Debunking common myths: what technical founders need to know about sales

As a technical founder, you’re no stranger to challenging assumptions and pushing boundaries. Yet, when it comes to sales, many technical founders fall prey to common myths and misconceptions about sales that can hinder their startup’s growth. Let’s debunk these myths and uncover the truth about sales:

1. Myth: A Good Product Will Sell Itself, so I don’t need to worry about sales: Especially from a technical point of view, it’s easy to believe that if you’ve built a great product, customers will come flocking. While a strong product is undoubtedly essential, it’s not enough to guarantee success. In reality, ideas are cheap, and execution is critical. Competitors will inevitably emerge, and without a solid sales strategy, your product will get lost in the noise– even if it’s better than the alternatives. Early sales are crucial for validating your idea, learning how to talk about it and gaining traction in the market. 

2. Myth: I Can’t Sell Because I’m Not “Salesy”: Many technical founders shy away from sales, believing it’s a skill reserved for natural-born salespeople. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm,” he highlights the importance of early sales to tech enthusiasts – a group that technical founders are uniquely positioned to identify with and sell to. Your deep understanding of the product and its technical intricacies can be a powerful asset in connecting with early adopters. Sales isn’t about being pushy or overly charismatic; it’s about building relationships and solving problems. 

3. Myth: Sales Is a Necessary Evil: Some technical founders view sales as a necessary evil – something to be delegated while they focus on building a product-centered company. However, the best businesses understand that success lies in being customer-centric from the get-go. Sales and technical teams should work hand in hand throughout the lifetime of the company, both driven by a shared commitment to delivering value to customers. Interweaving the shared success of both teams early on fosters collaboration and ensures that the customer remains at the heart of every decision. Ultimately, the most successful companies recognize and appreciate the unique contributions that both technical and sales teams bring to the table.

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Technical founders must challenge traditional myths about the sales profession and recognize the pivotal role that sales will play in their startup’s success. A great product is just the beginning – it’s how you sell it that sets you apart. Embrace sales as a strategic imperative, leverage your technical expertise to connect with early adopters, and build a customer-centric organization from day one. By doing so, you’ll pave the way for sustainable growth and lasting success.

Want to know more about leading GTM as a technical founder? Check out our additional resources for technical founders here

Building an effective sales strategy: Part 3 – Crafting the perfect customer pitch

Pear’s Partner, Pepe Agell, learned the importance of mastering sales during his entrepreneurial journey with Chartboost, a mobile advertising company. Pepe led Chartboost and built sales and go-to-market strategy for the company from its earliest days to its acquisition by Zynga in 2021. He is now a Partner at Pear VC, based in Barcelona and focused on Pear Europe.

This is the third part of our three-part series on building an effective sales strategy, focused on three essential stages of the sales process founders need to master. Before diving into part two, don’t miss part one and part two!

Now that you’ve learned how to run your client meetings effectively, let’s talk about how to construct the perfect sales pitch.

One of the most common mistakes I see is that sales people will often launch into the finer details of the product offering without sharing the bigger vision first and the impact that the solution can have in the customer’s life. Here is how I recommend structuring your pitch to most effectively close deals:

1. When pitching to a client, start with the why before focusing on the how or what.

After you gather as much information as possible from your client, you are ready to pitch your product. I like to follow the why, how, what method.

Simon Sinek has a well-known TED talk all about how great leaders talk about their products by leading with the why. I go back to this TED talk all the time, and I’ve found that the same framework can be applied in sales when talking to clients about your product or solution.

Why: You should lead with a strong explanation of why your solution is the best for the customer. This can include who you are, what is happening in the market, the challenges you’re solving for, and why the customer should listen to you.

Example of a strong why statement:After watching my dad go through diabetes and battle with insurance companies to get the treatment he needed, I was compelled to start a company that made it easier for elderly adults to navigate the health care system. I found that I had to be my dad’s advocate, calling and negotiating on his behalf, and I realized that not every older adult had that same support system.”

How: Next you can explain how you’re solving the problem the customer has, what your approach is, and some of the details about the product.

Example of a strong how statement: “We decided to build a marketplace where patients could easily onboard their medical information and get paired with the most suitable insurance provider in just few minutes.”

What: Finally you can dive into the what, really explaining what benefit your customers will receive with your help (revenue growth, etc.) and the specific features you offer.

Example of a strong what statement: “For every patient request we get on the platform, we process thousands of insurance quotes and select the most appropriate one for each case. We manage the contractual process, payments and medical claims. All in one mobile app.”

2. Get to a demo as quickly as possible.

Product demos help clients picture your solution in their daily workflows. It is also a clear way of visualizing how are you really solving their problems. From my experience, aha moments and even wow moments in a sales pitch happen during the course of the demo, not while going through slides. That’s why, I strongly recommend to get to the demo part as quickly as possible.

3. While explaining your product to the client, integrate your client into the story.

Slides need to connect to each other through an overarching narrative or story. It’s also important to bring your client along on the journey.

I’ve seen many salespeople feature the client’s logo on the opening slide. That’s great, but it’s much more impactful if you bring the client into your entire story. You can feature pictures of their products, their people, and statements they’ve made. Don’t forget to clearly explain what’s it in for that particular customer or for similar companies that are already working with you (see next point). Remember that your clients don’t care about your product features but the impact that you will have in their day to day.

4. Show proof of benefits from other clients.

I’ve found that it helps to share how other clients have found success with your product, but I recommend talking from a client’s perspective.

Instead of saying: “Our product is really strong at automation, and that’s why clients go with us.”

Try something like: “Clients in a similar growth phase experienced exactly the same pain points, but by implementing our automation tools, they were able to become 50% more efficient.”

5. Explain the next steps and how to get there.

Make sure you clearly explain the onboarding process, using screen shots where necessary, so the clients can really grasp what onboarding your product actually looks like. You should clearly explain how long it will take for the client to go live with your product. Also, if you haven’t already discussed pricing, make sure you do that before you wrap up.

6. Engage your audience meaningfully.

During the sales pitch you shouldn’t just ask “Any questions?” Instead, you’ll get more engagement if you ask meaningful questions like “Does this resonate with you?” or “Do you experience something similar?”

To sum it up, all founders have to implement a successful sales strategy in order to truly succeed. These are the best strategies I’ve developed while building and leading sales teams across regions. I hope they help you be more effective in getting new customers and growing revenue. And remember that “when the pressure is on, you don’t rise to the occasion. You fall to the highest level of preparation.”

This is part three in our series on sales!

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Building an effective sales strategy: Part 2 – Preparing for a customer meeting and leading it effectively

Pear’s Partner, Pepe Agell, learned the importance of mastering sales during his entrepreneurial journey with Chartboost, a mobile advertising company. Pepe led Chartboost and built sales and go-to-market strategy for the company from its earliest days to its acquisition by Zynga in 2021. He is now a Partner at Pear VC, based in Barcelona and focused on Pear Europe.

