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Developer's Guide to Launching a Startup: Sales 101

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Founders’ egos are their worst enemies when it comes to sales. They spend months or even years developing technically impeccable product. A product that good and so disruptive, the whole world will know how amazing it is and sales will follow.

The product launches and then…. Crickets! #fail

Here are the top 3 myths startup founders like to believe in:

Myth #1: Good Products Sell Themselves

Myth #2: A Great Product Makes All the Difference

Myth #3: If We Build It, They Will Come

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You’ve built a terrific product, full of technological innovations. It’s loaded with features and functionalities. So why isn’t the world banging on your door to buy it?
Let me ask you a slightly philosophical question. “If a great product sits in the woods and no one knows it’s there, does it make a sound”?

Of course not!

Your potential clients can’t know that your product is what they need if they don’t know it exists! It’s your job to make sure that your product can be found, and that it makes its way into their hands.

Hustling and pro-active selling is the name of the sales game for startups. Let’s take a look at what can you do today to avoid this startup crickets nightmare. Yes, even if you are doing it all by yourself and have little bandwidth leftover for sales.

Start early

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Hundreds of startups fail every year as a result of spending too much time working on a product and not spending time finding users. Don’t be one of them! Customer development takes time.

Doing nothing about sales until the launch day and expecting for everything to work out is pure madness. It is lethal for two reasons:

  1. Not engaging with potential customers means you are solving imaginary problems.
    Periodical reality checks with your target audience are essential. Building a platform packed with features that are useless for your client is a sure way to fail. Getting feedback as you go allows you to iterate quickly and at a relatively small cost.

  2. Launching a product into an empty room is a disaster that can kill even the most clever startup idea.

The sooner the revenue starts rolling in, the better. Also, customer development takes time, and starting it from scratch post launch is a sure way to get frustrated quickly.

You don’t need a complete and fully functional product to start selling. Don’t take this the wrong way- a barely functional MVP (minimum viable product) full of bugs won’t cut it. But a clean version of your basic platform is all you need to get going.

Here is how you can get clients way ahead of the launch day.

Have a pre-launch sign up page.

You can put together your own landing page in as little as 10 minutes, so you have no excuse not to do it! Set a simple one up using free services such as Launchrock, or put one together all by yourself.


Don’t care about a sophisticated landing page, but your non-technical co-founder won’t let you live with requests like “can we make this header more blue and move the button little bit to the left”? Try Unbounce! Unbounce is sophisticated enough to fulfill the needs of the perfectionists, yet so simple that you won’t be disturbed anymore:)


Now that you have one:

  • Share it with as many people in the world as you can.
    Friends and family make a great start. Ask for their feedback. Are they able to gauge from your copy what it is exactly that they’re signing up for? If not, make changes until it’s clear to them. Just make sure you’ve reassured them that it’s OK to give you critical feedback… even if it’s negative :)

Once you got the content of it down, move on to your college/high school/university friends.

Tip: remember that these people may or may not be the target market for your product – so ask them if they know anyone that is!

Then go with former colleagues, your twitter followers, LinkedIn connections and Facebook user groups. You get the idea.

After a couple of weeks, ask each person who signed up to recommend signing up to one more person. And so on and so forth. Your mailing list will grow without you even knowing it!

  • Add an incentive to spread the good word.

Offer limited early access to users who lead to the most signups. Or offer the top 10% free access (or at least extended free trial). Motivate!

If you are looking for some more inspiration on this, take a look at story of Harry’s.
Harry’s pre-launch landing page allowed them to collect over 100,000 sign ups in just 7 days. Not too shabby. Here is the link to their story (and it includes their templates, code, and everything else you need). How to Gather 100,000 Emails in One Week.

Get Listed in as many Online Directories as you can

You need to make sure your product shows up when people are looking for it! For example, if you’re working on a productivity app, find online lists such as “10 best productivity apps of 2016” and get listed there. A B2B software? Get listed on platforms like Capterra. That way, users looking to eliminate the problem you’re solving will come across your product as they shop around.

