Lessons of a startup: 6 keys to winning business out of the gate


Starting a company is a challenging endeavor. There is the work at the start to establish credibility: Creating a website, establishing mission and values, telling potential customers what you stand for, how you do business and why. That can take months if you are not clear about why you are establishing a business in the first place. But if you are clear — that you want to serve clients’ needs with integrity and purpose, it makes it easier to move to the next steps. You have to know what you are about.

Business development (sales!) quickly becomes the top-most priority, so you can feed yourself as well as your ecosystem of vendors, freelancers, partners, employees, and ultimately, your mission. Getting to revenue and then profitability as quickly as possible is key. And with a few core tenets, when attended to early on and with intentionality, founders can actively avoid headache-producing problems and otherwise avoidable hurdles that might prevent a quicker path to stability and success.


Here are six ways entrepreneurs can tighten the sales cycle and shorten the distance to revenue:

Be a good listener: It’s great to have your sales pitch down and to be able to explain what you do and why. But it is even better when you are a good listener and you give space to potential clients to really explain where they are in their journey and what they need. We have been able to expand our offerings simply by listening to what clients are struggling with and then taking inventory of our varied skill sets to come up with solutions that solve their problems. It’s not just about what you are selling and think is valuable. It’s about being committed to solving a potential client’s problem. If you can, you get a sale.

Don’t be afraid to get to the bottom line: At the end of the day, potential clients want to know two things: How will working with us benefit them or their company and what does it cost? I have been in sales meetings where those two questions were asked and a half hour later the client had to interject and ask the question again. Be direct when asked these kinds of questions. You can amplify later.

It’s OK to walk away: When you are building a business you’re desperate for that first customer. But if you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach that this is not a good match, you have to have the strength to walk away. Making a deal with a bad customer sets one up for failure. They are not likely to follow any of your processes and the end results are not going to be what either party wants. Building in frustration at the start of a business relationship is a recipe for heartache. Walking away at the start takes courage but is the wise option.

Sales start with relationships: Like dating, when it comes to sales understand you have to take it slow. You can’t be in a rush to get to the next level. That first call is about creating connections with the potential client, learning who they are and what motivates them in life and business. Sharing your origin story is critical to connecting. And you have to be able to tell it well. Once you get past first base, the rest of the game gets easier. While you can’t rush this, you don’t want to dally around. Literally, time is money.

Figure out your sales cycle: Most people don’t make impulsive buys, so no matter how good and interesting your service or product is, it’s unrealistic to think in one call you can cut a deal. But you don’t have time to do 10 calls either. Figure out what a reasonable time investment is for a new client and what a decent interval is between calls. Don’t overwhelm them with information about your company or product, but have a digestible deck that succinctly explains who you are, what your value proposition is and who they will be working with. We think five calls over 90 or 100 days should be sufficient to determine whether a partnership might be in the offing.

Zoom out: We have all gotten comfortable with Zoom and virtual meetings. But it is far better whenever possible to meet potential clients in person. It makes it easier to connect and you get the chance to take full measure of one another. The loss of eye contact in virtual meetings can easily erode the building of trust that is necessary in any business relationship. We have noticed that starting off the approach virtually slows down the sales process and once we’ve had an opportunity to meet in person the pace of discussions picks up. That’s why we believe starting off in person really makes the most sense. Don’t take the easy way out.


Closing deals will either make or break your business. The more quickly you cement a relationship, build credibility through hearing their goals and responding (rather than pontificating and waiting for them to fall in line), and communicate in all ways your commitment to helping them level up at a cost they can afford — the sooner you will see that revenue coming in the door.