This is the second part of our three-part series on building an effective sales strategy, focused on three essential stages of the sales process that founders need to master. Before diving into part two, don’t miss part one!

Once your outbound sales efforts have been successful, it’s time to prepare for the meeting and lead it effectively. That starts with thinking carefully about how to use the short amount of time that you have with a client. My suggestion is to allocate your time according to the Pear Guide for Sales Meetings.

The Pear Guide for Sales Meetings

Now let’s double click into some of these steps. Here are a few of the strategies I find effective:

1. Before you even meet with the client, try to diagnose their needs, priorities, and budget. This will set you up for success in the meeting.

Aim to walk into the meeting with a solid understanding of the client’s needs. This will allow you to better understand the opportunities that exist within the company you’re selling to. Specifically, you should:

Learn the basics of the company: make sure to look at the company’s website, Crunchbase profile, and social media pages like LinkedIn, Youtube, and Twitter to understand the stage of growth and number of employees.

Assess the client’s strengths, problems, and pain points: take their products for a spin so you can understand the benefits and challenges first hand. Try to assess how your product could add value to what they’re already doing. If it’s a larger public company that you’re selling to, you should listen to their earnings call or read their investor relations report to learn about the company first-hand from its leadership.

Determine whether it would be beneficial to add a C-level team member in the meeting: as you grow, you can leverage the meeting opportunity to include a VP or C-level executive from your side. This might push the client to include an executive or ultimate decision maker from their side as well, making it easier to close the deal.

2. Set yourself up for success before a virtual meeting begins.

Test the Zoom or Google Meet settings 5 minutes before the call begins. Make sure to setup your tabs for the meeting and turn off all notifications on your phone. You should send a courtesy email with a reminder of the dial-in information. And finally, make sure to send any relevant documents or materials to attendees ahead of time.

3. Kickoff the meeting with introductions and take some time to connect personally with attendees.

It’s a good idea to hop on a little early and make small talk with attendees as they’re logging on. Having a good rapport with your clients can go a long way in relationship building.

Once everyone logs on, introduce yourself properly and let others on the call introduce themselves. You should quickly verify the end time of the meeting so you can pace the meeting appropriately.

From there, I advise going through the agenda and sharing your top-line goals with the clients. You should also inquire about any goals they might have for the meeting. This is an important step, but I wouldn’t spend more than 2-3 minutes in total on this. Then dive in!

4. Discover and learn by using the SPIN method to uncover what the client’s true needs are.

Now that you’ve learned as much information as possible about the client and their needs ahead of time, you can put your best foot forward in the meeting. I like to follow the SPIN method to lead a client meeting.

The acronym SPIN refers to the four types of questions that guide sales conversations: Situation, Problem, Implication and Need. You want to breeze through the S and P questions, and really focus on the I and N questions to get the most out of your meeting.

S: Situation Questions – these questions help you understand the basic facts around the client. In my experience, the questions that fall into this category add very little value to a meeting, and most of these questions can be answered in your own background research ahead of time. My advice is to spend as little time as possible here. Example of a situation question: “How many people do you have on your team?”

P: Problem Questions – rather than focusing on situation questions for a long time, you want to jump into problem questions as soon as possible. Problem questions probe clients on the challenges they’re facing in their day to day and with their current product solution, if they have one. You should be careful not to offend the client, in case they were the one who previously decided on the tool or service being used. Example of a problem question: “What are you missing most in your current solution? Does your current tool ever fail?”

I: Implication Questions – after assessing the problems the team is having, you can really dig into the implications and consequences of those problems on their business. This helps to demonstrate why they need to make a change. Example of an implication question: “What’s the productivity cost when the solution fails? ”

N: Need Questions – these questions are designed to uncover the core needs of the prospective client, the benefits they are looking for out of their next solution, and to guide the client to see the benefit of your product or service as a better solution. Example of a need question: “Wouldn’t it be simpler if the process were automated?”

5. Summarize the learnings and then dive into a demo to share information about your company.

Quickly read back what you heard from the client. Example of a read back: “To make sure that I captured your needs correctly, you are currently missing an automated solution?”

From there, it’s time to dive into your presentation of your company. Share your screen and give a demo to your clients, if possible. Throughout the demo, you can link back to the client’s needs. Example of this: “To your point that productivity costs are high, we believed in keeping costs low by [XYZ solution].”

It also helps to share use cases and case studies of other companies and how they found success with your product.

6. Leave time for answering the client’s questions and to do a proper close.

Summarize your findings and some key points. I find a three-point summary works great, but I try to never make it longer than three points.

Thank everyone for their time, and follow up on next steps. Try to have concrete next steps, and again, no more than three.

You should verify that all goals were met and that the clients don’t have any outstanding questions about the product. Log off the meeting (and make sure everything is logged off, like screen sharing).

7. Send a quick follow up note.

After a sales pitch, schedule a few minutes on your calendar to send follow up notes. I recommend make it a bit fun and memorable (i.e. add a picture of the meeting, or your team using the customer’s product…). Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good – timeliness matters, and it’s better to send a good follow up email quickly vs. a perfect follow up email a week later.

Make sure you also save some time to debrief with team members on your side to plan next steps.

In conclusion, you want to be prepared walking into a client meeting, and you should be extremely thoughtful on how you spend your time in the meeting itself. In part three of this series, we’ll dive deeper into how to craft the perfect sales pitch.

This is part two of a three part series on sales. Stay tuned for more!

If you’re interested in hearing more Pear news and seeing more posts like this, please subscribe in the footer below. We won’t spam you, and it’s easy to unsubscribe at anytime.

Building an effective sales strategy for startups: Part 1 – Mastering a customer-centric sales approach and outreach strategy

Pear’s Partner, Pepe Agell, learned the importance of mastering sales during his entrepreneurial journey with Chartboost, a mobile advertising company. Pepe led Chartboost and built sales and go-to-market strategy for the company from its earliest days to its acquisition by Zynga in 2021. He is now a Partner at Pear VC, based in Barcelona and focused on Pear Europe.

One of the biggest obstacles founders face early in their journeys is building a successful sales strategy. To take your company from 0 to 1 requires putting the customer at the center of what you do and building momentum in sales and product adoption. Whether they like it or not, founders are forced to wear a salesperson hat. To make their job easier, I’m excited to share a few of the lessons I learned over my decade leading sales for Chartboost.

1. Think about the Law of 250 to remember that each and every interaction with a prospective client is critical.

Joe Girard is acknowledged as the world’s greatest salesman, and he famously coined the Law of 250, which he believed to be the radius of influence for an average person.

The basic principle is that if you do a crummy job of selling your product, you could potentially lose 250 more customers. If you do a great job, you could potentially gain 250 more customers.

You might only get one shot to make an impression, so you have to prepare yourself for each and every interaction you have with a prospective customer.

