Introducing the Minimum Viable Sales Funnel (MVSF)
If you’re in the startup world and have not been living under a rock, you’ll know the term ‘MVP’.
And no, we don’t mean MVP in the LeBron James sense (apologies Giannis Atenkempo and James Harden)
In the tech and startup worlds, we know MVP to be a Minimum Viable Product.
The definition according to Agile Alliance is:
"A minimum viable product (MVP) is a concept from Lean Startup that stresses the impact of learning in new product development. Eric Ries, defined an MVP as that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort."
It’s a great way of getting a viable product to market fast, but what is a startup to do once they actually get down to business and need to sell a product?
Especially since it’s highly unlikely an MVP product can rely on a ‘build it and they will come’ principle (a total fallacy according to some startup proponents) given a lean feature set.
If you’re a bootstrapped startup looking to generate sales on a budget, the answer might lie in applying MVP principles to sales, or what we at SellCrowd have termed the Minimum Viable Sales Funnel (MVSF).
What is a Minimum Viable Sales Funnel?
There are many ways to skin a cat in sales, and none of them are cheap.
Well, unless you happen to know of a marketplace for flexible sales hiring, hiring salespeople full time is the standard way of doing things.
Which is expensive. And slow. And without strong hiring, training and management processes it has a high rate of failure.
So with a reminder about our previously stated caveat (that of skinning cats), here is what we recommend as a Minimum Viable Sales Funnel for startups. The list is in order of priority, and we’re going to assume you already have some of the basics in place (like, a product, a website, email).
A prospect list ($20 - $100 and 1 hour to sign up and navigate a lead intelligence tool)
Cold email sequence ($20 - $40 per month and 2-4 hours to draft a cold email sequence)
A salesperson, a key employee or yourself as the founder to call prospects, attend meetings and sign up some trial customers (10 hours of very focused time per week minimum)
A one or two pager PDF about your product (~$10 and 2-4 hours of your time using Canva)
A CRM ($0 and 1 hour)
A calendar booking tool
A video meeting tool
Your ‘KPOC’ - Key Piece of Content ($50-$150 through somewhere like Upwork, or 2-4 hours of your time)
A short product video showing the most awesome, time-saving moment of your software/solution ($0 using Loom, and 1-2 hours of your time)
A chat widget on your website (free, and no more than an hour to setup)
Anonymous visitor website intelligence tool (free, and simple to setup)
Follow up email and sequence (2-4 hours of your time)
BONUS - Linked In outreach sequence
BONUS - Direct mail campaign
PRO TIP - Remarketing
This is the minimum viable number of things you need to do to create an effective sales funnel.
If you’re someone who likes to take things to extremes, then the most minimally viable sales funnel is simply no.1 (build a prospect list) and no. 3 (sell), with perhaps no. 5 (a CRM, which we’ll consider a spreadsheet in this instance).
I would suggest only the most sales minded of founders to attempt this. For everyone else, you need a viable sales funnel, that will generate leads, nurture them and close deals.
If you want to sell a product, you’re going to need a targeted list of prospects to sell to. It’s no good having a general idea of a target market for your business, you need to get very specific.
In a perfect world, you’ll have the budget to produce lots of great content (such as eBooks, events or blog posts etc.) and budget to buy ads (via Facebook, Google AdWords or outdoor etc.) then all those wonderful leads will arrive on your (virtual) doorstep.
Many companies don’t have this luxury however or choose to focus on outbound sales rather than compete for eyeballs amongst the sea of ads and content.
So you need to build a highly targeted list of prospects. If you’re a B2B company, I would highly recommend our previous blog post, How to Build a Prospect List and Calculate Market Size using Linked In. This will help you to get very targeted on the list you’re going to build.
Here are the key data points you need to collect in a strong outbound prospecting list:
First and Last Name (of a decision maker or influencer)
PRO TIP - Linked In profile
This is ideal, but at minimum you need First Name and Email Address.
