How to Know When to Sell vs. When to Market to Customers

Posted on Jul 9, 2013 | 33 comments

How to Know When to Sell vs. When to Market to Customers

This is final part of a series that describes a sales methodology for technology companies or frankly many other types of companies, too.

We developed this at our first company and called it PUCCKA – the overall methodology is described here.

PainUnique Selling PropositionCompelling Event. ChampionKey Players such as enemies, sages and blockers.

This post talks about the last part of the PUCCKA methodology – an Aligned Purchasing Process.

What does it mean for the purchasing process to be aligned?

Well think of it this way – you have your sales process. You know exactly when you want to sell to this customer and presumably it’s this quarter!

And with scarce resources it’s your job to decide which door this lead must go through – sales or marketing.

The buying company many not be able to buy in your time frames. And when I say this I’m assuming that you’re already identified the customer pain and talked about how you’re uniquely qualified to solve their business problems.

You’ve therefore “identified the need” and “gotten the need agreed.”

You might even have a “compelling event” that forces a buyer to believe they really need your solution now, now, now.

But the sales don’t always come in that way.


Like it or not enterprise customers have procurement processes, budgeting cycles, decision-making authority, competing interests for time & resources and key meetings that must take place in order for your sale to be approved.

It’s why many modern technology companies prefer to sell individual products to end-buyers who can buy on their credit cards with limited need for approval from others.

That is nice for one-off sales and / or to get your foot in the door of accounts. In order to get rolled out more widely, more pervasively and much more defensively (as in not being kicked out) you often need higher approval, official sanctioning, training budgets, champions, sponsors and internal marketing.

These all involve becoming part of a sales process. And I think of it as a failure of Silicon Valley startups (and occasionally SV VCs who lack an understanding of enterprise purchasing) to assume you don’t need a sales process and sales reps.

If you’re at a startup and new to sales & sales people you might want to read my basic primers:

But how do you know whether or not your prospect is ready to buy this quarter, what her approval levels are, who else needs to be involved in the decision, what key meetings have to take place in order to approval to happen, what the role of procurement and legal will eventually be?

If you read the post on “champions” you’d know that without an insider telling you all of this it’s nearly impossible to navigate corporate purchasing and you you’re potentially wasting valuable resources pursuing a campaign that might not close this quarter – or ever.

So the simplest rule in sales is … ask! I know it sounds trite but believe me when I tell you most people are afraid to ask direct questions like, “who holds the budget to invest in a solution like ours?” or “what is your financial approval authority?” or “are you able to approve a solution like this on your own? And if not, who else would we need to convince in order to secure a sale?”

They understand you’re there to sell your solution. So even if you don’t have a sales background you need to get over your stigma that you’re selling to somebody even though you thought you’d never be doing this.

They do not think you’re there just to be a nice guy. They know you want the business. It is not unspeakable.


If they don’t want to share that information with you then they’re not your champion and you must continue in search of one in order to be worth investing resources in this account.

When asking you will quickly learn if this project is likely to slate for this quarter or in the future. If it is a current quarter opportunity you need to allocate the appropriate level of resources to getting your order finalized.

More often than not the account will be in an “interested but not yet ready to buy” state. So I like to tell sales reps: “your selling process is not aligned with their purchasing process.”

Hand this deal over to marketing to nurture for you. It doesn’t mean zero effort on your part but it means you need to allocate your own personal scarce resources to deals that are more near term or you’ll never close anything.

As a very early-stage startup person you’re used to rigorous prioritization on almost all other parts of your business because you likely work closely with product where these choice are natural. Or thinking about how much capital you have and therefore how many people you can hire – you rigorously prioritize.

Untrained people in sales are less good about prioritization – they like taking meetings with important people who are nice to them.

But you have no choice since in the first few years everything you do is about showing results to justify financing to continue your operations.

And failure to show customer adoption is the death of startup companies.

As the CEO I would work through my sales deals pipelines by doing “pipeline reviews” with individual sales reps and with regional managers.

