How to Develop a Lean Sales Strategy For Your Startup

Richard FirewerksThis guest article is written by Richard Hughes-Jones, ‘The Boss’ at Firewerks and a Seedcamp mentor. He works with C-teams of startups and early-stage businesses to help them scale up. This article addresses a topic covered during a recent workshop with Shoprocket, a Seedcamp company.

One of the biggest challenges that startups face is choice, or too much of it. When it comes to taking a product to market there are a thousand and one different ways that you can do it. Committing to rapid lean style experimentation is a good start, but it can be dangerous if a random approach is taken because this spreads time and resource constrained founding teams too thinly.

Lean experimentation should not be an exercise in launching darts at a dartboard, hoping that you land a bull’s eye.

With clear goals set, founding teams must make informed decisions about where, how and in what order experiments will be focused in order to get the greatest bang for their limited buck. A thousand and one ideas must be intelligently turned into a hundred and one activities that can actually be executed.

Turning strategic thought into actionable tasks

A few weeks ago I ran a full day Workshop with the C-team at ShopRocket in which we took on this challenge. ShopRocket offers an enterprise level eCommerce payment solution that integrates into any existing application with one line of code. If you are exploring new online payment platforms then check them out.

With a number of impressive customers now onboard they need to ramp up sales over the next six months. Here’s what we did in the Workshop:

  1. Asked ourselves some searching questions about ShopRocket’s goals for the future and anticipated milestones along the way
  2. We produced a long list of all ShopRocket’s potential markets, by individually taking some quiet time then comparing what everyone had come up with
  3. Posted the long list up on the wall and defined criteria against which to ‘filter’ it. This included variables such as size and growth potential of customers, transaction volumes versus size, brand value, how much effort and time it might take to acquire clients and their technology integration capability
  4. The long list was ‘scored’ against the criteria. Unattractive markets were put to one side and attractive ones were ranked in order of overall appeal
  5. Relatively quickly, and simply by moving notes around on the wall, we had arrived at a short list of prioritised markets
  6. We followed up by defining sales channels, process and evaluation criteria for acquiring customers from each market

What Shoprocket now has is a highly flexible strategic sales plan. The team can organise themselves around the plan and, in short sprints, quickly target customers in specific markets and evaluate success.

For Shoprocket’s CEO, Anthony Gale, “Actually taking some time to identify all the markets available but focus on the most appropriate ones is really valuable”.

Otherwise, he says “In a startup environment it’s very easy to disappear off in random directions, without the physical and financial resources to execute on them all and understand where real value lies”.

A goal-orientated approach, supported by a clear and executable plan is the essence of good business strategy.

Most importantly, it ensures focus, a quality often lacking in many startups. It’s Mark Suster who reminds us that “the best teams are hyper focused” and are often defined by what they choose not to do: “the scarcest resource in your company is management bandwidth. Spend it wisely” he says. I’d recommend giving his post a read.



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