and try before they make a purchase. If you have ignored growing these segments of your marketing and sales, you will eventually exhaust those in your network and be left with limited cash flow and little market awareness.

What then is the answer to this conundrum? By all means take the confidence boosters from those closest to you that will keep you afloat in the early stages of growth, but keep your expectations measured and seek out the harsh criticism from strangers to refine your offering so as to have real value at a palatable price point.

We teach the kids at Futureproof to find people to buy your service or product that are easy to get to without spending time or money but we don’t specify who they are rather to find the low hanging fruit in order to start but spend time marketing to a larger audience at the same time. Don’t ignore the first stages of engagement, just because they don’t result in immediate purchases.

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Sales Strategy & Management

The 7 Rules Of Pitching

If you want to build an investable business and land funding, you need to understand the landscape. Vusi Thembekwayo unpacks how smart businesses attract investors.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

In 2014, Zithande Mbala pitched his business idea, a smart toilet paper lubricating device, to the Dragons on SABC’s Dragon’s Den. It was a bizarre pitch, not least of all when Zithande valued the business to be worth northwards of $100 million in a few months’ time. He was offering a 10% stake in the company for an investment of R1 million.

The Dragons did not respond to Zithande’s pitch well. It made for entertaining television, but no one thought they were watching a great investment walk out the door when the Dragons collectively said, ‘I’m out’.

And then in 2018, one of those Dragons, Vusi Thembekwayo, saw a smart toilet paper lubricating device at OR Tambo International Airport. He gave Zithande a call, only to discover that the business was off the ground — and had some large contracts to boot.

“How did we miss it? All of us are entrepreneurs and we completely missed it,” says Vusi. “I’ve rewatched that clip a hundred times, trying to figure out why we all thought it was a terrible idea with no hope of making it in the real world.”

There are lessons to be learnt in Zithande’s pitch for both funders and entrepreneurs looking for funding. “We pre-judged him, which we shouldn’t have done. He had an accent that he said came from spending time in New York, but we knew he hadn’t. It’s a strong lesson for us not to pre-judge, but it’s also a lesson for entrepreneurs. We all put on personas — we wear suits to meetings when we wear jeans at the office — it’s a part of doing business, but you need to be careful not to come across as inauthentic. If you’re trying to be something that you’re not for a funder, it might backfire.

Rather be who you are and have confidence in yourself. Authentic, transparent entrepreneurs will be respected, even if you’re coming from a completely different space or background to the investors you’re approaching.”

The next lesson speaks to the nature of both entrepreneurship and finding funding: Always persevere. “If you believe it, do it,” says Vusi. “It’s a cliché, but clichés exist because they’re true. Don’t listen to negativity, don’t stop, and don’t in the moment let the bumps in the road shape your reality.

“There will always be hiccups. We make mistakes. We get rejected. If you let these derail you, you’ll never succeed. Most companies don’t get funding the first time round. Most entrepreneurs don’t succeed with their first ventures. You need to learn to push on, no matter what life throws at you.”

But perseverance is just a starting point. If you want to build an investable business and land funding, you need to understand the landscape. These are Vusi’s seven lessons in attracting a funder’s attention.

Related: Pitching in the Dragons’ Den

1. Put each ‘no’ to good use

According to Vusi, it’s almost immediately apparent whether entrepreneurs have pitched their business to investors before, and it works in their favour.

“They answer the questions we’re thinking in their presentations, before we need to ask them,” he says. “No meeting with a funder is a waste. You can either let the rejections wear you down, or you can learn something and perfect your deck.”

2. Record all meetings

“No funder will say anything in a meeting that you can’t hear, so ask if you can record the meeting,” advises Vusi. “When you play back the recording, you’re now a third-party listening in. You can hear yourself — wow, why did I stutter there? Why do I sound so nervous? Why didn’t I say this… There is so much you can learn and improve on just by re-living a meeting.”

In addition, when you’re recording a meeting, you don’t need to take a lot of notes and you can be completely present in the discussion.

3. Use the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

A few years ago, Guy Kawasaki evangelised the 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint. In a nutshell, a pitch should have ten slides, last no more than 20 minutes and contain no font smaller than 30 points.

“We’ve seen this combined with design thinking, and it makes for a compelling pitch,” says Vusi. “When I first saw it, it seemed so basic and even obvious, and yet so few entrepreneurs use this format. If you do though, you steer away from an executive summary and SWOT analysis and instead focus on the problem, how you’re solving it and where the commercial opportunity lies.

“What is the problem you’re solving? It’s such a basic question to ask, and yet so few businesses start there when they’re pitching. Instead, there’s a tendency towards, ‘This is me and my team, and our amazing clients, and the 15 000 products we offer… and the person you’re pitching to is thinking, ‘hold on, what’s the problem? Help me understand the problem. Because if I get the problem, you have my interest.”

