Why Your Startup Needs a Sales Methodology

Posted on Jun 13, 2013 | 25 comments

Why Your Startup Needs a Sales Methodology

This article originally appeared on Inc.com

Like most startup entrepreneurs, when I began my first company in 1999 I had no formal sales experience.

I did have the wherewithal to visit potential customers and try to understand the pain points that I thought could be solved with our solution.

This is a very important to do when you first start a company. It’s what I call “the evangelical phase” of a company in which you’re out trying to persuade customers that a product you’ve designed is going to meet their needs better than other solutions on the market.

Invariably your first efforts at product won’t quite hit the mark – and this is OK.

It’s OK because in an era where you can much more rapidly prototype and build products it is far more beneficial to launch your first version, get initial customer traction and then talk to your customer base to understand how well it meets their needs.

Steve Blank calls this “customer development” in which you built an initial product that is in search of “product / market fit.” In non-tech speak, this is where your product solves the need of a customer segment well enough that many customers in that segment are willing to pay you money for your product.

And when you achieve product / market fit your company often ramps revenue very fast and you need to build an organization to address it from demand generation (aka marketing) to sales discovery to implementation and after-sales support.

But before you achieve product / market fit you’re often in “consultative sales” mode where your objective is to tease out customer needs. And often your solution won’t solve them entirely so you’ll often have to allow open-access to your product or integrate it with other solutions.

In my journey to better understand the sales process, my management team and I developed a sales methodology. It was really a common language we could all use with each other that became really important as we added new sales people and new geographic territories.

It helped make sure that we all thought about our sales campaigns in a uniform way and that we had a common language that would help us decide where to spend our limited resources.

After all, the golden rule in sales is “qualify, qualify, qualify” specifically because you always have limited resources and you must put them against the highest potential opportunities weighted for probability and deal size.

I’m going to set up the framework today and in future posts I’ll drill down into each area.

We called our methodology PUCCKA

= Pain. Unique Selling Proposition. Compelling Event. Champion. Key Players. Aligned Purchasing Process.

We were based in England and it was a play on the British Slang “Pukka,” which means high quality and genuine and was popularized by one of our favorite chef’s – Jamie Oliver.

In short:

Pain is where you identify a business problem your prospect has and begin to get acceptance that there is a real need for a solution. This answers the question of “why buy anything?” question in sales.

Unique Selling Proposition or USP is the things that your product is uniquely positioned to solve. If a customer has pain they and you get them to articulate this the next step is to show you can solve that problem.

If you make headway don’t be so naïve as to think your prospect – however friendly they are to you – won’t go out and search for alternate solutions. They now know they have a problem! And it’s their job to make sure they talk with multiple vendors to find out where the best fit for their pain really is.

USP answers the “why buy me?” question in sales.

Compelling Event is the thing that forces your prospect to realize they need to kick off a project immediately. The most compelling events are often driven by market conditions (regulation that forces your prospect to implement a system or a workplace incidence that causes them to implement systems to follow procedures more carefully).

When external factors drive adoption of your solution you have instant product / market fit.

But you can’t count on this so you must create your own compelling events and the only way I know how is a business case / return-on-investment (ROI) study.

If you can show a customer is losing business or money the pain is a lot more compelling.

Compelling event answers the final question in sales, “Why buy now?” which is the hardest question to answer. Often customers will think your product is useful but just don’t have the time, budget or inclination to adopt your solution without a compelling event.

Champion is the person who drives through the approval to give the go ahead (and secures budget) to your product or company. Orders don’t fill out themselves – you need somebody who will take a risk on you and guide you through he process. A champion is somebody with both “influence” and “authority.” This is in contrast to NINAs.

Key Players are the other people involved in the sales process including enemies, technical experts, sponsors, etc. The most telling sign of an inexperienced sales person is that they meet one person in an organization that is nice to them and they spend all their time with this one individual.

The problem with this is that if a customer has a real problem then often your competitors are in there talking with them as well and if you’re not meeting and neutralizing the people who support your competitors you’re in for some nasty surprises.

Aligned Purchasing Process is the act of your customer being ready to buy when you’re ready to sell.

It’s your job to figure this out. You might have a customer with a pain that they’ve agreed with you and they like how your solution uniquely solves their problem. But they simply might have more urgent pains their solving at the moment.

Or perhaps your customer is in a budget freeze or the key resource who was allocated to lead your project has just resigned.

The sales team’s job is to figure out whether the customer not only has a need but also has budget, resources and an approval process to work with you.

If they don’t then it’s a case of putting your prospect into a “marketing funnel” so that non-sales resources can focus on staying in touch with the customer through white papers, seminars, etc. while your sales people focus on the near-term deals and hitting your quarterly targets.

