The Single Most Important Question For A Startup

What Is The Right Question?

The single most important question in startup sales is this: is getting in front of the right person 5% of the sales process or 90%.

No other question matters more, for the most subtle of reasons, because this one question, almost never verbalized, drives the entire behavior of the sales and sometimes, marketing organization.

It is our thesis that getting in front of the right person is at least 90% of the enterprise B2B tech sales process. The derivative thesis is that if you are in front of the right person, or close to them with a solution that fits a problem, a sales monkey can finish the sale. Countless giant legacy enterprise software firms prove this every day.

Nothing separates established, legacy mindsets from startup mindsets more than this one question.


Legacy enterprise software firms are already in front of the customer.

Everyone knows Oracle, VMware, EMC, IBM, HP. Thus, for them, getting in front of the right person is no big deal. They just call and make an appointment. How hard can it be?

Unfortunately they seldom have the right solution for a problem that requires a disruptive solution.

Try calling to make an appointment with a software product that is underfunded, has zero name recognition, when you do not even have the detailed lists of who the right person might be at your prospect.

Just try cold calling your way into a place where you are unknown—you will have hit rates lower than junk mail for high net worth individuals.

So for a startup, getting to the right person is no trivial exercise. It can be literally 95% of the effort—measured in dollars, or time, or any other yardstick.

Obvious you say. Sure, when it is explained this way.

So answer this: why is well over 95% of sales training at startups focused around parts of the sales process outside of the skills necessary to find the right person?

Why are well over 90% of the steps monitored in the CRM system around processes AFTER the key person is found?

Why do so many startups use Hubspot demand gen spam machines when what is needed is surgical precision both in message and tailoring it to just the right person? A true quality versus quantity tradeoff.

Why is there so little focus on territory level business development—recruiting boutique solution partners and ecosystem partners who are the trusted advisors for the prospect and can take the startup rep in the door.

Why, during almost every interview process, is territory management not even touched upon?

Firms often have candidates give a sales presentation or some other later step sales cycle exercise. Why not require a detailed presentation on how to develop a territory, the 90-day plan launch plan?

A few years ago I worked with a startup IT transparency firm, with a new, innovative product that was hard to explain and did not have a single reference in Texas and surrounding states. To my astonishment, their sales management was 100% process focused.

Sales training was literally days of presentation practice. The head of the sales engineers gave lectures on useless trivia like the buyer’s limbic brain waves. Every other quarter, the entire sales team was crammed in a room for a week for more and more product training even though the product never changed much.

That is where I learned the secret.

I had not wasted my time on sales process. I built partner relationships and they were taking us into more and more new opportunities. I thought sales process was useless if you were not in a sales cycle.

They disagreed, as process people typically do, because it is all they know.

I recall at one point, they came to me and said nobody could handle the number of deals I was managing. They could not map my process to their rigorous 7 steps. Yet, although they had 17 reps, I had developed 50% of the pipeline of the company.

At the end of the year, my region was the top region both in the company and later in the history of the company.  Starting with no customers, no leads.

And their process reps?

To date, almost 500% turnover. Almost nobody makes quota. Their financials show that they must spend 60% of their revenue on sales and marketing.  The company has not turned a profit in 8 years and has had public devaluations of their equity. The founders and VCs are desperate to unload.

But they have great sales processes.   They can tell exactly where they are: NOWHERE

So now you know why the earlier question is the single most important question for any startup.

Learn tactics that get you to the early adopter who is looking for you—because when you do, you are 95% of the way home.