2. Remember that HOW you sell is as much of a differentiator as WHAT you sell.

Founders focus on perfecting their product and service offerings for good reason – it’s critical to success. But, in my experience, founders often don’t carve out enough time for getting to know their target customers and crafting a sales strategy that reaches the right people in the right way.

The more you know about a client, the more leverage you have. The key to learning more is to research your clients, identify what they need to achieve, understand the impact your product or service can have on their business, and then engage your clients in a meaningful way.

3. Adopt a customer-centric sales approach every step of the way: don’t simply sell your products and features, sell the impact your product will have on helping your customer’s business improve.

Try to understand what is going on inside your client’s organization: What are their objectives? What are their obstacles? What stage of the journey are your clients on?

This can be easier said than done, so I like to break down this customer-centric sales approach into 4 buckets, which I call the 4 D’s:

Discovery: research and prepare for client interactions

Diagnose: identify where the areas of opportunity exist within the client’s organization

Design: create a proposal with the pitch tailored to the solutions your client needs

Deliver: clearly share your vision and close the deal

4. We operate in a social world. Put your best foot forward online.

First impressions matter. Your clients are very likely to look up your online profiles, so make sure you are building your online presence in a professional and clear way. Consider updating your LinkedIn profile with an updated photo (professional and smiling), a tagline or title that captures what you are passionate about, and share a clear blurb about your company story and what you’re trying to achieve. Put simply, don’t make a prospective client dig for information about what you’re selling, but rather make it easy to access and understand.

Establish contact with prospective clients. Don’t connect on LinkedIn blindly, but instead, send a quick note with context to make a connection. If you have a mutual contact with a strong connection with a potential client, you can ask for an introduction. Alternatively, you could just reach out and mention the common connection without directly asking that person for an introduction. These tactics boost the chances that the client will respond or accept your invitation to connect.

5. Be really thoughtful about how to structure your outbound messages and emails: aim to be clear, concise, and personal.

The shorter the email, the better. My rule of thumb is for a email to take no more than 30 seconds to read. If you can get your message across in 15 seconds, that’s even better.

In terms of what to say in the email, I suggest following the 3 R’s method to construct your outreach message:

Research: share more about what you learned in your research. Example: I can imagine you’re very busy right now with the success of your current [XYZ product] hitting the market.

Reference: reference an existing client or situation that relates to them, or something else. Example: We have several tools that might be helpful to you as you continue to scale [XYZ product] offering.

Request: state a clear request at the end: a meeting, a call, or whatever your hope to do. Example: Let me know if you are free tomorrow to discuss more.

6. Don’t overlook the importance of the sales meeting calendar invite. The invite itself is a powerful sales tool.

Once your client agrees to chat more, you have to get to work on making the best first impression. Creating a quality meeting invitation sets the tone for the meeting and creates brand awareness for your company. To put your best foot forward in the invite: state a goal of the meeting, add any relevant context, share any useful resources (example: a one pager of the product you’ll be pitching), include dial in information (and test out the dial in 5 minutes before the meeting begins), and include a backup phone number in case the dial in fails.

Your client may accept the invitation and add other team members to the invite. This will give you an opportunity to do some background research prior to the meeting to better understand who is on the team and who the decision makers in the room might be.

Carefully and thoughtfully compiling the invite will allow you to build brand awareness and create understanding and camaraderie, before even have your first meeting.

7. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

I’ve mentioned this already, but it’s worth underlining. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of preparation in the sales outreach process. You never want to wing an interaction with a client. The more you know about who you’re talking to, the clients vision and strategy, and the size of the opportunity, the more successful you’ll be.

In conclusion, these seven concrete steps can help you to become more customer-centric in your sales approach and outreach strategy. This is just the beginning of what you need to do to be successful on your sales journey.

In part two, you’ll build on the lessons you learned in part one, and we’ll move into the phase of the sales process where you’ll learn how to prepare for a customer meeting and effectively lead the meeting.

This is part one of a three part series on sales. Stay tuned for more!

If you’re interested in hearing more Pear news and seeing more posts like this, please subscribe in the footer below. We won’t spam you, and it’s easy to unsubscribe at anytime.

The Data and Analytics Playbook for Startups

Ali Baghshomali, former data analyst manager at Bird, hosted a talk with Pear on data and analytics for early stage founders. We wanted to share the key takeaways with you. You can watch the full talk here

While a lot has been said around building go to market and engineering teams, there’s not much tactical coverage for analytics teams. Yet analytics is one of the most fundamental and crucial functions in a startup as it launches and scales. 

When should you start seriously working on analytics?
Why should you work on analytics?
Who should you hire?
What should be in your analytics stack?
What are some case studies of company analytics operations?
What should you do moving forward?

When should you start seriously working on analytics? 

You should start thinking about your analytics platform when your company is nearing product launch. After your product is live, you’ll receive an influx of data (or at least some data) from customers and prospects, so you want to be prepared with the proper analytics infrastructure and team to make the most of this data to drive business growth. 

If you are just starting out and would benefit from working with analytics but don’t have much in house, consider using third party data sources, like census data. 

Why should you work on analytics? 

If done well, analytics will pay back many, many times over in time, work, money, and other resources saved as well as powerful insights uncovered that drive meaningful business growth. 

Who should you hire? 

In conversation, people often use “data scientist” and “data analyst” interchangeably. While fine for casual conversation, you should clearly understand and convey the difference when writing job postings, doing job interviews, hiring team members, and managing data teams. 

Data scientists work with predictive models through leveraging machine learning. Data analysts, in contrast, build dashboards to better display your data, analyze existing data to draw insights (not predictions), and build new tables to better organize existing data. 

For example, at Spotify, data scientists build models that recommend which songs you should listen to or add to particular playlists. Data analysts analyze data to answer questions like how many people are using the radio feature? At what frequency? 

Similarly, at Netflix, data scientists build models that power the recommendation engine, which shows you a curated dashboard of movies and TV shows you may like as soon as you log in. Data analysts would conduct data analysis to determine how long people spend on the homepage before choosing a show. 

Unless your core product is machine learning driven, you should first hire data analysts, not data scientists. In general, a good rule of thumb is to have a 3:1 ratio of data analysts to data scientists (for companies whose products are not machine learning driven). 

For early stage startups, stick to the core titles of data scientists and data analysts rather than overly specialized ones like business intelligence engineers because you’ll want someone with more flexibility and who is open and able to do a wider range of work. 

What should be in your analytics stack? 

