in Podcast, Sales, Startup Basics, Video

Sales for early-stage B2B SaaS startups

#StartupBasics | Series by Insights Alley (Hosted by Arun Verma)

S01E05 – Sales for early-stage B2B SaaS startups

Guest: Steli Efti, CEO of


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In this episode of #StartupBasics, we discussed:

– The Story of Steli from ElasticSales to

– Basic principles for Sales for B2B SaaS Founders:

  • “Sales” is nothing less nothing more than result driven communication.
  • We all have experience in selling, thus embrace it.

– For Sales in early-stage, you need to try to learn & generate as many insights about your product as possible.

– In Early-stage, you need to seek validation for the product from users.

  • Understand to differentiate between actual validation and just mere enthusiasm.
  • Ramp up the difficulty of validation, willingness to buy is a much better validation, than just if they are ready to use it.
  • Even better than a willingness to buy, would be: Ask for money right now and see if that works. You can give them a lifetime money-back guarantee.

– Understand how the customer thinks and what customers seek, and then decide how to approach in your first meeting with your customer.

  • Strategy depends a lot on the type of buyer.
  • Optimize first meetings with prospects for maximum insights, feedback & validation.
  • Understand your skills also, how you could communicate better: Either use Wireframes of the product or do a presentation of slides or do customer development interviews?
  • Examples of how to approach differently with the different type of buyers.

– Start with your network – for your initial customers.

  • It is easier to sell to them, given your product actually creates value for them.
  • Also, use this opportunity to ask them, how should you sell and market to people like them, if they are a good buyer and use case for your product.
  • From your network, take feedback not only on the product but also what is the best way to sell to your ideal customer for your product, as there are so many channels/methods for selling/marketing software products.
  • In the beginning, your selling channels are not going to be scalable, that’s okay. But keep thinking, how would you transition from this way of selling to a repeatable, scalable and predictable way of selling over time.

– Understanding Outbound & Inbound and what is the right way of selling your product.

  • Inbound – The leads come to you, for example – Blog, Content, organic search, etc
  • Outbound – You go to the leads, for example – Cold emails, cold calls, etc
  • Here also, understand how your typical buyer buys products?

– In Inbound, if you do it right, the quality of leads is high with high relevancy.

  • Inbound is very good but it takes time to build an inbound lead engine and it is very hard to predict.

– In Outbound, the problem is people don’t like cold emails or calls, you have to face aggression and rejection very much.

  • It is also a game of volume and funnel, you have to email/call/reach out a big pool of prospects to then finally be able to convert only a fraction of them.
  • But the beauty of Outbound is: It is very predictable.
  • And you can cherry pick the best prospect for yourself to reach out to.

– Typically, the Inbound model can work for both high price-tag and low price-tag deals.

– But Outbound model should only be deployed if it makes economic sense to your startup/product, as outbound is a major labor intensive, thus expensive, and the deal you get from outbound should justify the cost of your outbound sales team.

– As a thumb rule, usually, Outbound should be for larger deals and inbound for smaller deals (price tag)

– If you think, Inbound can work for you, start to invest early in it, as it takes time for an inbound engine to start generating leads consistently.

– Outbound, you can start with from even day 1.


– For any sales meeting, the first step is to truly qualify the prospect. The first meeting is about truly understanding the customers – about them, their needs, their problems.

  • Think of the Sales process as if you were a doctor. You are a doctor and your prospect is a patient.
  • An example of how thinking of your sales process like this makes complete sense.

– There needs to be a balance on selling to your customers, the ultimate vision of your product/startup and what you currently have and can deliver in immediate future.

  • Failing to deliver on the promise of future features makes your relationship toxic with your customers.
  • Talk about the value you can give them today, its okay to talk about the vision. But in the current state of the product, customer don’t get any value, then it is a dangerous way to sell them today. You can although ask for a deposit (which should be fully refundable) for when that future arrives for them.

– Ideal customer profile & non-ideal customer profile – what it is? why is it important?

– Product-led growth vs Sales team

– When and How to hire your first salespeople. Senior or junior salesperson?

– Steli’s highest ROI advise for founders and teams doing sales.


Resources mentioned:


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