Startup Sales: How to Sell One Product to Customers of All Sizes

It's hard enough to sell to a single kind of customer - how do you sell to many different personas? RetireUp's Brian Bossler has figured out startup sales for many audiences.

Brian Bossler is the Chief Operating Officer at RetireUp, a Chicago based retirement planning software company. Below is a transcript of his presentation at the January 27, 2017 Here’s How Startup Marketing Conference, where he shared advice for growing revenue without a big sales team.

Hi, my name is Brian Bossler. I’m responsible for revenue and operations at RetireUp. We are a team of around 20 people who have been around since 2012.

We started with a need from a financial advisor. He was looking for a way to talk with clients about complex ideas in a manner that they could understand, all while creating a comprehensive plan so that he could be sure he was doing what was in the best interest of the clients. There was nothing on the market, so that's where we started.

We liked the idea behind what the need was. Who are we selling to? Financial advisors, right? Individual financial advisors who are meeting with clients.

We developed a whole model around that: sales, marketing and support. What we found was that our sweet spot was not the people who'd been financial advisors for 40 years who knew what they were doing and weren't going to try anything new, but it was the people who were technology forward, maybe working with younger clients and just getting started in the industry.

It was a pretty easy pitch to be able to say to somebody, "Use this technology. Use our services, so that your clients can get something that is visceral, something that they can understand and react to."

The challenge with it is that financial planning software doesn't just sell itself and to really feel comfortable with it, to pull the trigger on a subscription, they need to be able to understand it.

It takes time, and it isn't an infinitely scalable sales process unless you have a really large sales staff. What we were looking for was a way to do compound growth on our revenue without scaling sales at the same rate.

1.  We started by looking at the value chain

All the MBAs in the room can roll your eyes right now. We started looking at the value chain and I'm not talking about a full value chain analysis but rather asking these questions: who are our customers, what value are they getting out of this, who's upstream from them and who in this market could potentially get value from this software being in the hands of this financial advisor?

2.  We took a look at our customers and examined who is at each one of these steps in the value chain.

If I'm meeting with you about your financial situation and I say, "Hey, you know what? I really think you’d benefit from an annuity, guaranteed income." Where do I, as a financial advisor, find out about this annuity? I'm not Googling it. There is an annuity wholesaler who drops by my office once every two months to talk to me and educate me about this. That annuity wholesaler, who does he work for? He works for an annuity company, right? A company that manufactures financial products.

Ultimately, when a client understands their plan, they take action and move money into a financial product. Who gets benefit from that? And now, how do we target those benefits at each different level of the chain?

Taking a look at each of those steps developed a business case for how a decision maker, that wholesaler or somebody within marketing or business development for an insurance carrier, would benefit from that software being used.

3.  We saw the value in our professional connections and used them to make more

I was going for basically the lowest decision-maker, somebody with the authority to make a decision to get me into large companies.

At that point, we had a base of a little over 1,000 paying customers, but it was obvious who our passionate customers were. The people that, like it or not, had my cell phone number and would call me and say, "You know what, you guys really ought to use this."

People who would regularly say, "You’ve got to call these guys and take a look at their software,” were huge referrals for us.

We would talk to them and work with them to find out who they know, because within the financial industry, as within every industry, there are the connections. And for our really passionate users, it was a natural linkage. They were proud to say, "hey, I found this, you oughta take a look at it."

4.  We reached out to our targets and differentiated our specific function in their business

It was a matter of making phone calls repetitively, day in and day out for a little over a year. But, after having targeted about 40 potential decision-makers, you have different approval thresholds and different budgeting calendars.

Being cognizant of where you fit in that scheme is essential. What we're really looking to do is get into the easiest access point where we can say, "yes, we have a relationship there and money's flowing," and then we can build out from there.

5.  We use good lawyers.

We use Meyer Law here in Chicago and they're incredible. I feel like their only client, though I know that they have a lot more.

Now, three of the top five global insurance carriers are our customers and we are their primary sales tool for illustrating different products to financial advisors. The same exact software, completely undifferentiated, is used by the sales people to say, "Let me explain to you what the Allianz 222 Income Rider is."

So you get into one step of the chain and the other ones tip over pretty quickly. We have carriers now awarding sponsored seats and paying subscriptions for their top producers. They want the financial advisors who sell the most of their product to sell more, so they put our software in their hands.

When you have insurance carriers that have multi-million dollar marketing budgets and when you have middle men in the industry who want to advertise the fact that, "Hey, you do well, I'm gonna give you this software.” They are all marketing on our behalf.

They're going to our target market, since they get benefit and are in our market, they care about the same people that I care about. Since they're now convinced that they’re better off with our software being used by our target market, they promote us. And the people they are reaching out to are fully qualified financial advisors that do exactly what we do.

I would love to tell you that this all was the intent from the get-go, but really it just started off with a, "Huh, somebody's on the phone and he wants to pay for somebody else's software. That's weird."

It evolved over time, but by focusing on that value chain and figuring out where you can continue to use that same product, and get it promoted and paid for at different levels, we've seen a tremendous compounding effect, way more than we could have achieved simply by increasing sales staff or adjusting our marketing approach.

It's really just exponential growth rather than just linear growth as we've gone along.