Here are examples of tools in each part of the analytics stack and how you should evaluate options: 

  • Database: examples include BigQuery and Redshift. Analytics databases are essentially a republica of your product database but solely for analytics. In this way, you can do analytics faster without messing up product performance. In general, it is advisable to use the same database service as your cloud service. 
  • Business intelligence: examples include Looker and Tableau. Business intelligence tools help you visualize your data. They connect to your analytics database. You should pick a provider based on pricing, engineering stack compatibility, and team familiarity. Don’t just default to the most well known option. Really consider your unique needs. 
  • Product intelligence: examples include Mixpanel and Amplitude. Product intelligence tools are focused on the product itself, rather than the over business. Specifically, they are focused on the user journey. They get code snippets inserted from the product. Because they don’t encapsulate the full code, you should consider this data to be an estimate and use the insights drawn more directionally. Product intelligence tools can be used to create charts, funnels, and retention analyses, and they don’t need to be connected to other databases. 

What are some case studies of company analytics operations? 

Helping Hands Community is a COVID inspired initiative that services high risk and food insecure individuals during the pandemic. 

  • Team: 7 engineers, no data analysts
  • Product: basic with 1000 users
  • Stack: Google Cloud, Firebase for product database, BigQuery for analytics, Google Data Studio for business intelligence, and Google Analytics for product intelligence 

Bird is a last mile electric scooter rental service. 

  • Team: 50+ engineers, 30 analysts, 8 scientists, 6 analyst managers
  • Stack: AWS for cloud, Postgres (AWS) for product database, PrestoDB for analytics, Tableau and Mode for business intelligence, Mixpanel for product, Google Analytics for website, Alation for data, DataBricks for ETL, and Anodot for anomaly detection (you generally need anomaly detection when ~1 hour downtime makes a meaningful difference in your business) 

What should you do moving forward? 

Make a data roadmap just like you make business and product roadmaps. Data roadmaps are equally as important and transformative for your startup. List the top 5 questions you foresee having at each important point along this roadmap. Structure your data roadmap in a way that your stack and team addresses each of the questions at the point at which they’re asked. 

We hope this article has been helpful in laying the foundations for your analytics function. Ali is available to answer further questions regarding your analytics strategy, and he is providing analytics and data science consulting. You can find and reach him on LinkedIn here

Life After Product-Market Fit: Go-To-Market Fit

This is an excerpt from Bob Tinker’s talk for Pear Accelerator S20.

Pear Accelerator is a small-batch program, where our partners and mentors work hands-on with exceptional founders to reach product-market fit and beyond. Learn more:

Early startups in Silicon Valley tend to focus so intensively on product-market that they might forget to think about what comes after. But as any startup founder knows, you’re never “in the clear” when you’re running a startup.

Once you hit product-market fit, your next challenge begins: growth. From experience, we know that this phase can feel even more vague and amorphous than product-market fit. Often it sounds something like your investors saying, “Okay, go do that sales and marketing stuff.” We don’t seem to have a good, well-known framework to talk about how to unlock growth after product market fit.

Bob Tinker believes this shows a core bug in Silicon Valley — that fundamentally, we tend toward being a product shop. Investors and mentors around here do a great job helping founders build products, but often do a terrible job of helping founders build good markets on the back of their products. It causes many startups to get stuck on being a product (stage 0.5, as we call it), and fail to make the transition to being a business.

Bob has constructed a framework that we refer to for our own companies: go-to-market or GTM fit. It is the transition from a founder-hero personally selling a beloved product to users, to building a repeatable growth machine.

The Two Common Mistakes Founders Make With GTM Fit

(1) You try to find it as the founder.

Here’s the crazy thing — founders fundamentally cannot find Go-To-Market Fit. We know you went through a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to unlock that elusive product love, but the reality is: your ability as a founder to go find and win a customer is not characteristic of the real world.

As a founder, you have something like “magic founder pixie dust,” where you can say all sorts of the things on the fly in a customer meeting, talk about the 20 different things your product does, or pivot and make as many promises as you want. That’s not a realistic representation for what a normal salesperson, or digital marketing campaign could do.

Ironically, the very things that you were doing as a founder to win those early customers for product market fit is not a real test for unlocking growth with go-to-market fit. It’s a big mindset shift to wrestle with.

(2) You try to hire a star VP of Sales.

Sometimes your board will tell you to just go hire a big time VP of sales for this stage. Unfortunately, that’s also the wrong thing to do. That’s because no amazing VP of Sales is going to be the first salesperson in the building for you.

Great VP’s of Sales are usually more like battlefield commanders. They’re not the ones that figure out the playbook, the path through the woods. They’re the one that scale it. They turn the crank and hire the army.

A better way to think about your first sales executive hire is that you want someone more like a Davy Crockett—an explorer, frontiersman, trailblazer type.

Note that this person could also be yourself, as long as you don’t think of yourself as the Founder (as discussed in mistake #1). You will need to put yourself in the shoes of an actual salesperson and sell like them.

Finding GTM Fit Is Like Surfing

There are three parts to surfing that map well to the three parts of finding GTM fit. There’s making sure you have the right surfboard, catching the wave, and riding the wave. The parallels, respectively, are: (1) picking the right sales model, (2) aligning with the urgent wave of customer need, and (3) building a repeatable playbook.

Catching the Wave of Urgency

Catching the wave requires some skill in terms of reading your market, reading your customers, and understanding where you are. Good founders and early team membershave a bit of an intuitive feel for this — it’s how you got to product-market fit, after all. It’s similar in that you are trying to get a sense for where the urgent pain is in your potential customers that gets them to want to buy your product now.

However, to be a category defining company, it’s not enough to just find one urgent pain and solve it with a product. That pain needs to be part of a larger wave of change that is strategic for your customer. Your company needs to ultimately fit into a full customer journey with a big opportunity.

The challenge for many founders when trying to find GTM fit after product-market fit is that the pain point that unlocks GTM fit is not necessarily the same as the pain point that you started your company on. As a result, it can feel like you are betraying that initial founding idea or core principles.

When Bob was CEO of MobileIron, a company that provided security management for smartphones, the wave that was happening was the shift from Blackberries to iPhones. Executives wanted to get rid of their Blackberries and get an iPhone for work. They were going to their IT teams and telling them to make iPhones secure enough for corporate work, pronto. This was the initial pain point that would turn into a long term wave of every company wanting to become a mobile enterprise.

In retrospect, it’s clear that MobileIron needed to shift their focus away from the Blackberries and Windows phones they’d previously been building for and serving. This caused many big internal fights, because of the feeling of betrayal.

Bob candidly admits that had he been the one running sales, he might have been too stubborn to actually see and catch this wave, because he was too married to his original founding idea. Luckily, his Davy Crockett sales head was out talking to customers and made the push.

Picking the Right GTM Model

There’s a spectrum of sales models between sales-led, marketing-led and product-led, and there is no one right model for everybody. You, as the founder, need to determine what’s right for your customer and right for your product.

The one key thing to pay attention to is how your customer decides to buy. Note, this is different from the logistics of how they buy. Rather, you need to pay attention to the customer’s cognitive process of deciding to buy.