In order for a deal to be forecast in the current quarter you had to have a champion, identified a budget holder with money to spend, presented the customer with an ROI (return on investment) calculation of the benefit of using our product and the customer had to be in an active review of choosing a supplier of document & collaboration services (the product we offered).

You could often tell when a sales person couldn’t defend having the deal be listed as an A deal (and thus have a high forecast percentage) by having them walk you through each deal.  When I got busy and only had time to review spreadsheets or output from it was impossible to know which deals were “real.”

We’d have deals that seemed “stuck” (were in the “closing within 3 months” pipeline for 9 months) or we’d have sales reps who constantly kept adding new deals and taking out the old “sure deals” that didn’t close.

Only pipeline reviews with tough questions and rigorous PUCCKA checklist helped us figure out how to prioritize our deals.

Lead quality matters because the scarcest resource of a sales rep is actually time.  The reality is that no matter how much you want to sell your products, you can’t push them on a customer who isn’t ready to buy.

“A deals” (closing in next 3 months) should get much of the sales person’s time (say 66-75% of time), “B deals” (3-12 months) should get the balance as each sales rep needs to build their pipeline and bigger deals take time.

And the key to scaling is that “C deals” (1 year or more out) should get almost no time from sales.  They should be owned by marketing.

The role of marketing in managing pipelines is to do two things 1) fill the top end of the funnel with new “qualified” leads (e.g. converted from “suspects” to “prospects”) and 2) managing “C deals.”  Today’s C deals are obviously tomorrow’s A’s & B’s.

Managing C deals is called “nurturing.”

So the best run companies have marketing running activities to nurture their C deals.  Examples activities:

  • Newsletters – one of the goals of newsletters is to keep your company & its products on the consciousness of your “suspects” or future buyers.  C deals go in the newsletter bucket and should be identified as C newsletter companies.  The things you send them should be different than the newsletters you send to existing customers, for example
  • Customer Events – It is far easier to get potential customers interested in your products when they hear actual customers talking about your products and how they are using them.  Suspects & prospects are often in search of success stories from their peers to hear how they’re improving internal operations.  So one of the smartest things we did at was run “city tours” which were basically our existing customers standing up and talking about how they were using our products plus our product management teams talking about future innovation / development.  Customer events are a great way to market to your C deals so that you keep them informed and try to raise their interest levels
  • PR – Some companies are excellent at PR and others don’t put much effort into it at all.  I think PR is an incredibly important activity for technology companies and most companies aren’t very good at it.  I wrote a bit about how to better manage journalist relations in this post.  The reason many companies don’t put enough effort into PR is that PR doesn’t have an immediate translation into sales because it’s most a “C deal” activity.
  • Analyst Relations – In many technology fields analysts are hugely influential in determining enterprise budgets.  Many analysts are great and help customers frame the decisions they need to reach.  Spending time with analysts getting into their “innovator quadrants” will help you manage your C deals and pull them forward to B’s & A’s.

So there you have it: PUCCKA.

A = make sure to “ask” you customers what their purchasing process is to make sure you’re “aligned” and therefore can continue to spend sales resources in stead of marketing resources.

PUCCKA is by no means the only sales methodology and it borrowed heavily for sales books and training programs we had all been on.

To have NO process or methodology and give no thought to suspects, prospects, leads and current customer accounts is madness. A surefire way to build a product that isn’t consumed as much as it could be.

  • Greg Berry

    As someone who sells to government, the A part of the PUCCKA process, in my opinion, is the most important. Each agency seems to be different with respect to who is authorized to pull the trigger and who has to go through 10 committee meetings for the simplest of decisions. It is extremely important to get an understanding of this as soon as possible and there is no way to do that without asking.

  • Peter karceski

    Perfect timing as always. Thank you Mr. Suster!

  • Philip Sugar

    Analyst Relations.

    This one I have never mastered. Yes you can talk to the Gartner’s and Forrester’s of the world. But they eventually will want money. Serious money for a startup.

