5 Surprising Sales Lessons From A Startup Service Business


Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie is the best-selling author of Email Persuasion and the creator of Unsnooze Your Inbox - *the* guide to crafting engaging emails and newsletters that captivate your audience, build authority and generate more sales.


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5 Surprising Sales Lessons From A Startup Service Business

Ganesh RaoToday's post is from Dr Ganesh Rao, founder of a comparison website for medical and optical treatments. One side of the business is the online site for consumers. But the other side is very much a service business: Ganesh and his business partner provide a service to clinics to help them get more clients (via the site). And they have to market and sell that service just like any other service business.

Ganesh has written this article to share his experiences as a professional who'd never had to sell before, suddenly thrust into a world where if you don't sell, you don't last long. there's something to learn for all of us in his expeiences.

Building a successful website or any company for that matter requires a great deal of patience, a hell of a lot of perseverance and a hearty helping of good old fashioned luck!

I am a doctor and my business partner is an Optometrist and we both left our respective medical careers to start our own web company. With little experience and blind faith that we would be millionaires within 6 months we set about developing our idea.

As we were both from medical backgrounds and had an interest in technology, we figured the most likely route to success would involve combing the two. We had noticed an increasing number of comparison websites but realised there wasn’t anything similar for clinics.

This was where our idea came from to build a comparison website for clinics that allowed people to book laser eye surgery and cosmetic surgery appointments online. This was how our website was born!

We soon realised that building a great product was only half the battle. If no one was going to pay us for our services then we weren’t going to be around for very long. We both had very little sales knowledge bearing in mind our professions and consequently had to learn on ‘the job’ so to speak.

Our customers are the clinics themselves as they pay us every time an appointment is booked through our website. For users our site is completely free and this was always our intention. When we set about selling to clinics there were number of key principles which we found worked well for our business.

It did however take us a while to refine our sales process and there was a great deal of rejection in the beginning. For seasoned sales experts the following information may perhaps be old news, but it certainly helped us “sales newbies” build our website up to decent turnover.

So here are my 5 “sales revelations”:

Doctors like taking to Doctors:
It was amazing how much more success we had when I called up as Ganesh the doctor as opposed to Ganesh the salesman. I think there are 2 main reasons for this, the first is that it allows you to get past the ‘gate keeper’ and speak to the decision maker. And secondly it immediately gave us a connection with the clinic as it meant we understood how they worked.

In your business, if you’re in the same position of having a similar background to your target clients then this could work for you too. Or if not, try to align your or your sales staffs’ interests with the person you are trying to sell to. Make sure they’re educated on what that person is like, they day to day problems they have, their typical goals in life.

Try to close the sale in one go:
When a clinic signs up to our service they need to build an online listing of their treatments etc. In the early days after closing the sale we would send the clinic log in details and tell them to update their listing. What we invariably found was that hardly anyone ever completed their brochure and over time they kind of forgot about us.

Now before we close a sale our aim is to get all the required information to put the listing ‘live’ on the site. This means that the minute you put the phone down they are effectively a paying customer.

Ian's take: You might not be able to close a sale in one go yourself – especially if your services are more costly or complex than Ganesh's. But you should be aiming to get a commitment every time. Perhaps to jointly review a proposal next meeting, or for your potential client to gather some financial information for you or to introduce you to others involved in the decision making process.

This is also a good example of continuous improvement: spotting holes in your pipeline and figuring out how to fix them.

Pay as you go works:
We initially started trying to sign clinics up on a monthly fee but we had very little success. We soon realised that as we were not an established brand, clinics were very wary of committing to us as they were unsure of whether we could deliver what we promised. We considered offering clinics a free trial but realised that our traffic wasn’t high enough to guarantee sufficient referrals which would justify them signing up after the trial.

Consequently we decided to only charge clinics based on results and this made selling so much easier. We effectively said to clinics you only pay if someone books an appointment.

Ian's take: This is a great example of decreasing the perceived risk of doing business with you. it's especially important, as Ganesh says, for a startup business with no established track record.

Don’t do demos over the phone!
It was surprising to us how many of our potential customers had very little knowledge of the internet or even how to use a computer in general! Health practitioners are often technophobic and resistant to change.

We originally thought it would be a good idea to get clinics to visit our website so they could try it out for themselves. But more often than not they typed in the wrong web address or picked the wrong result from Google. This inevitably led to confusion and lost the whole momentum of the sales call.

Only sell one thing:
In addition to what we were trying to sell we also have a number of free add-ons for our partnered clinics. The problem was however that this led to confusion and a confused person generally loses confidence on what you are offering them. We now make a point of selling only our core product and then contacting them at a later date to offer the extra services.

Ian's take: This seems simple, but it's a very smart strategy. It's very easy to think that by offering more options you're making it easier for clients to say yes. but often (especially when that client hasn't bought your sort of service before) you're just confusing them. best to stick with one simple offer early on then offer them options later.

Whether you're a startup or a more established service business, there's a lesson or two for all of us in Ganesh's experiences – make sure you take note!

Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie

Ian Brodie is the best-selling author of Email Persuasion and the creator of Unsnooze Your Inbox - *the* guide to crafting engaging emails and newsletters that captivate your audience, build authority and generate more sales.

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