As a single consumer, when you go to buy a product, you might do a search, browse different websites, learn, engage with sales reps, and then make a decision. This is product-led selling, where the buyer and decider are the same person. Your product is typically pretty easy to understand and you can reach your customers with digital marketing.

If the buyer and decider are something like two different people, perhaps the VP of Marketing and the CEO, you can do a low touch marketing-led sale, where you generate leads with digital marketing and then engage those leads with sales reps.

If the cognitive process to buy is much more of a committee decision—for example, in MobileIron, there was the security team, the apps team, the mobile team and the IT team—then you need to do a sales-led model. The sales team’s job is to coordinate the decision amongst all the stakeholders.

Here’s where you’ll need to make sure the economics of your model work. If the way customers buy your product is a committee decision, for example, and your ticket price is super low, then you might not be generating enough revenue to cover the cost of acquiring that high touch customer.

Building the Playbook

After assembling an early sales team, that team went to Bob and told him they needed to build a go-to-market playbook.

As a product and customer-centric founder, Bob’s conception of a GTM playbook was a good PowerPoint and some tactics. His team helped him to see that the GTM playbook is actually the operating system for your entire go-to-market strategy.

Bob’s playbook is a short one or two page document with three parts: the customer journey, the sales actions that correspond to each stage of the customer journey, and the resources required for those sales pitches.

The Customer Journey

Your GTM playbook should not be internal focused. The standard sales funnel of “first meeting, qualification, negotiation, etc.” is not what you are going for. You want to make sure the basis of it is the journey from your customer’s eyes.

The Sales Actions

At each step of the customer journey, there needs to be a corresponding section that outlines what your sales team will be doing and saying in each stage. This section is the key transition point from founder led selling to becoming a company that sells things.

You will need to distill your sales strategy into, at most, the three things that your team will say or do at each stage. You have to sacrifice. You can no longer talk about all the 20 amazing things you could do and ask the customer which one they want. That does not scale, that’s not repeatable. At this point, you need to figure out those two or three things that reliably get your customer to sit up and really pay attention. What Bob calls, the “WOW” moment. This is how you build a repeatable, scalable growth machine.

The Resources

Finally, for each stage of sales action plans, you’ll want to list out the resources and materials that are necessary to really deliver on that phase of the customer journey. What are the tools or collateral you need? What does the product need to do? What competitive information would be useful?

Outlining all of this will have the side effect of getting your whole team aligned. Instead of your product or engineering team viewing sales as a separate entity, or seeing requests from sales as an annoying distraction, they’ll have a better understanding of why that request is important or necessary and contributing to the value of the entire company. They’ll understand how their work fits into the GTM strategy and plan.

Another great side effect is that your GTM metrics will now come much more easily once you’ve figured out this playbook, as you can simply watch customers prospect from stage to stage to stage to stage.

How to Know You’ve Found GTM Fit

The answer here is, perhaps a bit frustratingly, the same as with product-market fit — you will just know. You will feel it.

“It feels like momentum. Like all of a sudden, you put more in and more comes out. Leads start to grow, conversions grow, sales people and marketing people are running around with their hair on fire, and they can’t keep up with all the deals. It’s a blast.”

The A to Z of Early-Stage Sales

Armando Mann, angel investor and former Sales VP at Salesforce, Dropbox, and Google hosted a talk discussing the nitty gritty of building out your sales strategy and team on April 1st, as part of the Pear’s speaker series. This is a recap!

Watch the full talk at, and RSVP for the next one on product management: August 18th with Nikhyl Singhal, VP of Product at Facebook.

You’ve built a product that has the potential to disrupt an entire industry, and now you need to get into the hands of customers. How can you do that strategically, and how do you build a team that can execute your strategy? Armando walks us through it all, step by step, with all the nitty gritty details you need.

Choosing Your Market
Maximizing Your Wins
Building the Machine
Set Up for Success
Key Takeaways

Choosing Your Market

Many founders think that the way to find product market fit is to distribute their product to as many people as possible and then see which groups are working out best. Armando advises against this.

“You never know who to hear or who to listen to when you’re getting feedback,” he explains.

Instead, you want to approach finding product market fit with a hypothesis of what problem you’re solving and for whom, and try to talk to the smallest, most narrow group of people that fit the bill. This might seem counterintuitive if you’re trying to build a big, category defining business, but starting small actually allows you to grow fast, if you choose carefully.

At Armando’s startup, RelateIQ, the team went looking for a market that they could win 9 out of 10 times, and that could grow and bring the company upwards. They considered their product carefully and kept narrowing and narrowing their target:

  • First, the team considered which workflows their product could support. Sales workflows were the best fit.
  • Tracking was the only feature their product had at the time (no advanced forecasting or revenue reporting). They knew this feature was valuable only to recruiting or partnership teams.
  • They didn’t want RelateIQ to be a recruiting tool. This narrowed the field to partnership focused teams.
  • The product only worked with Gmail. So, they could only serve partnership teams who worked in Gsuite. These were likely to be tech companies.
  • The product’s novelty, at the time, was the capability of extracting data from email, so customers would need to be comfortable giving access to their emails.
  • Finally, big companies would want various controls that the product could not provide. They would need to go after smaller businesses.

Taking all these factors into consideration, the RelateIQ team determined their target market: business development teams and tech startups with under 100 employees.

“That business could have been small and we would have died a small death in a niche market that was irrelevant, if that had been our only market,” Armando acknowledges.

But the RelateIQ team had a clear plan for how to grow quickly from that narrow market into the adjacent markets.

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“We knew what features we needed to go from partnerships to account management within a company. Then we also knew how to go up market from under 100 employees to under 1000 employees,” says Armando. “So, as we moved along the axes, we would unlock little pieces of the market to give us this beautiful up and to the right chart where every group was growing.”

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Focusing on narrow markets has the benefit of forcing focus and tighter referral loops. Once you’re growing in a niche, your cost of acquisition in that niche goes down, and you can afford to reinvest those savings into your next niche.

In sum: try to find your smallest possible market. It could be geographic. It could be the tech stack. It can be any dimension. Make your product incredible for that small group of people. Then, focus product marketing, sales, everybody, to go after that market.

“You have to be very clear, this is not a sales strategy, it’s a company strategy,” says Armando.

Once you have nailed that market — you’ve figured out the cost of sales, your sales cycle, all your key metrics, and they are in a healthy place, i.e. predictable and repeatable — you can seed the next one.

Note that whether you start down market and move up market or the opposite way doesn’t matter. The point is to figure out how to dominate a sub-piece of a market that can feed into adjacent markets.

“There’s not a bad market to go after first as long as these are customers that can stay with you,” Armando notes. “It depends on the strength of the entrepreneur, what you’re comfortable with and who you want to solve this problem for first.”

Maximizing Your Wins

Like many salespeople, when Armando first started in sales, he was introduced to the big myth of “Always Be Closing.” It was one of the biggest things that he had to unlearn.