  • bryanweis

    Hey Mark, great article! This is the first I’ve heard of PUCCKA; sounds like a very effective sales style

    I have been trying to get in touch with you for a while now regarding the University of Cincinnati’s Bearcat Launchpad program; a new student run business accelerator program for university students.

    I know you’re incredibly busy but it would be amazing to get an hour of face time with you on Skype to speak with our teams this upcoming school year.

    We’ve secured some other big name VC’s such as Brad Feld, Keith Rabois, Ben Ling, Mo Koyfman, and a bunch of others. We would love to have you join in on the fun. Let me know if this is something you might be interested in helping out with, it would be great to have you!


  • John’s Jobs

    To build on the newsletter topic … something super basic / easy to do that any startup can also do with little / no budget that will automate some of the nurturing — Use your email marketing provider to set up a drip campaign. All the major email svc providers support drips and I know with my provider(MadMimi) I get it (and use it!) as part of their $10/month plan.

    This capability will let you ‘drip’ a series of emails that are delivered automatically over the span of several weeks or months to your prospects.

    Each email should add value to the potential customer but in a slightly different way (hopefully incremental, working them up to the point where they want to buy). For example, maybe in the 1st week they get a couple of links to some interesting blog posts. In the 3rd week, they get pointers to some interesting articles that buyers in your space would care about. In the 5th week … (etc)

    Also, you’ll be able to see who is interacting with the emails and to what messages they respond. This data will help you decide if it is time for you or your inside sales team to call back into that account.

    BTW the guys at Hubspot have a great 87pg eBook on the topic of email lead nurturing – (reg required). They have built this functionality into their suite, as have most marketing automation vendors. But like I said, you can do this very frugally as well with most of the regular email service providers.

  • Robert Haydock

    This is one of the most useful posts I have read! Thanks for breaking down the process of assessing your pipeline.

  • William Mougayar

    I used to run AR as part of my corp mktg group. Yes, it is a pay to play, at the end of the day, but there’s something Gartner does called “Cool Vendors reports”, and a startup can get on these without spending a dime. Just by getting in front of the right analyst. I did that with Eqentia in 2010 and we were included in the Cool Vendors report for Content Management.

    But beyond that, you have to spend a little. It’s commensurate with the size of your company. Expect to pay more as you grow, and they understand that.

    A little known fact is that Analysts are more influential by what they say vs. what they write. We see what they write, but their customers call them and ask “I’ve got this problem, who should I talk to.” And if they have seen what you’ve done with other clients, you’ll be on that verbal list.

    Getting on the quadrants is not for the faint of heart. I’ve managed more than a dozen such processes with Forrester and Gartner, and it requires a complete orchestration of resources to hit all their criteria. But it’s fun at the end when you’re on it.

  • William Mougayar

    Great post, and I like the Nurturing tactics. I just had a thought. How about a post on Sales Closing Techniques? You won’t get a sale if you don’t close properly.

  • RogerVaughn

    Mark your blog is becoming my bible. Sometimes making individual sales by single end users leads to having a champion so it shouldn’t be overlooked, but it’s also not a replacement for proper sales. Also, lead-scoring based on online body language can at least demonstrate interest level, though leads qualification needs to be done by a human of course. – RogerV in Studio City

  • James Ferguson @kWIQly


    This post is about timing as much as anything, and we (of veritable flea size) are bagging elephants.

    Issues of “feast and famine” come in huge slugs (another animal ) and they materialize unpredictably.

    But that’s where we are – so I would love to hear your views on whether a really small startup should consider backing-off the sales funnel (slowing down B’s and even A’s ) while learning to scale.

    PS Another really insightful post – thanks

  • awaldstein

    Yup…been there as well.

    The world is different today.

    While selling into the enterprise honestly has not changed, marketing to the enterprise has changed dramatically. You used to have to market down, with the reports as a tool as the sharp end of the stick.

