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How to talk to customers

We spoke to Graciëlla van Vliet, co-founder at Closure, to discuss how to talk to customers.

DISCLAIMER: This interview was recorded and introduced as a lecture for our free online 10 week program, StartupLeap. It has been edited for clarity purposes. Watch the recording for the full conversation.

About Closure

A platform to unburden relatives after someone passes away by finalizing all accounts, contracts, and subscriptions. For example your gas and electricity, your social media, a SwapFiets account, but also charity, sport clubs, public transport and so on.

What are some general pitfalls with startup founders when it comes to sales?

“Especially in corporate sales, a general pitfall is rushing through the sales process. There are certain steps, it takes quite long to close a deal. Step one is then getting to know your customer and their pains and needs instead of talking about your own product. We also started out selling our product straight away, but we found out all customers are different and you really have to find out what they are really like, so you can tailor your solution to their needs.”

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“The next step is to build a relationship, and again, not jump into selling your solution. Even though someone might tell you it’s not about if, but when they’ll be using what you offer them. Especially if it’s the CEO or a high-level manager, because they can be excited, but you still need to get the team to use it.”

“It doesn’t happen until the end of our first meetings, or sometimes even the second meetings, that I start talking about what we do and how it could help them. During which I usually already build a business case, because the person I’m talking to will probably have to convince others in their organization. You have to give them ammunition to pitch it to their supervisors.”

“This is why, preferably, we get in touch with some high-level manager or the CEO, because they will redirect to the owner of the project, so not only will that person feel like it’s important because it came from upstairs, but management will also already know about us and will expect a proposal.”

“And then we start to build something. We just try to wait as long as possible.”

“The procedure for all corporates is quite similar, you just have to remind yourself that if you’re in a first meeting, you’re nowhere near the contract phase. Don’t get tempted to behave like you’re in a contract phase when you’re not.”

How do you find out who’s the right person to talk to? And how do you start building a relationship with that person?

“Finding the right person can be challenging. We thought startups use a lot of different titles, but corporates have even more. You have to find out through learning by experience and by finding out what product owner would benefit most from your solution. Or take a shortcut, reach out to the CEO, who’s never gonna make time, and get them to redirect you to the right person.”

“One important warning: don’t make the assumption that someone’s not the right person, because that can be painful for that person.”

“Then you have to talk to a lot of different people, so even if you don’t land at the right person immediately, you’ll have to talk to others either way, because eventually you’ll need them. You’ll need people from IT, from legal, and so on. So remember that everyone can provide you with an intro to a relevant colleague.”

“Always go top-down, because it saves you a lot of time in the sales cycle. There are companies where your sales cycle will take you two to three years, after you’ve been forwarded to the right person, so make sure you get there as quickly as possible.”

How do you reach out when you found the right people?

“When we started we switched from B2C to B2B, so when we reached out to a potential launching customer, we explicitly stated we wanted to learn from them and they could learn from what we’ve been doing so far. And this turned out to be a really good sales call, because then all these companies were willing to talk to us and share their experiences. They all had the same issues, so when we learned of a use case at one, it was highly likely the next was running into the exact same things.”