Serge Van Dam

Always Be Selling

I might as well get the punchlines out of the way.  If you don’t read any more than another 100 words, you will have understood what I think are the most important lessons in sales and marketing for an early-stage New Zealand start up.

It is never too early to sell. Talking to prospects – in all their shapes and sizes – is something you can do well before you have a product defined. And you should never stop talking to them.

Marketing has changed.  It used to be an art with cool brands, snazzy ads and girls (and guys) in skimpy outfits.  It is now mostly a science - the best marketers are statisticians.  Boring, but get over it.

Everyone brings their own biases to the dialogue.  Mine is mostly based on my experiences with M-Com; an Auckland-founded mobile banking provider that is now part of NASDAQ-listed Fiserv Inc.  Our focus was – and still is - selling to banks (B2B) but we got paid on the numbers of consumers using our services (B2B2C).  My focus was always on the sales and marketing side of the equation, with some contributions to product management and product strategy.

Today, I am involved in a few start-ups and the biggest weaknesses or voids seem to center on sales and marketing.  Why?  I don’t quite know.  I guess being in front of clients can be terrifying when your product is not fully baked.  Or if your market is far away and big, the investment decisions can be overwhelming.  And people are attracted to shiny objects, rather than boring spreadsheets.  Or because human beings gravitate towards the easiest solutions to challenging questions.


This is how I characterise the problems:

1. Selling late, infrequently, in the wrong places and to the wrong people.

Many entrepreneurs want to get their product ‘right’ before going to see meaningful prospects.  They feel that without a full working product, it is difficult to get an appointment or impress a potential client.  But the best thing you can do BEFORE you build out your product is spend time with your likely customers understanding their needs in details.  Many start ups do this as part of their proposition development, but stop there.  There is no reason why those conversations should ever stop – talking to clients throughout your lifecycle helps you build a better product.  But more importantly, it helps you qualify your prospects early, meaning you can create and maintain a compelling pipeline.  This approach brings your much-needed cash forward and makes you a better salesperson.  If you are not comfortable doing this, find someone who is. Sell early and all the time.

2. Being dazzled by the appeal of marketing glitter.

We all want to see the brand we are creating look shiny, new and exciting; especially to our new baby.  And the easiest way to do so is to create shiny collateral – websites, brochures, the office space, brand stories, etc.  In reality all that matters is that your customers know you exist, understand your proposition, are prepared to pay for it and do so (ideally, over and over again).  And to achieve this you need a quantitative understanding of your marketplace, how to reach them, how to assess the impacts of your communications with them, how to measure the impact of pricing changes, and so on.  Much more like applied statistics than design.  Marketing today is centered on measurement, and is becoming less sexy by the day.

You don’t have a business without revenue.  You don’t have revenue without sales, and it’s pretty tough to get sales at scale without marketing.

Solve these two challenges early, and you are on a faster track to building a kick-ass start up.  Go hard.

Want to hear more from Serge? Listen to his Kiwibank FinTech Accelerator webinar on what makes a good investment and learn from his experience as a successful entrepreneur.