    This is changing dramatically and the people, even the influencers are way more targetable than before.

    is it useful and cool to be in a Quandrant, certainly. Is it essential or even on the radar for many, if not most companies? Not in my opinion.

    I helped a client recently get set to sell into the government. We did hire an ‘expert’, did create a report…and it did the job. Never considered the big dinosaurs as an avenue.

    Every strategy that makes Garner and Forrester more vestigial, makes me happy.

  • msuster

    Interesting. I haven’t sold much to government (not brave enough!) but that makes sense. Thanks for adding.

  • msuster

    True. They want money. There are many agencies so getting on some lists makes sense. Plus the investment banker lists. It doesn’t happen by accident – it takes effort. Eventually you need to be on G & F so as you scale – unfortunately – you have to spend money on it.

  • Philip Sugar

    I believe you are right and it does make me happy.

    The SV startups have it half right. Enterprises are now demanding much more efficient low cost software and deployments. This is true, because they see it when they buy their personal software. But you still have to sell to them, and that costs real money.

    However wasting six figures to get into a “quandrant” and passing that cost to onto the Enterprise is going away.

  • msuster

    thanks, william. said perfectly. and congrats on the great coverage on your project on that other VC blog 😉

  • awaldstein

    I spent about a third of my career in this space.

    A recent engagement with two clients, one selling into the big enterprise, the other into the government, clarified that this change is real.

    Good stuff. I never liked the big analysts firms. I never like any establishment that bends the markets to their rules.

    First they become vestigial (they are there now I think), then they will try to be relevant, then, hopefully, they will be extinct.

    William Mougayar may have a different view as he has a lot of experience here.

  • msuster

    I agree that it’s less important than it was. when you are ready to scale (going from $10-50 million) then it is still vital. It WILL drive business. Period. Regardless how many of us feel about pay-to-play.

  • msuster

    Skype? Sure. Happy to. email

  • msuster

    great addition. thank you!

  • awaldstein

    I paid the piper when I had companies at that stage so yes, I agree.

    Today, I’d love to have someone bridging $50M who can speak to this.

    I’m a pragmatic marketer. I’m also at my core a believer that change is happening and recent experiences are showing me that the seeds of this is real.

  • msuster

    Sure. Any ideas in specific? Most of my closing experiences are quite tactical meat-and-potatoes.

    1. Have a champion

    2. Find budget

    3. Find out who key decision makers are

    4. Find out process for agreeing a deal. Usually it’s a meeting to approve the spent

    5. Know who’s at that meeting and who else is competing

    6. Make sure you get to as many people in the room as possible in some way

    7. Ask your champion before hand how the meeting will go and ask whether they plan to champion you

    8. Make sure your references are proactively calling your prospects to provide more 3rd party support

    9. Make sure you know all blockers (IT, security, legal, procurement) and how to navigate

    10. Call right before the meeting to make sure all is going to plan

    11. Wait by the phone afterwards. Good news always comes quickly, bad news doesn’t

    And fight like hell for a signature after you win because many deals go awry after you “win” … see

    What else you got?

  • bryanweis

    Thanks for the quick response, I just shot you an email!

  • Philip Sugar

    That is your “get fat” theory which I agree with. At a certain point wasting some money isn’t going to hurt. It absolutely is a good lead source.

    I will tell you from the trenches that it means much less than it used to, it has not gone away. But it is going away.

    There are a couple of reasons. One the internet makes it easy to find information. Being at the top of Google search is important having half the first ten slots for your spot is important.

    Second the pay for play only works for so long. Sometime early this century the drive for revenue pushed those firms to be PAY-to-play. We all realized that if you didn’t pay you weren’t going to play. But the consumers of that information really didn’t. At some point it became so blatant that the consumers figured out what was going on, and if somebody asks you about Gartner and you laugh and make a snide comment many will now laugh with you.

    All??? No way. But remember this. Those that place the most credence in those firms for information are the least likely to buy from a young company.

