Startup sales: Should you sell the future vision or the current reality of your product?

by Steli Efti

startupsales-visionreality

As a founder, you have a vision for the potential of your startup. You have a successful company with a team of amazing people. You’re working on an awesome product that solves your customers' needs better than anything else in the marketplace, and your customers love you.

Then, you open your eyes and look at what’s there, now, in reality: a struggling startup, a crude and buggy first version of a product. Many features are lacking. The UI is just functional enough to let people use it.

Focusing your sales pitch on the reality of your situation will stifle sales. You'll lose out on customers that could be a great fit for your product three months from now, when that feature that's currently on your roadmap is released.

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However, when you sell too much of the vision, you will over-promise and under-deliver. Both of these scenarios are a recipe for disaster: a lot of unhappy customers.

So how do you balance the vision and the reality?

Resist the urge to oversell

In a sales situation, you have to resist the urge to oversell on the vision. You will feel that urge because it’s a cognitive bias that all successful salespeople possess: unbridled optimism.

You will want the deal to happen, and you'll be tempted to say anything to push the sale forward. Thus, your thinking will be skewed by default toward being too optimistic when assessing the situation: the product will be amazing—soon. Your next update will include all the missing features, and these iterations take no time at all in your imagination. 

In reality, you may be many months or years from delivering on your vision. This disparity between your sales promises and delivery will upset your customers and drive your project into the ground.

Sell the vision—just not too much

You need to address the difference between what you have to offer now and what the customer wants in an ideal solution.

Are the crucial features going to go live within the next two to four weeks? If so, you can start selling them to your prospects. Simply inform them about the timeline, and let them decide if they want to begin using your product now so they can be ready when the updates come online.

If the feature release is about three months away, you can already sell them today if you're upfront about the time, and offer them a special deal. You could for example have them sign a contract today, make it part of the contract that feature X is going to be shipped within three months of signing, and offer them a discount for the first three months.

Additionally, it's very important to deliver on the promise of bringing those new features to market as scheduled.

When in doubt, it's always best to under-promise and over-deliver. Tell the client you will have the features online in four weeks when you know you can have it done in two.

This way, they will be pleasantly surprised if you get it done in two, and they won't be upset if you find that you need the extra time and don't deliver until week four.

Don’t let them buy … yet

Clients will appreciate the fact that you put off accepting their money until your product is ready to deliver the results they need. If it will take more than three months before the features they need will be implemented, add them to your contact list for that update. 

This is particularly important when you aren’t sure whether you'll be able to release the update on schedule. Tell them, “No, this is not the right time for you to buy,” then ask if you can contact them when the product is ready for their use.

Put them in your sales CRM, and keep them in the loop. In Close for example, you can tag these potential future customers through custom fields, and then send them a personalized bulk email.

bulk email from CRM(Curious to see how easy it is to send personalized emails at scale with Close? Get started with your free trial!)

Regularly let them know that you’re making progress, and how each update to your product will help solve problems for their business.

When you’ve released the features they want and need, go back and close the deal with these clients. They will appreciate your effort to deliver the services they need before taking their money.

This is how you get brand advocates

Customers who know that you have their best interests in mind will love you and recommend your products to others. You put their interest over your own, and they appreciate the effort. You'll be able to get high-quality referrals from them. You didn’t try to close the sale with them when it wasn’t right, and they respect that commitment to their success.

Even some of the people who didn’t buy will become advocates for your company simply because you are honest and forthright in your business practices.

In startup sales, it’s important that you truly care for your customers—it’s what pays off big in the long-run, and it's a strategy that bigger companies have a difficult time implementing.

Three steps to selling vision and reality

Here again the three things you must do to properly sell your vision while also keeping it real:

  1. Start with the reality of where you are today.
  2. Promise where you're taking your product tomorrow.
  3. Give them some vision about where the product is headed in the next year or two.

Keep in mind that you must be realistic with your product offerings. A customer wants you to deliver a service you are not prepared to offer for some time? Refuse the sale! Stay in contact with these customers, and come back for the close when your product has matured, and you are comfortable delivering the services they need.

Want more tips on pitching and structuring deals for your startup? Get a free copy of my book on sales negotiations!

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