Here’s a list of online sites that you can use to get more users. Be sure to submit your company only to the sites that are related to your niche:

  1. HackerNews
  2. TechCrunch
  3. Mashable
  4. KillerStartup
  5. SpringWise
  6. CrunchBase
  7. Product Hunt
  8. Vator
  9. Reddit
  10. VentureBeat
  11. The Next Web
  12. Betalist
  13. TheStartupPitch
  14. AppVita
  15. RateMyStartup
  16. MakeUseOf
  17. Gust.com

Get some press (QUALITY over QUANTITY though!)

Here’s a helpful link that includes over 360 platforms to get featured in. Find out which ones work best for your product and go ahead! Just stay human in the process. These guys receive hundreds of requests a day, so don’t spam them with pre-populated bulk-sent emails. Make sure you stand out from the crowd.

Don’t just list every feature of your product and add some technical specs- boring! Share your story. Share your vision. Excite people about your solution.


“Never stop selling” and “sales cures all”

We didn’t make up those two statements. In fact, they couldn’t be any truer. You have to be proactive about your sales. You have to drop any dependencies. ”I have to do x before I can do Y” is just a lame excuse not to get started.

Get on it today!

There are tools out there that actually make sales manageable even if you are doing it all by yourself and have very little bandwidth leftover, so you’ve literally no excuse for not doing it!


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Close.io is an all-in-one sales tools that will rock your world. It keeps track of all your sales activities and stats. Send emails and track open rates, make calls, track clients and opportunities in the pipeline, create reminders to follow up.

For example, you know the feeling when you answer a call and don’t recall anything about the person whose calling you? Don’t get caught off-guard ever again! Every time you receive a call, Close.io will display the contact history between you and that person. Now you can make an educated decision whether you want to answer this one and how to play the call. You will always be confident and on the top of your game. It’s literally a game changer!

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And while we are talking about Close.io, it’s also worth mentioning GrooveHQ. GrooveHQ is a help desk software company, run by Alex Turnbull (an active member of start-up community). Mentioning customer support software in a post about sales, might seem a bit off, but read on!

Alex runs a blog documenting his entire start-up journey. He doesn’t only share Groove’s great success stories, but also failures and lessons learned. All this aside, he partnered up with over 30 other companies to give start-ups a head start. Alex convinced companies such as Zapier, Crazy Egg and Unbounce to give businesses that are just starting discounts and extended trial periods, worth whooping $30,000. No strings attached. It’s called Groove HQ’s start-up stack- check it out!

Back to close.io now. In that GrooveHQ’s startup stack, you’ll find an extended, 90 days free trial for Close.io! (Thank you, Steli!). Try it out free for 3 months, and I guarantee you will be hooked. Close.io really understands the pains of sales which makes their solution intuitive and extremely efficient.


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What better way to start selling than to the customers of your competition. They’ve already been educated about the problem you’re solving. They clearly have some budget set aside for this type of product/service. They know what they love and hate about it. You can learn so much from them when it comes to what customers really want with a product similar to yours.

Builtwith’s an amazing platform operating on a subscription base. The concept is plain awesome. Pick the technology you are looking for, and get a report of thousands on businesses who are using it already (together with their contact info).

To make things even cooler, you can set up custom reports to find out which of those companies spend more than $100/$500/$1000 etc on it a month. Start working the list of thousands of potential customers with a solid strategy in place will help you make the most of the time you put into sales.

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Reach out to those businesses. Engage in the conversations with them. Figure out what your competitors strengths are and make sure you can match or beat them, and capitalize on their shortcomings. It’s an amazing opportunity to get real feedback on your product and some sales while at it.


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Thoughtful automation is a great sales tool. However you have to make sure it is well thought out and personalized, so your prospects don’t confuse it with spam.

