Startups and small companies are the core of our entrepreneurial market. In selling to and working with these companies for over 30 years, I sometimes see these firms focus too much on the unique features of their product or service instead of the competitors in their market.

To really succeed and break away from the pack, it is critical for entrepreneurs to clearly understand the problems that their solution is targeted to fix.

In addition, startups and small companies need to paint a vivid picture for prospects that shows the benefits of implementing the solution and quantifies the how that solution affects the client’s bottom line.

Top-tier startups find growth opportunities before competitors do. Not only do they need to understand their customers’ business, but they must also anticipate market developments to help customers solve problems through the use of their products. In this way, startups can establish footholds in target markets.

In developing sales strategies, smart startups look ahead and thoroughly research market developments, shifts in demographics and regulatory changes. They learn how these factors affect or could affect their target markets. These strategies are based on analysis broken down into small understandable segments, which helps identify the growth potential and competitive saturation level in each market.

Smart startups are continually refining their sales plans; if they don’t anticipate and react to market developments, they will not survive.

When a startup has this in-depth understanding of target markets, they will be thought of as a trusted adviser by key customers. The experience of the customer is that your company is focused on their buying process, not your selling process. To alter their perception, creative startups are continually asking customers questions, delving into their business processes and problems. They convey to customers that they are dedicated to partnerships that maximize profitability and nurture an ongoing business relationship.

In his iconic publication, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey writes: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” In my experience, startups can become enamored with the unique technology that their product brings to the market.

Here are some questions small companies should ask, based on “Habits” that have helped me succeed in selling:

Understand the problem that you are solving

  1. Is this problem critical to their business, and is it urgent that the problem be solved?
  2. How does my solution support sales growth or cost containment for my client?
  3. Can you scale your business by solving this problem, or is it a one-off business opportunity?
  4. What changes do you need to make in your infrastructure to support the solution for this problem?
  5. How would selling to this prospect give you a foothold in a target market?
  6. Can competitors quickly duplicate and undercut my solution to this client and market?
  7. What is the internal risk in focusing on this particular target market?
  8. What is my marketing strategy to promote my product across the target market and to ramp up my business?
  9. How will I create a renewable business relationship with these new clients?

The good news is that startups can be nimble — with lean organizations — to rapidly react to new opportunities. The challenge is that they can’t afford to make too many mistakes. This article is developed to help clearly understand opportunities and at least minimize those errors.

Ray Mascola is president of Targeting Sales Growth, whose mission is to help small companies rapidly increase sales by clearly understanding their value proposition and the challenges in their targets markets. Mascola has extensive business experience and an MBA from Northeastern University. He can be reached at mascola@comcast.net and on LinkedIn.

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