“I thought you always wanted to get new customers, that was the thing. But that’s not right. In SaaS, renewals and customer success beat new business 10 to 1 every day,” says Armando.

That’s because great retention and upsells compound, so a small improvement in these metrics has a much bigger impact on ROI than a small improvement in acquisition. While the first few years of this strategy might not look too sunny, over time, if you hit your targets, you will fly past your competitors.

Armando recommends that you not worry too much about how you will raise prices over time for your first customers, and focus instead about how pricing will affect your next customers.

“Those first customers, you can always say, ‘Hey, this is the pricing. We’re new, we’re starting our business. Here’s what we aspire to charge,’ and then there’s a negotiation. You say, ‘We can do this for this year, and chat again at the end of next year at renewal time, or we can do a three year contract and lock in this price for the next three years. We’re not going to be a great company just by getting an extra 10, 20% from you every year. Wwe want to make sure that we have a long term relationship with you.’”

Make sure both your account executives and customer success managers take interest in the success of upsells.

Building the Machine

Hire a Customer Success Manager from Customer Number One

A strategy is nothing without execution, so it’s critical to think through how you will build and structure your sales team to accomplish the plan.

The first thing is to have Customer Success Managers. It may seem like a good idea for you as the founder to take on this role, but Armando advises against this, as founders usually need to be ahead of the curve and focusing on hiring, fundraising, and selling. Armando recommends you have a Customer Success Manager onboard from customer number one.

“That is the first group of customers that hits the one year renewal date. And that’s the data that VCs will look at after a year and say, ‘Show me your first customers. What happened in the last year?’ You could go and say, ‘We’re great now, cohorts are getting better and better. Those were just a bad fit, just don’t look at our data from our early customers,’” says Armando.

“It’s so much more powerful to say, ‘Look, these first customers, none of them have churned and they’ve grown to extra spending the last year and you can call any of them and see how things have gone over the last year.’ That’s a way better story. So from the beginning I would spend an enormous amount of time on my existing customers.”

A good ratio early on is one Customer Success Manager for every two Account Executives. When scaling, aim for one Customer Success Manager for every 1 or 2 million dollars of recurring revenue.

What to Look For In Your Account Executives and Customer Success Managers

For account executives in the early stage, you’ll want to be looking for athletes — “People that can build the plane as you’re taking off.” When you’re scaling, you’ll want to start looking for candidates with a track record of scaling with a company and can leverage all the structured resources that come with scale.

Let’s call the early stage account executives Jane, and the scale stage account executives Jack. Here’s what they might look like as candidates:

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The characteristics you are looking for in customer success managers as compared to account executives are actually very similar to the above. The difference comes in their respective motivations.

Armando’s uses a very simple test: say your employee gets an email from a customer at 11:00 PM at night before they go to bed, after watching something on Netflix. Both will respond to that email (though you might tell them not to and just wait until the next day!).

“The AE will do it because of the leaderboard, because of the competition. They want to close that deal.

The CSM will respond to that email because of empathy. They feel the pain of the customer. They’re like, ‘If I don’t respond to this person, they will have to wait 10 or 12 hours until I get to the office and go through my meetings and get to this email. If I respond to this email right now, I’m putting them out of their misery and just helping them out with this one problem. That one short email from me will help them unblock today.’”

Where to Find Your Early-Stage Account Executives and Customer Success Managers

Armando recommends a few sources to find the right early-stage hires, your Janes:

  • Unsatisfied large tech company sales professionals: “You’re looking at people that went to a large company because they thought they wanted to be in sales and they got the training and realized they didn’t like the structure and the constraints that came with being in a large company. They didn’t necessarily like the certainty that comes from knowing exactly what they had to deliver every few months.” Note that Jack candidates do love this.
  • Former entrepreneurs: “I don’t think there’s better sales training than being an entrepreneur, so bring those folks in who will appreciate that you have a product that you can sell and that there is traction. They were some of the most loyal sales folks I’ve hired because they understand how difficult it is, what you’re doing as an entrepreneur. They can empathize and they know what they need to deliver for you.”
  • Business development, private equity, or venture capital professionals: “They have a lot of acumen. They have to hustle to get into certain deals. They have to be creative. There’s no playbook.”

If you’re looking for Jacks, you’ll want to investigate sales candidates who have spent 3–10 years at large companies (either one, or several) developing their skills. You can also find them in lateral industries. For example, if you are a FinTech entrepreneur, you might try to look for sales professionals in commercial banking instead of in tech. These professionals will already be well-trained in the fundamental principles of successful sales, and all you’ll have to do is to teach them the technology side of it.

Don’t worry too much about industry expertise. Unless your product is in a regulated industry or a very hardcore technical product, your hire should be smart and able to learn quickly.

“I would rather bring somebody that has all the other characteristics that you want in your company — a teammate that will connect with your company really quickly and in a positive way and add to your culture.”

A great way to source for such high potential candidates is to ask for referrals from your engineers. Ask who they might have met at their prior companies in sales.

“Most would be like, ‘I never met one. Sales? I don’t know those people, they’re in different building.’ But if they met somebody, that in itself is rare enough that you would take that as a huge plus — that this salesperson was able to connect with engineers or with PMs or with other teammates.”

Moreover, if they’re hired, they also will now have a friend and built-in sponsor inside your company.

Set Up for Success


When you’ve got great candidates, you want to make sure that they are able to work as well as possible with your existing team. Armando goes as far to make sure that high potential candidates meet over 10 to 12 people early on in the interview process.

“It’s a massive overkill, unless you realize that what you’re building is a group of folks who are all collectively responsible for this hire. So when this person joins, they all feel a level of connection or responsibility for this person’s success, which is incredibly valuable.”

Once the candidate joins, do all you can to help them form connections as quickly as possible — scheduling breakfasts for them, assigning them lunch buddies, etc.

“At a high growth startup after months two and three, you cannot claim you’re a newbie and you want to connect with somebody because you haven’t met them before,” says Armando. “You need to build the network in the first few weeks when you don’t have a quota, you’re still learning, and meeting people is part of your job. Make that something structured in the onboarding process.”


Founder CEO’s tend to think of their sales process in a linear funnel, and thus often set up their sales teams in a straight line as well. You are probably familiar with the typical setup of having some SDRs (sales development reps) doing outbound and inbound sales and taking in calls, emails, or leads. Then the qualified leads get passed to the account executive who closes the leads. Then the sales engineers help with demos and setting up the test environments. Then the CSM handles post-sales.

While this kind of assembly line setup works for large companies that are more predictable, this will not work well for an early-stage company that hasn’t even found product-market fit yet.

Armando recommends organizing your initial hires instead into a pod consisting of a CSM, AE, SDR, and sales engineer, working together as a group flexibly and helping each other with workloads.

The first pod should then seed the next pods by each starting pods of their own, and hiring people into their new pods. This works because each of these leaders have had the same experience and understand how to run a successful pod.