Speaking of spam, MailGun can help you avoid the spam folders all together. Mailgun is an email API for developers that makes all the difference when it comes to taking your email activities to the next level. These guys know all the tricks to keep your domain being blacklisted. For example, inserting an unsubscribe link in emails so your new contacts can remove themselves and you don’t have to think about whether this person said “never contact me again!”. Their api is powerful, but simple. Plus, it can be used with Close.io!

As it’s developer focused it’s pretty much out of reach for the “average business” sales guy, so as a seasoned developer, it’ll give you an edge on them!

Follow Up!

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The numbers above speak for themselves. Don’t expect sending a couple of cold emails to result in sales rolling in. This is not how it works. Follow up is the key. It’s where sales happen. You want to be the one who keeps on popping up in their mailbox when everybody else gave up.

Send an email. Follow up with a call. Follow them up on their social media. Follow up friendly, politely and in a professional manner, but shamelessly. Just don’t be creepy- if you do get a hard no with legit reasoning behind it, let it be. Focus your time and efforts on other prospects and sales opportunities that have a higher chance of turning into a sale.

Grow some thick skin

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Speaking of cold-emailing and cold calling… You gotta’ grow some thick skin. Some of the responses you’ll get will be awful. When you do get them, remind yourself that it’s nothing personal and it doesn’t mean your product sucks. This person is probably just having a bad day. No matter what happens, never lose your temper and never get into a heated back and forth.

Stay calm and professional and don’t let any negative feedback get into your head. Calmly analyze any negative feedback to see if they had a point, and move on. Don’t redesign the whole product based on a single piece of negative feedback- it’s never the right thing to do.

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Don’t be shy to ask for a close, either!

Be resourceful

Add a call to action to your email signature. Read up more on sales. Educate yourself and get some inspiration. I highly recommend digging deep into Close.io’s blog. It’s full of real gems!

Putting a couple of Jeff Gitomer’s sales classics on your bookshelf also won’t hurt!

The Sales Bible is a timeless classic- it coaches you on how to maintain the winning attitude in the sales game.

The Little Red Book of Selling is also helpful. Some people like to think of Jeff Gitomer as the “Seth Godin” of the sales world and they might have a point!

##What if you are selling a product that no one understands?

Everybody loves startups, everybody loves new stuff. So how is it possible that selling a brand new product or service straight up sucks? When your target audience has little or no understanding of what it is you do and how will it make their life better, it just has to suck . Don’t get frustrated though- get creative!

  • Educate, educate, educate. Educate your audience. Come up with informative and helpful blog posts, videos, and infographics. Don’t be afraid to be funny- deadly seriousness won’t sell too well in that case.

  • Spread your brand around. Be active on social media. Sponsor some local events (it’s a lot cheaper than you think).

  • Find out what makes your product so difficult to sell/understand.
    Then focus your marketing efforts around it (or find away to bypass that factor altogether).

  • Work on your elevator pitch. Find ways to make it shorter and simpler. 60 seconds should be enough to convey your pitch. Any more than this means that you yourself don’t fully understand your own solution.

Regardless of how long you worked on it, regardless of how awesome, sexy and how “disruptive” your products is, products just don’t sell themselves. Every founder needs a sales plan. You might say, “some products do sell themselves, look at Dropbox”. Yes, it might seem like it was effortless and carefree, but they did have a plan. Their marketing budget was/is the churn of their freemium model and the product is essentially sold by users. Pretty clever, isn’t it? Now it’s time for you to come up with your own sales plan.


Next chapter- the voodoo and black magic of marketing.

Want to find out more on how to launch your own start up? Check out the two previous posts in the series:

The Developer’s Guide to Launching Your Startup: Getting Started

Developer’s Guide to Launching a Startup: Legal 101

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Mary Goldspink
Mary Goldspink
Startups Coach //Software Engineer
Startups coach, a passionate optimist and an engineer. Enterprenuer, a former COO at Unbits ( iOT start-up, acquired by Wearable World).
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Josh David Miller
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