4. The goal of the first meeting is to secure a second meeting

You need to grab an investor’s attention in the first meeting to secure a second meeting, and the way to achieve that is by piquing their interest with a problem that you can profitably solve. “I’ve learnt that a pitch has to grab me within the first seven minutes, or my attention starts moving to my emails, to-do list or other urgent matters,” admits Vusi.

“I’m present at the beginning of the meeting — that’s where you need to unpack the really important stuff. The rest can follow later. If you grab an investor’s attention, you will get the opportunity to discuss your team, products and clients. All of those things are important. But you don’t want them upfront, and then by the time you’re reaching the most crucial part of your presentation you’ve already lost everyone’s interest.”

As an entrepreneur, Vusi learnt this lesson the hard way. “We went on fundraising rounds ourselves, and I realised that I had eight slides of fluff upfront, because there were so many things I felt I just ‘had’ to let them know. The reality is that I needed to present our hook — follow-on questions and meetings will cover everything you need to unpack. But if you don’t have that hook, you’ll never reach that point.”

Related: Pitching To Lenders – How To Get It Right, First Time

5. Practice, practice, practice

“Iteration is important. Deliver your pitch as many times as possible. Practice on business associates, friends, family — anyone who will listen. But make sure some of them are strangers, or at least people who will give you the unvarnished truth. You don’t want to feel good and get a pat on your shoulder — you want to perfect your pitch.

“Ideally, what you need is someone who will ask questions from an outsider’s perspective. See what they latch onto, or what they don’t understand. How long does it take to explain what you do, or the problem you’re solving? We all make assumptions and we all understand our businesses and industries, but don’t assume the person you’re speaking to has the same perspective or knowledge.”

6. Don’t treat every potential investor as the same

There are a number of key things to understand about the funding landscape. First, venture capital and private equity firms raise money from partners. They have shareholders that they are answerable to, and to whom they need to show returns. They need to grow the capital they invest. Therefore, if there isn’t a growth opportunity, there isn’t an investment opportunity.

“You need to show how the investment will help you grow the business,” says Vusi. “This is a key element — if I put in x, I will be able to get y out. Yes, there’s a risk that it won’t work, but you need to have a growth story; you need to be able to demonstrate how you plan to get there.”

In addition, each fund has a mandate. Approaching an FMCG and Agri investment fund for a tech venture is pointless. Similarly, approaching an eco-fund with a plastic bottled-water concept will not work. Understand the fund, the individual investors and how your business suits their mandate.

6. Know your numbers

If you’re a subject matter expert and not a finance person, speak to someone who is. “Tap into your network and find someone in that space. They will understand the money and ask you the questions that relate to that part of the pitch and business. This will give you an idea of what investors will ask so that you can come prepared to answer their questions. Too many entrepreneurs walk into an investment meeting and don’t have all the numbers they need at their fingertips. This is a red flag for investors — how will you grow their investment and your business if you don’t have a handle on the numbers?”

Pitch to a taxi driver

This is a simple lesson that Vusi himself figured out while taking a ride in a taxi. “We were waiting for passengers and started chatting, first about how the local music industry is changing and then moving on to my business,” says Vusi.

“It was an incredible experience. Here was the stranger, asking me questions about my business that I knew the answers to, but had never considered including in my pitch.

“Taxi drivers have a short attention span because of what they do. They also run high-volume, low-margin businesses and work under immense pressure. They understand exactly how to think about their businesses in terms of how much return their vehicles are giving them. Think about it. A taxi driver will charge a passenger R2,50 for a ride, but owes R250 000 on his taxi, so he understands all about capital returns and depreciation cycles. He’s an excellent resource — and he’s free. You need to get to the point and see if your pitch makes sense.”

The 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint

Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 Rule of PowerPoint is made up of ten slides.

  1. Title: Provide company name, your name and title, address, email and cell number
  2. Problem/Opportunity: Describe the pain that you’re alleviating or the pleasure you’re providing
  3. Value Proposition: Explain the value of the pain you alleviate or pleasure you provide
  4. Underlying Magic: Describe the technology, secret sauce or magic behind your product. The less text and the more diagrams, schematics and flowcharts the better. If you have a prototype or demo, now is the time to transition to it. If a picture is worth 1 000 words, a prototype is worth 10 000 slides.
  5. Business Model: Explain who has your money temporarily in their pocket and how you’re going to get it into yours.
  6. Go-to-Market Plan: Explain how you are going to reach your customer without breaking the bank.
  7. Competitive Analysis: Provide a complete view of the competitive landscape. Too much is better than too little.
  8. Management Team: Describe the key players of your management team, board of directors and board of advisors, as well as your major investors. It’s okay if you have a less than perfect team. If your team was perfect, you wouldn’t need to be pitching.
  9. Financial Projections and Key Metrics: Provide a three-year forecast containing not only rands but also key metrics, such as number of customers and conversion rates. Do a bottom-up forecast, not top-down.
  10. Current Status, Accomplishments to Date, Timeline and Use of Funds: Explain the current status of your product, what the near future looks like and how you’ll use the money you’re trying to raise.

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