Aaron Ross: Get To Your First Million – Part 1

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“Get To Your First Million” is a mini-series of consultations with Aaron Ross, CEO of Predictable Revenue Inc., former sales director at Salesforce.com, and author of the best-selling book, Predictable Revenue: Turn Your Business Into A Sales Machine With The $100 Million Best Practices Of Salesforce.com

This is the first installment to a 4 part mini series by Aaron Ross on how to get to your first million as a startup. We are honored to have Aaron contribute to our Sales4Startups community, we hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

Enter Aaron

Part 1

“If your company’s six-figure enterprise deals are taking more than 6 months to close, are you doing something wrong?”

Back when I was creating Salesforce.com’s outbound prospecting team, I knew I’d ‘cracked the code’ on prospecting after the fourth month, when I quintupled my results. But it took Salesforce.com eight more months to finally decide to invest big in the team & effort, promoting me to manager and expanding the team to twelve people. Those were eight frustrating months!

Maybe you’re frustrated by a similar thing – big companies seem to take forever (6-12+) to decide to buy your “no-brainer” service that they clearly – to you – need.

However, if you’re an early company, you may not realize that you’re still figuring out if you’re an a) “need-to-have” or b) “nice-to-have” (or, in tech jargon, “an a) painkiller or b) vitamin”).

If you’re “nice-to-have” to your current market, you’re probably going to struggle until you figure out how to be a “need-to-have” to someone.

But, assuming you’ve found a market niche where you’re solving a real pain; you have a great product people need; and these larger companies are honestly interested in buying. Yet big companies are still taking forever to decide and buy…
Remember: big companies usually make group decisions. When buying something new or important, a big company might take 6-9 months to buy because they have more people involved in decision-making — there are more moving parts, more rules, more people who need to be educated. It’s the nature of the beast. It’s harder for them to buy.

So, in selling to them, one of your jobs is not to “sell,” but to help them buy. This often means you need to help the primary person at the company — the one who wants your stuff — to sell it internally to their peers and boss(es).

You may occasionally run across an early adopter or a visionary CEO who can push things through faster — but be prepared for the process to take longer than you’d like. Hey – they care about their timeline, not yours.

Here are five tips to speed up big-ticket sales cycles…

1) Go top-down: Do your best to spend time with the people with influence at a company. Going top-down from the CEO or top executive is more effective than going bottoms-up from a random user who loves your product but has little, if any, influence. (Though users without influence can still give you useful insights into what’s going on at a company, which you can use to be more effective when going to the top.) Dig into your network to get high-level referrals to CEOs and/or board members. If you have a small network, look up top executives at your targets and try a cold referral approach. Make sure you have messaging and a product or tier that appeals to top executives, not just individual users.

2) Focus on prospects who need you and can buy faster: Despite what your sales experts tell you, it’s rare when you can get a prospect to speed up their natural decision-making process — it’s like trying to speed up other cars on the highway when you’re stuck in traffic. Focus on finding the kinds of prospects who are more likely to buy faster, which is related to the next point…

3) Clarify your “Ideal Customer Profile” and identify what differs from companies who buy from those who just look. You want to filter the real prospects from “tire-kickers” so that you can focus your limited attention on the best prospects. Make it as specific as you can. Don’t fall into the trap of believing “everyone will want this” and scattering your energy marketing to too many kinds of customers. (For more helpful exercises, go to page 47 of my book, Predictable Revenue).

4) Confused prospects say “No.” Whatever you wrote up to impress your professors or investors just sounds like bullshit in the real world. If a prospect is confused about what you do or how you can help them, they’ll say “no” – even if you know they need your product. Simplify your language. Don’t use confusing, jargon or fluff words like “leverage,” “platform,” “explode,” “leading,” “cross-pollinate” or “hack.” Avoid TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms). You want your prospects to understand what you’re talking about, and the best way is not to impress them, but to keep it simple.

5) Show, don’t tell. The less you have to explain, the more you can demonstrate proof, the better. Can you get them using your product hands-on? Start your pitch with a demo or dashboards, rather than a big spiel. Can you do some free work for them to prove your claims, rather than have them guess? Is there a demo or visual you can show, a story you can tell, a picture you can draw, a video you can shoot? Have fun being creative here, being different! I’ve enjoyed learning how to draw and sketch over the past few years, developed my art to help share Predictable Revenue’s ideas, such as the “Hot Coals” sketch on the book cover below.


For those of you interested in learning more about how Aaron did what he did at Salesforce.com and how you can apply the same methods to your company, I highly recommend reading his book:

Predictable Revenue