You can easily build an email list by using tools such as Hunter.io, or tools that provide list building and some outreach capability, such as Uplead. Market Intelligence tools like ZoomInfo provide phone numbers in addition to emails but is expensive. Lusha is another alternative for phone numbers. Some lead intelligence tools are better in specific regional areas, such as Triggr in Australia. Growth Marketing Pro provides a really good list of email finding tools. It’s best to do some research and find the list building tool that works best for you, and you can use a virtual assistant on Upwork or Fiverr to build out the list.
Depending on the size of your addressable market, and whether you’re targeting enterprise or not, I would recommend trying to build a highly targeted list of 1,000 prospects. If you’re clever, and you don’t burn prospects, then 1,000 good prospects could easily last you an entire year.
Hunter.io - can’t go past 1,000 prospect emails for $49. Then use a virtual assistant on Fiverr or Clearbit to enrich the list.
PRO TIP: Collect the Linked In profile URL so that you can connect with your prospect list on Linked In. That will further warm up your prospect list.
Cold Email Sequence
Email prospecting is a major customer acquisition strategy for just about every startup these days if the proliferation of cold email software is anything to go by.
It can still come across a little bit spammy, but if you’re a scrappy startup with little funds to spare, what are you going to do? With the right copy and the right targeting and the right intent behind it, email prospecting can be very effective.
We recommend a three-email sequence to begin with, though if you want to add a bit of long term thinking to your email sequence, I highly recommend challenging yourself to write an 8 or more-email sequence (yes. 8!!) and spread out the emails over 6 months.
This is in recognition of sales cycles and how long it can take to warm yourself up to prospects, and to deliver long term value to your funnel.
You need a snappy subject heading that gives you a high open rate (our platform best at SellCrowd is 88% (we’d tell you, but then we’d have to kill you) and in terms of the email copy itself, try to keep emails as short as humanly possible. You need to succinctly break down the problem you’ve recognized in the market, how you solve it and invite prospects to a discovery call. That’s one way to do it, anyway (skinning cats).
Expect it to take quite a few hours to refine your first draft. Yesware provides a really detailed breakdown of the science and psychology of cold emailing.
Once you have decided on outreach copy that makes sense and you have sense checked it with your colleagues, you’ll need to utilize cold email software that will power your outreach. There are a ton of cold email tools out there and they’re all in a bit of an arms race to add features and some are becoming highly sophisticated outreach tools.
Lemlist provides a nice personalized email tool that combines personalized video at the higher pricing tiers. For a simple email outreach tool, and one at the lowest end of the pricing scale, you can’t go past Gmass. One email outreach tool that has steadily been improving their feature set, including a lightweight CRM these days is Mailshake.
Every cold email provider will provide you with data on open rates, click through rates and reply rates, and these are your leading indicators on who might be interested in your product.
Again, do your research and find the best tool for you.
PRO TIP: Do your cold emailing from a proxy domain to protect the deliverability of your main URL.
Contact your Leads
You’ve built a prospect list and you’ve sent them some cold emails. Now is the time to introduce yourself and make some real-world connections with potential customers, and, you know, actually make sales.
If you’re a startup, I would highly recommend beginning with founder led sales.
A founder has the passion for the product and their business better than 90% of salespeople ever will
Typically most founders build a business around an industry where they’re a subject matter expert
Founders know the product better than anyone
Now, if you haven’t done sales before or you’re passionate about building the product and not much else, you may want to consider hiring a salesperson part time. For that, I would recommend our platform SellCrowd, which is a global marketplace for hiring top sales talent on a flexible basis. We’ve created a very streamlined process around job posting, interviews, hiring & payment, and we also provide additional services such as developing sales scripts and lead generation (if you couldn’t decide on a provider in step #1 in the funnel).
It’s quite possible this is the final step you need to take to make a few sales. Heck, you could even just do #1 in the funnel (build a prospect list) and this step only, and it will be enough to generate sales for all but the crappiest of products.
