Startup Library

Sales: Manage a sales lead pipeline

You too can be a high performing salesperson

Many people think you are either “born” a salesperson, or not. But in fact, if you simply prepare properly in advance, anyone can run a successful sales meeting.

By following the following simple steps, we will help you engineer your team into “born” salespeople, in spite of their readiness!

1. Start by understanding where your customer is in the sales process.

Andre Lavigne, a sales professional and sales coach in Montreal, has simplified the sales cycle into 5 basic steps:

  1. Initial Meeting
  2. Alignment/Discovery
  3. Risk and Proofs
  4. Negotiation
  5. “Closing”

You need to meet the sales prospect where they are. You can’t force a negotiation with a prospect who is not even sure they want to talk to you. By taking the time to understand the mindset of the prospect in the sales cycle, you will be able to engage with them in the conversation they are ready to have.
Andre Lavigne.png

2. Set your objectives for your meeting

If you know the kind of conversation the prospect is ready to have, you can set objectives that make sense for that particular discussion.

Here are the objectives for the 5 types of meetings:

  1. Initial Meeting – Create consensus to continue the conversation
  2. Alignment/Discovery – Validate that working together will be mutually profitable
  3. Risk and Proofs – Identify and address any objections or doubts by offering evidence that the value proposition is possible
  4. Negotiation – Plan to ensure a win-win scenario
  5. “Closing” – Build and finalize the contract that reflects the negotiated agreement

Sometimes one meeting can include two or more steps, so be prepared to keep going if the prospect is ready.

Sometimes it takes many meetings to be able to move forward to the next discussion in the sales cycle. Your goal over time is to improve your ability to help your prospect move forward in the cycle, faster and better.

3. Prepare for each meeting

Know your audience

There might be one or more individuals in the audience for any given sales discussion, representing different needs of the organization. As much as possible, take the time to understand the main motivation of each of the different individuals, so that you can be prepared to address their concerns.

Know your meeting type

For each meeting, you can prepare in different ways:

  1. Initial Meeting
    There are a few key questions that will help you run an initial meeting with success:
    The first best question in any initial sales meeting is “I am curious, what was it about our pitch/story that most interested you?”. The response to this question is gold for you, because you now know what is the focus of this prospect and therefore your focus for the conversation.

The second best question is “Why is it so interesting to you?”.

With these two questions answered, you will find it pretty easy to disqualify this prospect if what they are looking for is not what you are offering. And not waste any more of anyone’s time.

If they are looking for what you have to offer, get consensus on what that is.

Feel free to get to know your prospect, but the last question should be around understanding if there is anyone else, and who, in the prospect organization that needs to agree that this is a good thing. Make a list and try to get an understanding of the power dynamics in the group. The persona map is a great framework to help you think about this.

  1. Alignment/Discovery
    The word “discovery” is the most important word in this title. You are there to gather more information to help you understand better the likelihood that you can provide real value to this customer and not put yourself out of business doing so.

Before the meeting, build a list of all of the questions still outstanding for every step of the relationship — from how the prospect buys, to the steps for implementation and training, to standard (and non-standard!) usage, to post sales support. Use your Ideal Customer Profile as a reminder of what a good prospect should look like. This is the stage where you will know enough about whether you want to walk away or run towards this prospect.

  1. Risk and Proofs
    Before this meeting,write down every reason why you think this might be a tricky project and why the prospect maybe shouldn’t work with you — because you know that your prospect is doing the same thing.

And remember that an objection is just a risk that hasn’t yet been discussed. This is actually your opportunity to build a risk mitigation plan together with your prospect. The risks don’t go away, but managing them together makes them a shared challenge instead of just yours alone.

Some of the best proof types are:
• References/Customer visits
• Demo

  1. Negotiation
    “In Business As in Life, You Don’t Get What You Deserve, You Get What You Negotiate”
    The title of a best-selling book by Dr. C. Karrass, the creator of the self described “most successful negotiation seminar in the United States”.

The most important thing to do in order to have a successful negotiation, is to actually know what you want before you start the negotiation.

The visual below is a great template to help you get prepared.
Sales Discussion Management Andre Lavigne.png

  1. “Closing”
    The “closing” discussion is not an end goal but the beginning of the value co-creation between your two organizations that you have been discussing with the prospect throughout your sales discussions.

Here are a few tricks for those discussions:

  • Never bring any new elements to the closing conversations — otherwise, you will have to go back in the sales cycle discussions to work through that point through steps 1-5
  • Be calm, be patience and use SILENCE as a strong tool
  • See yourself as a guide to assisting in getting to the close — you are not trying to convince
  • Make sure you get a signature which is a formal commitment
  • Agree to the next steps to ensure that there is no delay in delivering your value proposition to the prospect-turned-client.

Y Combinator has come up with several sales templates to make it easier for startups to close their first sales, and in 2015, they open sourced all of these sales templates for the benefit of all startups.

Template 📄

The sales template here is specially tailored for software-as-a-service (SaaS) startups – i.e. companies who charge for cloud software on a subscription basis. You should consider YC’s template as a starting point and customize it to meet your needs. They have highlighted the areas that in our experience are most likely to vary startup to startup.


And with that, you have just engineered your sales team to be “born” salespeople!

The content of much of this page is inspired by Andre Lavigne.

Author: Jane Somerville