The Journey of Sourcing Sales as a Growing Startup

As a startup looks to scale its growth, sourcing new sales opportunities is one of the key places in which it  must invest to ensure future success and steady growth. Typically, software as a service (SaaS) startups begin by sourcing leads through inbound inquiries using platforms such as Crunchbase, G2, organic and paid search or vetting direct inquiries. However, this strategy on its own can’t sustain a sales program forever.

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As any organization looks to grow and expand its roster of clients, it is crucial to research new sales techniques and invest in emerging sales technologies. Otherwise, your startup risks facing a shortage of qualified leads to sustain growth, while paradoxically confronting a glut of unqualified leads that can overwhelm your team and reduce productivity.


Choose Your Targets

How does a sales team choose who to target? A number of considerations must be taken into account. 

Some of these choices will be dictated by overall corporate strategy and common sense. Have your sales team take a close look at where the organization’s product and marketing investments are allocated in the foreseeable future. Additionally, take a look at where the greatest industry, competitive and geographical opportunities are at the time. Combining your sales strategy with industry knowledge as well as focusing on areas in which you already have resources portioned out will allow for a more cohesive long-term strategy.  

It is also useful to examine niche patterns in your customer base that you can exploit. Are there specific kinds of customers who, although they may be a small market overall, could drive a meaningful pipeline for members of your team? If so, consider having a team member or two focus their outbound on that niche.

The main key to choosing sales targets is to take the information you already have at your disposal and strategically using it to select targets you have a better chance of closing.   


Ways to Source New Sales Opportunities

Choosing targets is just one step in the process–next you actually have to connect with the lead. 

One of the best ways to source new sales opportunities is to work with happy customers to get active referrals for leads. Satisfied customers are your biggest advocates and the best way to get in contact with other leads in the space. Anyone can cold call, but a referral from a respected entity in the space that has actual experience with your organization will take you much further. 

Your company also needs to be where the action is. Attend conferences and trade shows where your target market buyers congregate in order to get facetime. This is where your customers come in again –work with them to sponsor your organization for events and shows they attend to discover where other like-minded people or potential clients are congregating. Many of these events are private or invite-only, and will be available to your sales team only with a recommendation. However, be sure to not come across too strong to your customers when discussing leads; make a point to not only ask for referrals but to ask “where do you get together to find your best ideas?” This allows you to gather intel on where your sales team needs to be to get in front of new leads.  

Lastly, don’t forget to use technology to your advantage. Leverage industry-standard tools like LinkedIn Sales Navigator to find organizations that match the characteristics of your best customers and target specific sectors. Tools like this allow you to identify your key buyer personas and look through the titles of your customers to find keywords to source for prospective contacts. 


Watch Out for Growing Pains

Any growing startup is bound to experience growing pains as it scales, including your sales team. 

Some of the things you did at the beginning can later turn into pain points, and your organization must work out how best to evolve.

Strategies like providing a low gate of entry for prospects to interact directly with salespeople by having a direct line from the sales team to customers and encouraging every prospective customer to book a demo on your website are great when you are a small company looking to build a Rolodex of qualified leads. 

However, there actually is such a thing as too many leads. As you grow so will the number of inbound leads, and you need a way to vet if these leads are qualified and worth your time. If you don’t have the capabilities to vet and follow up on them all internally, you can outsource them. If you can do it internally, create a specialized team (BDR, Inbound SDR, MDR, etc.) and equip them to do the qualification. Keep in mind, though, that these roles are generally the least-experienced people in a sales organization, and as such will need a lot of oversight and coaching. Choosing to outsource will help free up your sales team to pursue qualified leads while ensuring you are spending your time pursuing the customers that are the best fit and provide the most value to your organization. 

Sales teams can also experience growing pains as your company grows. Moving from mostly inbound leads to actively looking for new leads can be an adjustment for employees. Work with your team to put training, coaching and best practices in place and ensure everyone is on the same page about the new strategy and well-equipped to execute. 


Use Funding to Your Advantage

One thing that can supercharge any sales plan is an infusion of cash. When your company goes through an event like a funding round, make sure you and your team are on the same page about how the new resources will be used. 

This will often give you budget to invest in channels you haven’t before–such as events and trade shows in your industry. You can also build out your sales team and resolve some of your pain points by creating a formal Sales Development Rep (SDR) program or hiring a firm that can effectively qualify leads and do outbound business development. Tech is big here as well; making investments in lead-nurturing systems and tools as well as in content creation and content marketing will allow your organization to catch up with larger ones that already implement this technology.

Funding can also create new pressures for your sales team. With an influx of funding and resources can come the expectation of bringing in new big-name clients to keep the momentum going. The head of sales needs to begin to pivot the sales team from expecting inbound leads, to becoming hunters who keep their pipelines full of qualified leads. 

There is no set playbook for sourcing and closing sales opportunities successfully. Your plan must be based on your organization’s overarching goals, capabilities, resources and growth plan. Customers are your most valuable sales resource–use them where you can and keep them happy, and they will become your fiercest advocates. Growing pains are inevitable, but if you work with your team to identify problems and work them out, you have a better chance of success. Lay out what works best for your sales team’s strength and build your strategy from there.



Usha Iyer is the president and chief product officer at Hivebrite, a community management and engagement platform for communities.


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  • Originally published March 12, 2020