However, this blog post is about building a funnel as opposed to making a few opportunistic sales and is designed to generate top of the funnel interest as well as lead nurturing and winning customers.
The best practice we have discovered with cold email marketing is to reply to every prospect that emails you with interest and book in a meeting (thank them for their interest and suggest a time for a meeting in your reply, with a link to your calendar), and call every prospect that opens or clicks on links in your emails, but never replies. Pretty obvious really, but execution is everything, and you need to be very diligent and methodical in your follow up.
It’s the only way to win sales.
A One or Two Pager PDF about your Product
Sales rarely happens on the first call these days, so you need to leave your prospect with material they can share with their colleagues. Canva is a mighty Australian unicorn tech startup that provides some great presentation templates.
Take the time to really consolidate the most important points of your business, where you came from, your values and what you have to offer.
Getting this down on paper in easy-to-understand language is a fantastic way to get started o developing lasting relationships with your prospects, and you are so much more likely to make those sales if your information stays fresh in their minds!
A CRM will help you to organize your prospect list and track your sales progress with them. Many companies still use a spreadsheet, but we highly recommend using a CRM like HubSpot. You can organize deal stages easily in HubSpot, create 5 email templates, utilize the calendar/meeting function and much more on the free tier. Pipedrive is another good option with a free trial.
SellCrowd will be releasing a free, mobile first sales CRM soon that allows companies to hire top sales talent on 2, 4- or 8-hour shifts, or simply respond to leads as and when companies receive fresh ones. There is a companion app that allows you to monitor a sales team via a leaderboard.
Calendar Booking Tool
It doesn’t seem like it would be a major hurdle or a major time suck, but you’d be surprised at how much time you waste on the back and forth that occurs with scheduling meetings.
A simple calendar booking tool will gain some efficiencies for you there, and one of the best free ones out there is Calendly. It integrates nicely with email and has plenty of other integrations if you’re willing to stump up some money for their premium tiers.
Pick is another good tool that costs a measly $3 a month. Making sure you have a good quality calendar booking tool is a worth-while investment in the long-run. Not only is it efficient, and time-saving, but you and your business will look so much more professional.
PRO TIP: You can ask one free question with the free tier of Calendly, so ask for the prospect’s phone number.
A Video Meeting Tool
If you’ve been smart enough to segment your target list to local customers only, then I highly recommend meeting with potential customers in person. Get out there in the real world and meet people.
If not, then you’ll need to put on your Captain Planet hat and save the environment (and your travel expenses bill) and meet with people via video.
The best-known video meeting tool (aside from, perhaps, Skype) is Zoom. Our preferred tool is Whereby.
A video meeting tool is great for sharing screen to do presentations or demos of your product. Here’s some great tips on how to run effective video presentations.
Zoom, for its Gmail integration
PRO TIP: Schedule meeting blocks in advance, so you don’t ruin your current workflow and schedule, but still remain flexible!
KPOC - Key Piece of Content
It might be unrealistic for a bootstrapped startup to create a meaningful content marketing strategy with blog posts, eBooks and the like, unless your primary skill is marketing or content creation. However, it should be easily in reach for any founder to create at least one piece of content to lure in customers and shape their thinking.
Content creates need and helps educate a market about your particular way of thinking.
At SellCrowd, we recommend our startup clients to have at least one highly tuned piece of content that acts as a ‘lead magnet’. This can be a long blog post with a lead capture form, or ideally an eBook or free giveaway that captures leads.
A link for this piece of content, with a suitable ‘click bait’ style of heading should be included in your email signature of every email you send.
We have seen click through rates as high as 18% for KPOC blog posts from email signatures.
Depends on your style of lead magnet!
A Product Video or Demo
If you’ve built a product, you need to show it off. The best way to do it is to create a short video showing the most awesome, time saving or problem-solving moment your product or solution offers. Highlighting a key feature with a great customer experience is good enough in a lot of circumstances.
