A startup company has to have three basic skill sets to survive: technical, financial, and sales. If those skills are held by the founders of the company, even better, because it gives the business time to get its footing. A common misconception, however, is that only the salespeople have to get out and sell. For a company to succeed and grow, every person has to internalize and act on the belief that it is their duty to actively promote the products, services, and capabilities of the company they work for, because those efforts are what bring profits to the company that pays their salary.
Most startup companies are funded by savings, credit card debt, second mortgages, or loans from family. This money was obtained dearly with promises to repay quickly and then some. Even companies that get venture capital funding have a limited period of time to burn through the cash and start to show financial results. Just because a business exists does not mean that there is a magic pot of money that will always be available to pay salaries, bonuses, and commissions. On the contrary, for many startups if there are too many months of expenses exceeding profits, the cash runs out and the business shuts its doors, putting every employee out of work.
The salespeople have to sell, but they have to sell smart. Only activities that lead to sales should be pursued. Sure it is nice to drive around and meet people, but you are not a paid tourist. There should be short term smaller opportunities mixed in with larger longer term opportunities in the sales pipeline, and there should be a lot of them. One of the most common things I see is sales activity, but far too little to meet the required numbers. Proven sales activity numbers should be tracked on a weekly basis, including:
- Phone calls made to prospects and customers.
- Meetings with prospective customers.
- Meetings with vendors.
- Quotes prepared and delivered.
Technical people are the ones at the company that deliver and support the products and services. They have work to do because of the hard work of the salespeople, who have made promises to the customers that the company is going to provide outstanding service after the sale. The technical folks have to provide that, and then do more. While doing their work, the techies should be on the lookout for other work the company can do for the customer, and should be very positive about all aspects of the company. I had, for a short while, an engineer who would show up at a customer and tell them the design the sales team did was all wrong and needed to be changed. I have had other engineers tell me that they thought customers called us up and sent us orders because we had such a great reputation. The technical people should instead do their best to understand fully what the company does, and be on the constant lookout for new business opportunities that they can communicate to the sales team to follow up on. Some of the ways they can do this is:
- Ask about upcoming projects when on a job.
- Go to user group meetings and network with other techies.
- Read the company website and keep up to date with the message.
- Go to lunch with the salespeople and ask them what they are selling.
- Build up a good network of like minded people and think about what they need.
The financial people have a very important job to do that impacts everyone at the company. They have to make sure the credit is there for ordering products from vendors, have to make sure customers are billed properly, have to collect check from customers, and have to process payroll and commissions. All while making sure there is enough cash on hand and that the bankers believe enough about the ongoing success to continue to provide credit for accounts receivables. All these are critical to the functioning of the business, to be sure. But for even faster business growth, the financial team has to be on the lookout for new opportunities and network with other businesses. Specific things to do are:
- Find out if the suppliers to the company need any of the services you provide.
- Get to know the bankers and ask about who is doing well.
- Go to local network and chamber of commerce events and meet new people.
- Join peer groups to find out from others on how to run the business better.
Growing a startup into a small business is a team effort. There are many things that have to be done for a business to grow, but the biggest one is sales. Nothing beats the active work of everyone in the organization constantly extolling the virtues of the company’s products and services, telling stories of successes, and looking for opportunity.