So there you have it. PUCCKA. In the next post I’ll go more in depth into “pain.”

Photo Credit – Photo of Jamie Oliver from filming of “Food Revolution” in Santa Monica as posted on Flickr.

  • http://twitter.com/robbieab Robbie Abed

    I seriously steal everything that you write. I used this “methodology” in a presentation yesterday in where we were talking about how to attract & sell more enterprise clients. They asked what the sales method should be, and it was the next slide in my deck. I gave you credit of course!

  • http://www.Ocatalog.com/ Rahul Asanikar

    As always, the article is wonderful. The word Puccka is exactly opposite to Tuccka (in Hindi language) which means hitting the target by being extremely lucky. The article title could have been Puccka and Tuccka :-)

  • ryanmettee26

    Nothing like another awesome sales acronym. Thanks Mark, good stuff as always. I think the “compelling event” phase is often pushed aside by many entrepreneurs. You might have a killer product that offers a great product/market fit but the timing is not right for the prospect. I’ve heard the “compelling event” also referred to at a “change event” or “trigger event” when something external (or internal) happens to the company or decision making team which instantaneously create a need for a product/service. When you have a product that requires a relationships/consultative sell vs. a transactional product, it is absolutely critical the sales team reaches out to these decisions makers as quickly as possible and communicates how their product/service solves problems or fills a void uncovered by this change event.

  • http://www.justanentrepreneur.com Philip Sugar

    This will be a great series. It might not get as much following, but for those building real companies it is critical.

    It also is the exact way I like to look at sales pipeline.

    I hate the funnel approach where you try and assign probabilities and then multiply by expected value to get a forecast. That just doesn’t work for a complex sale.

    If you don’t know what the why now is you don’t have shit.

    So its good to understand, these are the people in pain.

    These are the people in pain and are evaluating competitors (having a salesperson say there are no competitors in a deal is just as bad as having an entrepreneur say their company has no competitors) Now we can say where we stand.

    Now you need to know the why now. Is it an event, or is it something they committed to management?

    Now we can concentrate on how we get the ball over the line which is why the next three are important.

  • Tyler Muse

    What are your thoughts on the SPIN method posed by Neil Rackham (Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-payoff)? Seems like you hit these points early (PUC) while the remaining points focus on actual logistics to close the sale.

  • http://www.playbasis.com/ robzepeda

    Guilty of also being an entrepreneur with no formal sales experience. But reading Dan Pink’s latest book really drove home the fact that we are all in sales now, whether we realize it or not. Your blog, Steve Blank’s Customer Development ethos, and Dan Pink have all been tremendously influential. Thank you

  • John Timmons

    Fantastic article! It seems so straightforward when you set it out like that. I do see a fear of taking a product to market to help define and focus the problem which is being solved.

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  • SallyBroom

    This is such a brilliant post and rings insanely true. PUCCKA distills the reality of building a business/sales strategy into actionable chunks, which is one of the most valuable gifts to startups – thanks Mark!

  • jamesoliverjr

    Mark, it’s like your sitting on the wall in my office and home.

    As you know, I recently finished an accelerator with an MVP, and a B2B channel focus. I also fired my developer for mis-managing deployment of the code, lack of accountability, etc., and, naturally, this has been a bit of a set-back since I’ve been using consultants in his place. Fortunately, I just hired a tech co-founder who starts next week.

    What’s interesting though is now that I’m focused on mothers, female DIYers, and new brides, I’m working to generally improve the website, but specifically, create an environment that is appropriate for my new target.

    Consumer feedback has been consistently really good. BUT because my product (WeMontage) is not a necessity, I’m trying to figure out what the compelling events are to speed up the sales cycle.

    This recent review of my product is a perfect example. Read the comments section, which is filled with glowing reviews. I even had one photo blogger on twitter yesterday tell me WeMontage is one of the best ideas for photos she’s ever seen.


    The problem is few of these people have moved to even use the web app.

    I’d love to get your thoughts, if you have any.

    And thanks for always keeping it so real.

  • http://blog.kwiqly.com/ James Ferguson @kWIQly

    Mark – great post – this one copied immediately to our Sales and Tech Teams because in the early days everyone does everything.

    Interesting for me was your highlighting a “compelling event” –

    We found by chance (er… that is by talking to clients) that our tool was as valuable for winning tenders for our clients than for delivering during contracts.

    This naturally aligns the technical representatives of our clients with the sales / marketing representation. And it appears when Sales/Marketing and Engineering are signing from the same song sheet – audience grows easily.

    Now APP is definitely our issue – I look forward to the post !