Armando is also a fan of having Product Managers join sales teams and getting in front of customers as well.

“PM’s bring a lot of credibility on the roadmap. As a salesperson, many times you don’t have the credibility with the customer to talk about the roadmap because they assume that you might not have the whole picture. When a PM comes in and talks about the roadmap, then you know it’s what they’re working on,” says Armando.


What type of employee incentive plans are practical for your first true salesperson? Should their options be tied to their sales performance? If so, what type of cash bonuses make sense at early stages in the company’s life?

“In my mind, they should be working and being motivated the same way the first support person, the first service person is, and the engineer is. They are building the company, so they should be incentivized in equity. That doesn’t mean that that’s going to be the comp plan for the rest of time at all. They should have a salary that is comparable to the rest of the team.”

For an early-stage company, tying bonus plans to sales performance might be premature.

“You’re creating a sense of predictability that you don’t yet have. So don’t lie to yourself or them saying that you know what you’re doing — because you don’t. You don’t know what this could look like. You could hit product market fit and hit it out of the park or not. Either way, you want them to pay the rent.”

At Dropbox, the first sales hires were at first compensated with sales performance bonuses, but were then switched to equity and salary compensation plans. The shift in turn led to a significant breakthrough for the company — automation of one-touch only sales.

Dropbox had a Contact Form, and many times, a customer would email through the form ready to buy and inquiring only about pricing. They would only need one follow-up email with the requested pricing information to convert.

Under the sales performance plan, sales reps were incentivized to want to claim those easy sales and get credit for them. After the switch, their mindsets were different. The measure of success was now better aligned with how much revenue the company made as whole.

The reps pointed out that those form customers were not interesting to close and were just easy money — so why not simply put up a Pricing link and other key information under the form so that customers could self-serve and buy without going through a rep?

“We did that and self-serve went up, and the leads that the reps were getting were more complicated, more interesting, and they were learning about more interesting sales processes. We could work with those customers in a more intense way, because all the easy customers would self-serve. And I could not have figured that out by myself,” says Armando.

Key Takeaways

  1. Focus on one market, dominate the market, and then expand from there. Have a vision of how you are going to do that and explain that clearly to your product team, your marketing team, your sales team, and your investors.
  2. Retention and upsells win over sales every day. Invest in customer success — bring in a CSM early. Don’t be cheap. Bring in great people. Invest in your existing customers.
  3. When hiring account executives and customer success managers, be thoughtful about the stage you’re in and what you need for your company today. A great account executive or customer success manager might be a better fit for you in the growth stage, rather than in the early stage, or vice versa.
  4. Organization matters. How you organize your teams and set them up will make things very different. You can seed politics and resentment or you can create units that behave like a Navy Seal team and work together to take over different missions.

A Scientific Method for Content Driven SEO Marketing

Mada Seghete, Co-Founder & Head of Strategy & Market Development at Branch hosted a talk on ‘Marketing With $0’ in April. This is just an excerpt! Watch Mada’s full talk for advice on viral, referral, community marketing, and more at

Many founders, when thinking about “doing marketing,” will immediately jump to thinking about Facebook or Google ads. Yet, organic acquisition methods such as viral, referral, or SEO are often much more effective and, even better, cost you $0.

Mada Seghete, who leads strategy and marketing at Branch, has run hundreds and hundreds of marketing experiments. Branch’s data has shown that ads are in fact, the least effective channels when compared to the more organic channels.

“It’s harder to do these things, because you don’t get the instant gratification of buying the user that is now on your website or your app, but the effort does pay off, because these people are more likely to convert and they’re more likely to stay with you for longer,” says Mada.

Mada Seghete, Co-Founder & Head of Strategy & Market Development at Branch

One of Mada’s favorite organic channels? SEO. She firmly believes that a good content driven SEO strategy can work for any kind of business. But it’s crucial to be scientific, so you don’t waste time producing content that won’t drive results.

Luckily for us, Mada was generous with sharing the scientific method her team developed at Branch.

Gathering keywords
Deciding on keywords to rank for
Producing content
On SEO “Hacks”

(1) Gather data on all the potential keywords you could be targeting.

Your first step is to compile a list of potential keywords for your company.

A good place to start is with the queries that are already leading customers to your website. You can see where your search traffic is coming from and what keywords you are currently ranked for via Google Trends.

The second place to look is your competitors’ keywords. To research this, you can use tools such as Moz or SEMrush.

From there, you can then brainstorm some keywords on your own.

For all the keywords you add to the list, you’ll want to track the search volume, keyword difficulty, and average cost per click. You can find this information using tools like Google Keyword Planner, Moz or SEMrush as well.

[To see samples of Mada’s keyword research at Branch, watch the full talk at]

(2) Decide which keywords you would like to rank in search results for.

Once you’ve mapped out the universe of potential keywords for your company, you’ll need to determine which words you want to work on ranking for.

At Branch, the team narrowed down their list to the top 200 keywords with the highest search volume. They then checked Branch’s current ranking for those words.

Finally, they grouped these keywords into different themes and came up with their own formula to “score” and prioritize which themes of keywords they would pursue with content.

Branch’s formula looked like this: {{Relevance score*40%}+{competitor urgency*25%}+{keyword difficulty*20%}+{avg rank*15%}}/{count of keywords}

Running through a structured decision process like this allowed the team to uncover and write about topics they might not have considered previously.

“We would’ve probably never written an article about ASA files — an app association file — but we wrote something about that because it came out in our keywords. We explained how Branch could help with that, and it drove a lot of traffic to us.”

In sum:

For a full explanation, watch Mada’s talk.

(3) Produce the content!

With a prioritized list of topics, it’s time to write.

Instead of spending money hiring a writing team, the Branch marketing team instead invited anyone in the company to write on any of the topics on the priority list. Those who wrote received a free t-shirt that said “Branch Writer.” Many team members from customer success and sales ended up writing great articles.

What About All Those SEO “Hacks”?

Now, you might be wondering about all those little algorithm hacks that you’ve heard about.

While Mada has discovered some tips and tricks from her experimentation (for example, how to strategically run paid ads to boost your SEO faster — details in the full talk), it’s important to realize that a good SEO strategy is fundamentally a long-term strategy.

It will take about 2–3 months for your content to rank (Mada tested this personally by translating all Branch’s content into different languages and measuring how long it took to get organic traffic on these pages). But if you do it right, the results are evergreen.

Hacks may work in the short term, but they won’t get you the long-term results you actually want.

Mada recalls a story:

“I remember Google changed their ranking, and I was sitting in a marketing leader group, and everyone was like, ‘Oh my god, I just had a drop of 20% of our organic traffic. What happened?’ And I was like, shit, what happened?”

Mada was in for her own surprise.

“Then I looked at our traffic, and our traffic had gone up, because the way we’ve done SEO is not by gimmicks and trying little things. We just rolled with content and if you write with content, Google won’t penalize you for that.”

