The Ultimate Sales System for Startups

Do things that don’t scale (and do them amazingly well if possible).
– Paul Graham

Sales System for Startups

Your Ideal Customer is going to change rapidly in the first 1-3 years. It’s going to evolve as your product does, so it’s important to not get set on a specific customer too early, while also nailing your ICP as soon as possible.

By universal definition your ideal customer is someone who you provide immense value to, and who gets immense value in return. It’s the ‘champion’ that has the greatest lifetime value and shortest sales cycle, it’s a natural fit.

Why is determining your ideal customer important? This is the customer who you are going to spend significant sales and marketing resources to acquire. Most companies won’t get it right initially, that’s why fast iterations on customer development is key to profitable returns.

The only way to learn about your ideal customer is to have as many sales-type conversations as possible because that’s what’s going to inform your sales and marketing roadmap. Mature companies have the benefit of lots of data points about customers and sales history. Startups are learning as they go, which means very little data.

The more conversations you can have to a- assess need b- identify ability to purchase, and c- determine readiness, the more your business will grow.

The steps to take


1. Timeframe

Determine a timeframe for testing your ICP and refining your market – this is usually over 3-6 months. Don’t be afraid to course correct to a new customer segment in 30-45 days. The goal is to make fast iterations to your outreach strategy so that you can better refine your messaging and determine sticking points.

Set a Goal

2. Set a Goal

The goal should be to have a certain number of qualified sales meetings per month, actual conversations. You can make your goal new revenue but it could be a lagging indicator if you are headed in the right direction. Qualified sales calls or what we like to call ‘completed profiles’ are going to drive a lot of your decision making, and guide your sales and marketing effort. Have as many sales qualified conversations as possible.

Keep in the mind the amount of work it takes to coordinate sales channels and provide high-touch personalized content through voice and social. You’ll want to align your goal with your available resources.


3. Be realistic with current capabilities

A ramp for either your dedicated SDR/BDR or the outsourced team you hire should be hitting a repeatable number of qualified sales meeting booked by month 3-4. This is also assuming your product has achieved some product-market fit.

As said earlier definition of your real ICP can take up to 6 months. Fast iterations early on will always net larger results at ramp. So you want to make sure your team has the capacity to develop lead lists at velocity, meaning pulling Cybersecurity one week and companies using Salesforce+Marketo 1 month later, while also creating fully customized messaging pillars for each, and leveraging high touch channels like voice and Linkedin, because a single channel will never work. More on that later.

These activities take a significant amount of time, and having someone (multiple roles) dedicated to keeping your calendar or your team’s calendar full is a full-time job.

ICP Definition

The purpose of having as many qualified sales conversations as possible, as fast as possible, is so you can build up your sales pipeline, refine your ICP and launch other sales and marketing channels.

You can’t do any marketing without nailing your ICP first. Lots of money is burned this way on marketing channels way too soon in a company’s growth stage because they haven’t yet nailed their ICP. The goal of sales conversations with your targets is to determine how or if your ICP struggles with a certain activity that your business aims to solve.

Say for instance you find out that “scalability” is an issue with a segment of accounts, and another portion cares about “compliance”. You can then launch campaigns (sales and marketing) specific to the needs of each customer. What you can’t do is market to them without understanding them.

If you are lucky enough to have a niche market (eg: EHR software or Building Intelligence), you should be more focused on maintaining consistent sales and marketing activity, and building relationships, going deep and not broad. As opposed to lots of fast iterations on sales outreach.

Your ICP should include sales triggers, meaning you have firmographic and technographic data on what makes your customer a good fit based on your product-market fit.

Examples of data (firmographic and technographic) that could inform your ICP:

Ad spend

Using a certain CRM or ERP

Role within the organization

Employee count or revenue

Etc, etc.

Your Turn

What are your suspected ICPSs?

You may or may not know this. If you are a PPC Agency for instance your company observations are likely going to be ad spend. If you do business lending you are likely looking for companies that have been around for at least 2+ years. Identifying all your firmographics and technographics is key to list building.

You’ll want to write your ICP (or suspected ICP) out as generic as possible and then refine it until you have something that is as targeted as possible.

Here’s what ours looks like:

We sell to Founders, Sales & Marketing Leaders at SaaS/Software companies with fewer than 50 employees that have raised between $2 to $5 million in the last 3 years, and want to grow revenue without adding overhead. They also have ACVs of at least $2k and have at least one in-house team member focused on sales.

