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  • Operator Sessions
  • 09 July 2024
  • 5 min read
  • Words: Northzone

Operator Session: The balance between pitch and process

Are you struggling to win enough of your sales deals? It can be difficult to know whether you’re doing the wrong thing, or doing the right thing wrong. How do you know where to start fixing something like that? Is the pitch not right and so you’re not resonating with your customers, or your sales process is not guiding your customer in the right way for them to make a buying decision? This is a classic problem that every startup grapples with when finding product-market fit, and the likely answer is that your issue is a mix of both pitch and process, and how these two pieces work together. 

This Operator Session explores the challenges of mastering your sales motion, led by James Allgrove, former Head of Growth and Revenue at Stripe and current GTM advisor for startups.

Defining  your (Ideal) Customer Profile

Before you can develop your sales process and pitch, you must define your target ICP and persona(s). This definition can’t be too broad, as excessive variation in customer preferences and buying behaviours will make it challenging to create effective  processes or pitches. However, you also don’t want to start too narrow as you might miss non-obvious opportunities. Well-defined ICPs allow you to focus your efforts and learn faster, thus producing stronger product-market fit and better outcomes. You can start with some breadth, but take what you’re learning in sales conversations and build processes that fit your specific ICP and persona. Then, with this specific ICP, you can be ruthless with your qualification. Avoid bringing in customers that aren’t qualified as it will distort your process and muddy your pitch, using a clear set of qualification criteria to determine their status.

Start with process

Ultimately, the process is more important and must be addressed before the pitch itself.  A consistent, well-executed process can provide more valuable information, enabling you to pitch more effectively. By running a good process, you’ll determine whether your product is a good fit, identify who resonates best with your pitch, and learn how to position your product better with specific customers.

When running your sales process, founders and early sales teams should avoid these three major pitfalls:

1 Inconsistent process – This is when you do not have a sales process, or do not consistently follow your sales process. When this happens, you allow the buyer to set the process and you lose control of the deal which significantly reduces your chances of winning. 

Solution: Develop and consistently follow a structured  sales process. Set an agenda for each meeting based on your sales process, outlining what will be covered and then agree on next steps at the end. This sounds simple in theory, but it’s easy to be led astray by buyer requests (e.g. “I just need to find out the price” or “I’m just trying to complete this document for my boss”). To do this well you will need to develop ways to bring the conversation back to your process. Remember:as the product expert, you’re best positioned to define the process for the buyer. 

2 Poor qualification – Poorly defined ICPs lead to ineffective qualification of sales conversations. This in turn results in wasting a lot of time, poor results, and difficulty identifying root causes due to divergent feedback. 

Solution: Have a clear definition of your ICP and qualification criteria. Apply these consistently to all conversations and be honest with yourself about whether the deal is qualified or whether you want to show that you have some traction by just having conversations.

3 Insufficient discovery – Not spending enough time up front on discovery harms your ability to qualify and win deals. If you skip discovery then you won’t know whether the buyer has a genuine need for your product or how to pitch them successfully. This can come about in a few ways – either being taken off track by the buyer, not setting the right expectations or not being clear about what you need to know.

Solution: Don’t rush yourself through the early parts of the sales process. Invest  time to uncover their pain points, how they are solving it today, and how your product offers superior solutions. Through developing a relationship and being precise in why you are a good fit will prove why you’re differentiated and allow you to retain control, ultimately leading to a successful deal (this will also make commercial and legal conversations less painful!).

Once you have these elements mastered, and you’re still seeing things not working, it’s time to improve your pitch. 

Only then, refine your pitch

While both your pitch and process will always be evolving, your pitch should be more flexible and adapt more quickly. On the other hand, your sales process will only materially change if you switch focus onto a different type of customer/persona or start solving a different problem for them (check our previous post on building an enterprise sales motion for more insights: Operator Session: Building an Enterprise Sales Motion).

A good pitch starts consists of two key ingredients:

1– A clear, high-level articulation of your offering 

2– Product benefits tailored to the specific customer

For example, if James while he was at Stripe were to pitch to an ecommerce company, he might say something along the lines of:

“Stripe provides tooling to help developers to integrate payments into whatever they are building. This helps ecommerce companies to drive higher revenue by improving their conversion rate, building delightful user experiences and reducing fraud. We can help you to increase conversion rates by up to X% by…”.

The first part of your pitch should be well rehearsed and consistent no matter who you are speaking to. The second part should be customised based on your learnings during the discovery phase. Ideally, you’d have a range of 5-10 benefits, from which you’d select the 3-5 most relevant to highlight, supported by concrete facts to back these up.

Be conscious of what resonates with your customers, and what doesn’t. Be willing to experiment with the pitch, recognising that the process isn’t a guideline or a suggestion but something that is solid and imperative. Follow it, and be thoughtful about when you’re changing and why, not every aspect of your pitch should be experimental or based on anecdotal evidence. 

Never stop learning

Figuring out the right sales process and pitch is key to unlocking the ‘market’ part of product-market fit. Make sure that you are continually evolving and testing this as you speak with more customers and build more momentum. You should start with having a sales process that works well for your type of product and target customer. Once that’s in place, you can hone your pitch to ensure that it resonates with that customer during the sales process.