  • http://blog.kwiqly.com/ James Ferguson @kWIQly

    I so agree with

    >>I hate the funnel approach where you try and assign probabilities and then multiply by expected value to get a forecast. That just doesn’t work for a complex sale.

    We need to sell about a few major resellers per country who will carve out the market.

    Few major events inevitably become dots not lines !

    But dots have their detail, and I think that is what Mark is exploring

  • Carlos Diaz

    Great post Mark. After 3 startups I can’t agree more with you. A startup needs a (real) sales methodology. I have been using different strategies and the one you present here is basically the only one that works. In fact Sales has nothing to do with probability, it is just about where you are in this process and the step tells you the probability you have to close the deal. If you want to avoid the classic sales situation “I promise you, I can feel it, we are going to close this deal next month. I have a friend there who told me so…”

  • http://www.scoutzie.com/?utm_source=disqus&utm_medium=display_name&utm_campaign=disqus_display Kirill Zubovsky | Scoutzie.com

    Thank you. Very timely for us.

  • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

    That’s a great framework for getting aligned internally & getting everybody on the same page.

    It’s surprising how many startups don’t have a sales culture & delay taking it seriously,- mostly seen in B2C.

    The other factor is that you’re almost always competing with other projects that the buyer has. So, linking your product to their Pain point is key because in their mind, they always start with the question – “What if I don’t buy” it instead of “What if I buy it”.

    You need to survive their process of elimination & prioritization.

  • Darius

    Great Article, thanks Mark – one typo:

    “But they simply might have more urgent pains their solving at the moment.”
    -> “they’re”

  • http://www.pitchstorm.tv LucienBurm

    Apparently, this article proofs it’s own point. It seems that by the response in the comments many have a compelling event to use this post in their current sales activity. You should make this a product and charge 😉

  • LisaLaMagna

    Excellent article. If you’re interested in building a sales methodology for your company along a very similar model, I highly recommend Paula Brogan in Mountain View.

  • http://rivalry.com/ Jon Birdsong


    You are so on point.

    We’re 6 months in, have an MVP but definitely not a product-market fit. Hope to get it with enough iteration and market feedback within the next 6 months.

    We’re building a sales process management tool right now that helps companies define their sales process, setup key business metrics, and provide immense visibility within their Salesforce.com account.

    Writing just to say how spot on this article is for entrepreneurs.


    CEO | Rivalry.com

  • http://rivalry.com/ Jon Birdsong

    That’s what we’re doing!

  • Dale Noe

    This was a great selling method twenty years ago but is passe in today’s competitive environment. Customers today are much more savvy and have already identified their pain. They live with it everyday and in most cases already have solutions in mind or are working toward fixing it. What they are looking for today are salespeople who are “challenging” them. By looking at ways to increase their business today and down the road and presenting solutions they haven’t thought of. That’s what customers are looking for. If you are only approaching them from a pain moment now, you may get a one-time sale but you will not get a long-term customer from it. Moment of pain and relationship selling are old school and customers just don’t have time for it anymore.

  • LisaLaMagna

    Dale, your comment is very provocative and I agree that customers are living with their pain every day, and they know it. “Presenting solutions they haven’t thought of…” instead of offering a new/cheaper/faster version of the existing solution set. I’d be interested in hearing more from your point of view.

  • Dale Noe

    Thanks Lisa. The quick synopsis is being pro-active sales vs. reactive in sales.

    For example, if you are pro-active, you present solutions to enhance business or keep the customer ahead of their competition or fix a problem they haven’t identified yet. If you are reactive, then you simply react to the customer’s requested need just like all of your competitors do.

    With my sales force currently, we focus very much on several key items starting with strong pre-call planning and discovery. The discovery consists of active listening once we have asked impact questions (most of these have been prepared beforehand). By finding out about the customer and their business we can then better formulate a solution that they have never even realized they needed but told you during the discovery session(s). If you do hit objections, immediately return to the pre-call/discovery mode. This is a signal that we missed something during those phases. Additionally, this allows you to get ahead of your competition as they have not even identified these solutions for the customers.

    This dramatically increases your closing rate and increases the partnership factor. Now, the critical portion is to continue to repeat this process or your will fall back into the relationship sales process and not retain the customer. I look at this way. If we are truly the experts in whatever field we represent, then why are we not providing our customer’s new ideas into the respective industry or improving on already established processes?

  • http://www.ukleatherfactory.com/ Kaptain Mirza

    Great piece there. Very practical and the process is not simple. It needs championing at every end through every funnel.


  • Nabiha

    @rahulasanikar:disqus Tuccka vs. Puccka – that was hilarious.
    Great article! Read and digested every word of this. Very insightful. I wish you could’ve elaborated “Champion” more. Can anyone describe the champion in more detail here? Thanks for all the help!