We sell to companies that market to hospitals & health systems. We have a proprietary database and track over 5k hospital & health systems, 10k+ contacts at the executive level, and lines of business.
We sell to Sales & Marketing leaders with fewer than 100 employees that have invested in an Account-based tool (eg: Terminus, Demandbase, etc) and have defined niche markets (Associations, Contract Pharmacies, etc). Our team offers a quick-start ABM program Pilot.

List Building

list building
Once you’ve put some thought into your ICP it’s time to build your company and contact list. Most of the list building we do at Smashdeck for ourselves and for clients starts at the account-level, meaning our ICP is what informs what companies to prospect, and then from there we find roles that meet our criteria.

There are 2 ways to list-build.
1. Hire a research team
2. Use a sales prospecting or sales intelligence tool

We typically do both. Many times when you purchase a database product like ZoomInfo or Lead 411, you are sharing in the same data. Most database tools use APIs to acquire new company and contact details from the same providers, think BuiltWith and FullContact. Essentially most companies are data aggregators and not data providers.

There is nothing wrong with that as you need to collect information from lots of data sources to make it valuable and accurate. For the most part acquiring data is easy, it’s the implementation of bucketing contact lists, aligning your ICP with good messaging, and coordinating sales channels that makes it difficult.

We have found the easiest way to build contact lists are custom to the needs of the business but that doesn’t mean we won’t use a database tool from time to time.

We have a research team out of India. We use a Trello board to manage their tasks. If you are hiring an offshore researcher (or team) I highly recommend managing their time in this way. You want to to centralize your contact database and tasks before feeding it into your other systems.

A word of caution about offshoring list building. This is a crowded category with a lot of freelancers fighting for a share. If you post a job on Upwork you will get hundreds of applicants. Be ready to sift through the applicants or feel free to reach out, and we can connect you with a freelancer we have already vetted.

The other option is to use tools or platforms. A few that we like:

For lightweight prospecting starting at $97 a month.
This is an enterprise database solution that starts around $11k a year.
Also an enterprise database solution with high-quality data, most of which is primary researched by the DiscoverOrg team. > $20k annual pricing.
Database solution but also includes email automation & sequencing. Price starts at $18k a year.

Expect a lot less accuracy with data tools, most companies will have an 70-80% deliverability rate with email.


If you think you are going to build your entire sales pipeline on the back of sales emails, not gonna happen. Doesn’t matter if you are setting up automation or hyper-personalizing your emails, emails as a single touch-point are never going to alone drive the volume of activity you need for a substantial pipeline. Just like a prospect won’t see a single ad, know everything they need to know about your product or service and sign-up to speak with sales. As with all sales and marketing there are attributions.

We use email, voice, Linkedin, and a Slackbot to coordinate sales channels. We have found this to be the most effective method of securing the greatest number of sales meetings for clients. If you are outsourcing all or part of your sales pipeline development to a company and they just focus on sending emails, you are wasting your money.

In fact if you are working with a company already and they are only automating emails for you, save yourself the 6-month commitment, multiple 5-figures in spend and go on a vacation.

Now with that said, emails are still a very important component of your sales process. The best sales emails are personal and appropriate, meaning they can still be auto generated but you will need very tight messaging around observation and insight.

A good sales email can break down like this:




Social Proof

Intriguing CTA

The Observation is why you are approaching them in the first place. It’s the because they are spending money on Adwords, they need a marketing analytics tool. If you don’t include an Observation in your sales email it’s pointless to send it. Your Observation shows you’ve done your research and creates an automated but personalized first touch point.

Offer Insight and a few reasons why they need your solution, which is the Advantage. Include Social Proof so recipient feels instant credibility.

A single sales email isn’t going to do the trick. Just like we mentioned that a single touch point is never effective. You need to iterate on your messaging pillar, and establish a beachhead before someone will give you their time.

How many emails in a sequence is good?

An 8 email sequence is usually the most effective. Not all respondents will open each email, in fact a respondent may delete the first, and open the 3rd, and then reply. Aligning your messaging with sales triggers is important but so is timing. Many things happen during a work day that allow for timing to play a crucial role – meetings, deadlines, personal conflicts, the list goes on. You can’t know the schedule of each individual on your contact list.

Persistence is still as effective today in sales and marketing as it was 20 years ago.