  • William Mougayar

    :) Thanks, and I was going to ping you once I get my ducks aligned. I consider you, Brad and Fred as the great 3 VC educators.

  • Hany Pham

    Hi Mark, thanks for a wonderful series on the enterprise sales methodology. What I found most valuable about your posts is that they are reaffirming of the fact that sales is basically a scientific process. It is often the case that a salesperson will be confronted with what looks like a “no” however your posts are instructional on how to progress a deal to the next stage notwithstanding the apparent obstacles that are encountered.

    We’ve developed software that processes documents with OCR in the cloud. My role is to sell it to banks and other large enterprises (to automate loan applications for instance) so your posts have been especially timely and helpful.

    Well done and thank you once again!

  • Philip Sugar

    I think getting 8 is really tough. Having all good references is what I want, all of mine have been way too busy to give a shit about me. See Fred’s post today.

    Of all of the things that I think make people queasy about books on sales is closing techniques. This is cheezy shit that people hate: So which will you take the blue or the green?
    What will it take to get you to buy this today?
    So what you are telling me is you don’t want more sales this quarter?

    That is why I agree with your reply.

  • MJGottlieb

    Hi Mark- I love this. Especially how you break down the A,B & C deals within a pipeline. I very much can relate to the importance of syncing up with your buyers schedule as I was in fashion for 17 years and everything was based upon when their OPEN TO BUY was. If we missed the window, we missed the entire season which was something that was very hard to recover from. Something that, like everything else, I had to learn the hard way. Thanks man- MJ

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  • Jay Oza


    Enjoy your posts.

    How do you deal with internal politics in a company during a complex sales situation? This is rarely ever covered in any sales advice.

    I am sure you have run into situations where a “bully with the juice” has made a decision to go with your solution. At this point, another bully rears his ugly head that I refer to as the “bully with the fuse” whose sole intention is to blow up the deal since he can’t see the other bully win for political reasons.

    Have you ever run into this? How did you handle it?

  • bryanweis

    Hey Mark, I just wanted to check with you and make sure that address is correct, I haven’t heard anything. Thanks again for the help!

  • William Mougayar

    Wow. These are great ones. I was thinking generically, like this:

    1. Assumptive close – you’re confident & you lead them to a yes, acting as if they
    already said yes

    2. Fanning questions close – keep asking why this/why that until you get to the bottom of
    the objection, then handle it and close

    3. Time sensitive close – This offer will expire on Friday & I Can’t get you the
    same deal after, or the price will go up next month

    4. Introductory offer close – We’re only giving this deal for the first 5 clients, and I’ve got 12 prospects already

    5. Peer pressure close – all your colleagues have chosen this solution, it’s safe

    6. Hard close – go over their heads to the financial person and close them based on
    financial terms (do it when you’ve got nothing to lose & you’re desperate)

    7. Relationship close – make them buy because they like you and trust you. Features become secondary, because you will make it work for them.

    8. The one-feature close – there’s this one feature they really love and no one else
    has it. Remind them of its benefits and close by saying that’s worth it alone.

    9. Empathy close – my quarter ends this week, and I would really appreciate if you helped
    me get over my quota (a bit cheesy, but works sometimes if you know them well)

    10. Discount close – If I got you this discount by tomorrow, do we have a deal?

    11. Support related close – If we don’t close now, we won’t be able to schedule your
    training for another month

    12. Walk-away close – Act as if they are not going to buy, and you’re preparing to walk away (reverse psychology)

    13. Financial or competitive benefits close – Show them & prove to them the value of your solution, and close based on that

    Note: Not all of them work in all situations. Of course, the context is what determines applicability. Also, in today’s extensive tele-sales and inside-sales approaches, some work better in person than over the phone, depending on the relationship you have been able to strike with the prospect

    Anyways, keep the ABC – Always Be Closing…always keep progressing towards a close.

  • Jonathan Strauss

    test test test

  • TJ Hale

    A year ago would have been my preference, but I’ll take it!

    Thanks M.S. for another great article.