If you’re a software company, I highly recommend using Loom. You can film yourself via webcam using your own software and commentating on how to use it, the features and benefits you offer, and even breakdown the problem that you’re trying to solve, pain points, and how you ultimately solve them.
Use Drift.com, it’s free and easy to setup. Website chat is fast becoming a major customer acquisition channel for many companies. Through the conversations you’ll have with friends, relatives, your network, social media and cold email marketing, you’re going to have a trickle of traffic on your website. Maybe you’ll have a lot. So it’s vital you have as many conversations as possible, and website chat is a great way to generate leads and answer questions when prospects are in the moment. HubSpot also has a free website chat tool. Intercom is another.
PRO TIP: Opt for the free option (Drift), to free up valuable resources to a sales team to be on-call to answer any questions!
Follow up email and sequence (2-4 hours of your time)
Once you start getting into sales, particularly B2B selling to mid-tier and enterprise companies, you’ll notice a lot of drop off in activity after meetings.
This happens to every company, and there are various reasons why.
It’s important to have a follow up email sequence that nurtures leads until they’re ready to buy, because they won’t often be ready to purchase on their very first phone call.
While getting in with a phone-call quickly is a great way to encourage your lead to engage in your company or product, creating a strong email sequence is just as vital for making sure that you stay at the front of your prospects mind, and give them all of the information that they might need.
Luckily, email campaigns don’t have to be stressful. Using high-quality campaign tools can make all of the difference ad there are plenty of options for you to choose from.
Hubspot. Not only is this a well-known campaign management system, but it has further integrations for your sales and marketing needs, which makes it a very strong contender.
BONUS - Linked In outreach sequence
If you’re focused on B2B sales, Linked In is your BFF. There are a range of tools out there including Linked Helper and Octopus CRM that give you the ability to connect and message prospects at scale, and Linked In’s own tool, Sales Navigator.
LinkedIn is a great place to establish yourself as a professional, and really help you engage with your potential customers. This is especially true when it comes to B2B sales, as it is a great way to find, and target, all of the right people. And, best of all, you don’t need to use SEO and hope that your leads come to you!
This streamlines your process and makes it easier to connect. LinkedIn also offers the perk of connecting as a real person and not just a business, and people really like that when it comes to buying a new product or service, so make sure that you don’t neglect this option.
BONUS - Direct mail campaign
Direct Mail? Serious? Yes actually. I know more than a few sales strategists that use Direct Mail for account-based marketing and as an effective channel to warm up prospects.
You can write a letter to prospects and use Stamps.com to send physical mail easily. You can even use Mailchimp for sending postcards.
It’s a highly effective way to warm up a prospect list. When was the last time you got direct mail from a business that you were considering working with? As long as it’s not pushy and invasive, it’s a really great way to connect and let your prospects know that you are willing to go the extra mile and really make a difference. This is useful in a digital world and is a very effective way to set yourself apart from the crowd.
If you’re looking to try direct mail, make sure you use one of the may online tools, to streamline your process. After all, you’re a busy professional and sending out mail yourself is a huge time-suck.
Final Pro Tip - Remarketing
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve generated plenty of interest in your product and plenty of traffic to your website. Make sure you have a remarketing pixel on your website so that you can retarget website visitors with ads at a later date. HubSpot has a built-in option for ads, so does MailChimp.
Remarketing is a very effective way to stay fresh in the minds of your customers and ensure that you are their first choice for repeat business. If these people have visited your site, but not bought anything, it’s also a good way to encourage them to re-visit and purchase your product.
It is a regularly used tactic, and it absolutely requires you to use a high-quality tool. After all, you want to be able to do this with as much ease as possible. Time is money and you have a lot on your plate already, right?
Now that you have your sales funnel in place, it’s time to head over to our sales page and start hiring! After all, no matter how great your MVSF is, it’s no good unless there’s someone to help you turn those leads into prospects, and then into customers!
If you need more information, check out of FAQ page. Otherwise, head straight on over to our sales call page, or our job posting, to get started!