All our email sequences take place over a 2 to 4 week period so in most cases emails are spaced between 2 to 3 days of each other.

Tech Stack

We are always iterating on our tech stack but these are the tools we currently use:

Linkedin Sales Navigator

Chrome Extension and other Add-ons:


Our research team uses Linkedin Sales Navigator to find email addresses and then a tool like to confirm deliverability. Because of this when we send emails on behalf of clients we get almost a 97% deliverability. Add-on tools and chrome extensions will typically have a 80% deliverability. The former takes a lot of time the latter is plug and play. The advantages of high deliverability are to protect your server from spam and in most cases the more time you are spending on your list building activities the better they perform – spend more time building verified contact lists and writing personalized messaging then building large contact lists.

We will not deep dive into the use of these tools. Outreach has a very robust knowledge base. You can find some documentation on Orca here. For clients of our fast-start sales program we will implement a Slackbot for you that web-hooks into Outreach.


You’ve done all the work now it’s time to start implementing, iterating and adding more value to your sales pipeline!

Note: for this part you must have already purchased the tools above (Outreach and Orca), your team is already using Slack, and you have built your contact list.

We use a Slackbot to coordinate sales channels, meaning that when we see a high number of opens from a contact, we use that as a catalyst to launch other touch points: voice and LinkedIn.

We automate LinkedIn connect requests with a custom message and have tested other automations such as connect + Inmail but have not seen that to be effective.

Here is how it works:
Import your contact list into Outreach, and then assign those contacts to the 8-email sequence you just built. Import the same list that you sent to Outreach into Orca. You will run the Outreach and Orca campaigns side-by-side.

Image: Orca connect campaign

In Orca you will set up a connect request with a custom message, here is an example that you can customize to your business:

Hi Alex, would be great to connect with a fellow entrepreneur. My company helps small teams building great products acquire more customers. If you think having more sales conversations with ideal customers would make a big difference, let’s chat.

Orca is a desktop app so you can enable it to run with any LinkedIn user by signing in under that person’s identity but the app will have to be enabled from your desktop to run sequences.

Once the contact accepts your connect, follow-up with a 1 to 2 rmail sequence. This can be highly personalized or automated from Outreach.

Email reply example that you can customize for your business:

Hi Alex,

I messaged you on LinkedIn to arrange a call, but thought this might be better.

We schedule sales meetings for SaaS companies. I noticed you are a small team, building a great product. Most of our clients have come to us after raising a Seed stage or series A to help grow their business, while not taking on additional overhead. Our methods are proven to drive 1.5x the output — and on average we cost 40% of a full-time equivalent SDR/BDR.

At the end of the day we put sales meetings on your calendar, so that you can focus on other parts of your business, such as building your product.

Up for a chat later today?


The Slackbot that we setup for you works like this. It takes the engagement (opens) from Outreach and then sends it to a Slack channel, you can then use that as a catalyst for higher touch outreach – a personalized Linkedin message or a voice call. We use email as a catalyst for other sales channels because it helps to inform where reps should spend their time, especially for small teams.

Tip: Make sure that when you load your contact data into Outreach that you include the Linkedin url of the contact, you will need it.

Our scoring methodology varies but typically when we see a high engager 2+ opens we will pop on over to Linkedin and use Lusha to find the phone number for that contact.


If you have Integrated Outreach with Salesforce then any activity from Outreach will immediately get synced with Salesforce as a Lead record. For an additional cost Outreach allows you to add voice, as a dialer, calls are automatically logged to your Salesforce.


We have found that for small teams with limited capacity this is the most effective method of building a reliable sales pipeline. If you had a larger team you may want to run sales channels in parallels meaning, voice, linkedin and email, and try a lot of different stuff until it sticks.

Lastly keep in mind that at the end of the day these methods are proven to drive greater output (typically 1.5x), and we’ve put a lot of time and effort into testing, iterating and developing them. However, sales and market development is about hard work and consistency, without both your program will fail regardless of process.

If you would like to reach us about our programs, we have multiple options for startups including a 4-week launch plan and other solutions that are guaranteed to add significant value to your sales process and go-to-market strategy.
“This program was really helpful to our organization. We are laying the foundation for building an inside sales team, and the insights provided by Smashdeck helped to accelerate that. Our team is excited to implement the process they laid out, and we can already see the benefits it could have in driving new revenue.”

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