Outbound Sales is *Not* Blasting Emails

Pouyan Salehi, Co-Founder & CEO at Scratchpad hosted a talk discussing effective outbound sales on May 26 as part of the Pear’s speaker series This is a recap! Watch the full talk at

What’s the best source for leads? How can I automate emails? What tools should I use?

If you’re putting together an outbound sales strategy and asking these questions off the bat, you’ve started off with the wrong questions, and you’re probably in the mindset of blasting emails.

Here’s what Pouyan Salehi, Co-founder and CEO at Scratchpad, has to say about that:

If you want to feel good about the number of people you’ve reached out to and say, ‘Hey, we’ve done activity top of funnel,’ then spray and pray is a great method.’ If you want good results, it’s not.

Why you shouldn’t just “spray and pray”

Why you shouldn’t just “spray and pray”

(1) Spray and pray creates operational debt.

In the early days of being a “zero” founder, the most crucial thing is learning what works and what doesn’t work. Once you know if something works, you can step on the gas and keep throwing more resources on it, you can do a lot more and automate more.

If you’re spraying and paying off the bat, you may get some responses, but because you haven’t put in the work to personalize and make the messaging relevant, you haven’t actually learned anything from the response. You still face the learning challenge, and you still need to do all the segmentation work.

(2) The results are usually just worse.

Just look at your own inbox. We’re all getting flooded with emails now, as more and more companies use automated systems.

(3) You can actually run into technical issues blasting emails.

So, let’s rewind and start with the three key components of great sales: strategy, data, and execution, in the correct order of operations.


The most important tool: your story. Start here. Often, this comes too late or as afterthought, but slowing down and spending some time getting your story right will pay dividends down the road.

Think of this story not just as an “outbound story,” but as your foundational company story, which can help you with fundraising and recruiting later. It captures the benefits and core problems you are solving and for who, what it is you’re actually selling, and how you are different.

The key components of a story are your headline and your messaging framework (pain, priorities, and motivations).

Your Headline

This may seem counterintuitive, but your headline is not what you sell. In fact, what you sell should come in last.

Your headline should instead be the benefit of what you sell, or the customer issues you solve. This is a subtle distinction from describing what your product can do or the features it has.

For example: Scratchpad is the fastest experience for account executives to update Salesforce, take notes and manage your tasks.

This is different from something like: Scratchpad is a Chrome extension that you can access and it’s a freemium model. This comes later.

Your Messaging Framework: Pain, Priorities, Motivation (PPM)

Now is the time to think about the people you are serving and break them out into personas. For each persona, you must deeply understand that they care about.

“Usually you can think about that through: what pains are they facing? What are their priorities or what are they motivated by?” says Pouyan.

Example: if your end user is a salesperson or account executive, it could be their top priority is hitting their quota. They’re also motivated by that because if they hit their quota, their job may be on the line. Another pain they have may be logging activity. They don’t need to do it to hit their quota, but their manager needs it so that they can understand what’s going on, which is annoying.

Don’t overthink this too much. When you’re starting out, just take your best stab and write something down.

Your messaging comes from your work here.

Note: this is not the time to be asking for email templates. Write your own! It depends on who you’re contacting and what it is they care about, or there could be multiple things they care about — which you should have discovered in your thinking above.

What to do if you’re a “zero” founder and don’t know what the story is yet:

This is common in the zero stage and it’s okay — still take 30 minutes to write down your best assumptions. You can come back and modify them as you learn.

This step is absolutely critical, as Pouyan points out:

If we can’t even get them to care about the problem through words, I wonder: why would we spend all this time building the product?

At Scratchpad, Pouyan created a one pager for this, just a “nugget” of a story that he eventually built around.

“In the early days we did a lot of outbound, but we did it solely to see ‘Can we get people to even care about this problem? Does this problem resonate?’ If it does, then it’s our job to solve that problem through a product,” says Pouyan.

This can be done even before you have product!

“You’ll learn a lot about what type of users might be more interesting to solve for first, who has the problem. Or maybe there was a secondary problem you never even thought of. It gets conversations going.”

Things to keep in mind:

  • Nobody cares about how awesome your product is, or who your investors are, or that you went through this awesome accelerator, or made this killer hire, or released a new version.
  • Make your story about them — your prospects and core customers. They need to understand what they are getting out of this and why they should care.
  • The more time you spend empathizing with users, understanding their problems and crafting messaging and, ultimately, solutions for them, the better your results.


You may be asking: Okay, *now* what’s the best data source? Where can I scrape leads? Where can I buy leads?

This section is short because the reality is: there is no one single best data source. It depends on who you’re going after and what industry they’re in — so use multiple sources. Then, clean the data and validate your emails.


Now is the time to combine your strategy and data to execute personalized and relevant communication at scale.

Relevance and personalization are different.

Personalization: “Oh, wow, I saw you went to this school. And we both grew up in this state and now let me talk to you about my product.”

Relevance: “Hey, I noticed your app is really popular in this country, but you haven’t localized it for this country yet.”

Personalization might involve mentioning things like first name, company name, and title in your email. Relevance is mentioning company competitors.

Relevance, in Pouyan’s view, is much more important than personalization, because it shows you’ve done your research and knows what your prospect cares about.

Keep it simple: your goal is simply to start a conversation.

At this point, you may be tempted to pack everything into one outbound email. Do not do this. Remember: you are not trying to get to all the way to close in one email. That’s way too much.

You might not even be trying to schedule that conversation on the calendar yet. Start small and figure out what works.

“The ask could simply be, ‘Hey, does this sound interesting to you?’ And all you’re hoping to get is an email response of ‘Maybe’ — just that there’s some signal on the other side that you can then use to strengthen the conversation,” says Pouyan.

Don’t ignore the neutral responses.

It almost never happens that a cold email is going to elicit something like “Oh, this sounds amazing. Please send me a calendar invite and I’m going to invite my whole team so we can talk about purchasing.”

More often than not, you will receive replies like: “No, thanks. Not ready right now.” “We’re busy. Can you please get back to me next quarter?”

Anything but a hard complete no, Pouyan considers a neutral response. These responses are signals that your messaging just didn’t land in the right area. Maybe it was close, but it didn’t quite hit the pain point.

Here, you need to be ready with objection handling. You need to have a response ready for “Hey, not right now, or we’ve already invested in a different solution,” and similar objections. Pouyan created a series of templates for these.

Unfortunately, we can’t give you the magic words that will get the results you want. That comes from hard work, and at ground zero, this work should be founder-led.

“You learn so much in terms of crafting that narrative, sending it out there, seeing what resonates. And you take that learning, not just for sales, but also in how you position your company. And how you position the product. And what you work on. So the effort has got to be there,” says Pouyan.

It’s like going to the gym. You just gotta show up, and then you’ve got a system for how you work out. You get into that flow.