The straight dope: How to ramp up sales at your startup

Paul Emond knows his stuff when it comes to sales.

The entrepreneur who launched his first tech business in 1993 is currently CEO of Versature, a cloud-based business phone solutions provider.

Emond has more than two decades of business expertise, mostly focused on management, sales and marketing. In 2012, Versature was named Ottawa’s small business of the year by OBJ and the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.

Here are some of his thoughts and tips on taking a tech startup from its first sale to a successful base of subscribers.  This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

TECHOPIA: How do you find your initial clients?

EMOND: Oh, it’s been a long time since I’ve done that (laughs). It’s about getting yourself out there, meeting people, inbound marketing, getting face-to-face with people. That’s the initial stuff. With the first 10 customers, you’ve got to get your feet on the street and get stuff done.

TECHOPIA: How do you grow your client base?

EMOND: The best thing to do is to leverage those customers you’ve got for referrals, whether it’s industry referrals or companies in their space who maybe will find the same kind of utility in whatever you’ve given them. These days it’s all about inbound marketing and making sure you are able to get the ideas that you want out there into the world and let them know what it is you’ve got to offer.

TECHOPIA: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are not as skilled on the sales side of the business?

EMOND: I would advise to find a partner (laughs). If you’re an engineer, you’re really good at what you do but you can’t learn the sales side adequately.

I have a really good idea of what I’m good at and I have a really good idea of what I’m not good at. The only way when you’re really small to get that kind of help and expertise is to find a partner that’s willing to invest the time and effort that you are.

When you’re a little larger and you have some income and some excess cash, you can hire for those things. At the beginning it’s pretty hard. At the beginning you need those three founders: the technical person, the salesperson and the operations guy. If you’re all three, that’s great, but that’s hard to find.

TECHOPIA: What did you wish you knew starting out in relation to sales?

EMOND:  I hired my VP of sales recently and what he brought was a network of people. That is really important when you get to that level, but you can have a network like that even when you’re starting out. Let’s say you’re in school and you’re thinking of starting something. I just started my own business and got going, but really I would have been a lot better off going to work somewhere for a little while, building my network, then going out on my own.

It’s hard to start out when you know nobody. If you have that network of people you’ve worked with or people you know in the industry, then you’re a lot better off.

TECHOPIA: How does B2B sales change versus B2C?

EMOND:  B2B is all about relationships where B2C is more transactional. In B2B you really have to build that relationship. That’s the problem with scaling my business right now because you have to maintain that relationship down the chain of employees. I used to know every single one of my customers and I don’t anymore.

Making sure that the kind of relationship that I want my customers to have from a sales perspective goes down the line, goes down through my VP of sales, through my salespeople. We have a team of 10 now, so you have to make sure that the quality control is there. The important part is to make sure that these connections are happening.

TECHOPIA: Any last tips?

EMOND:  Don’t go out on your own before you have at least 500 contacts on LinkedIn. Build your network to avoid spinning your wheels.

TECHOPIA: Any good sales stories?

EMOND: My biggest and most lucrative contract in my first business came as a result of talking up another salesperson waiting at reception with me before a big presentation. You never know where business will come from. Talk to anyone who will listen.

“I have a really good idea of what I’m good at and I have a really good idea of what I’m not good at. The only way when you’re really small to get that kind of help and expertise is to find a partner that’s willing to invest the time and effort that you are. At the beginning you need those three founders: the technical person, the salesperson and the operations guy.” — PAUL EMOND, CEO, VERSATURE