This past week, I got hit with a case of walking pneumonia and couldn’t hold office hours because my voice was completely obliterated. With my voice gone, I asked the class to e-mail me with specific questions and I’d respond on my site. I’ve anonymized these companies out of respect for their privacy and will do my best to address their questions.

The first question came from a company that was providing custom implementations in a large, global industry and essentially helping companies in this industry to modernize their technology infrastructure through a combination of consulting services and technology.

They have a good sense for their wheelhouse customers and to date, many of their clients had come through the founder’s personal network. Their biggest problem was extending beyond this personal network through a scalable marketing and sales process. They had run some discrete experiments with direct sales and SEM but neither had been terribly ROI positive. What’s more, it sounds like a tightly contested market, which means their existing clients aren’t incentivized to provide referrals because from their point of view, they would be empowering those they view as competitors.

My two cents 

I’ll start with the caveat that this is not my area of expertise. I know some folks like Parker Conrad, formerly of Zenefits; Bill Wagner, CEO of LogMeIn; and Ben Rubenstein who is currently the CEO at OpCity, who are all far better equipped to address this type of question than myself. In fact, I’m currently going through a similar learning process in some ways.

That being said, here is what my intuition is telling me:

1. You know your target already – This is huge. If you truly understand the profile of the prospect you are trying to hit, this makes it easier to then map out the universe of entities with similar features. This should become your universe of prospects.

2. Play the role of an SDR – Instead of experimenting with a direct sales rep at this point, I might focus on playing the role of a great SDR and focusing on how to elicit the highest response rates from your universe of targeted prospects. Once you really understand how to convert the leads into warm leads, then think about bringing someone on to be a dedicated SDR. My intuition tells me

3. Play the role of a sales rep – You are going to be the best sales rep at this juncture. Look – you’ve already closed deals and have been generating revenue. Nobody knows how to pitch your start-up like you. Put your sales hat on and keep closing deals until you can’t keep up with the lead flow – then and only then – bring 2-3 sales reps onboard so they can operate with the playbook you’ve crafted. (Side note – don’t hire one sales rep if you can avoid it. Ideally, hire a few; at a minimum, hire two.

4. Don’t mess around with SEM right now – Some may argue with me here but I think you should be focusing on building a sales pipeline that is built to optimize the unit value of leads acquired. Only after you feel really good about your conversion rates through the funnel, will you have the information you need to understand how to think about acquisition costs via SEM.

If you have follow-up questions or disagreements, please post them below and I will address them as quickly as possible.