Kalev Kaarna keynote at sTARTUp Day 2024: “Practical magic of growing sales in a falling market”

Kalev Kaarna's keynote at sTARTUp Day provided an insightful guide for businesses striving to grow their sales despite a declining market. Drawing from his experience as an investor and startup coach, Kalev shared five core principles

1. Focus on super happy customers

Janna Systems is a Canadian startup that transformed its trajectory by narrowing its focus. Initially, their CRM system was perceived as a "cheaper and crappier" version of the market leader, Siebel. By accident, they discovered that their feature was very beneficial for investment bankers—connecting people from different organizations based on shared activities, like golf clubs or university affiliations. However, until then, they hadn't found anyone who appreciated this feature because they were unable to explain its value.

By concentrating on this niche, they grew their revenue from $2 million to $70 million in just 18 months. Kalev emphasized, "Focus on super happy customers who derive unique value from your product."

2. Overcome the fear of messing up

Next, Kalev highlighted the importance of addressing customer indecision. Referencing Matt Dixon’s research during COVID, which analyzed 2.5 million sales calls, he revealed that 40-60% of B2B sales fail due to indecision, not competition. "The fear of messing up is stronger than the fear of missing out," he stated. Successful sales strategies must reduce this fear by simplifying the change process for customers.

3. Crisis unfreezes B2B customers

During crises, some companies become more open to change, providing a unique sales opportunity. Kalev shared a story about Bolt, which pivoted to Africa after failing to expand in Europe. By identifying market conditions where they could operate more effectively, they grew rapidly. "When a crisis hits, some customers are ready to fight and implement new solutions," he noted.

4. Universal demand is never zero

Kalev stressed that even in downturns, demand exists somewhere. He illustrated this with a story of a company that capitalized on competitors reducing their product offerings during the 2009 crisis. By maintaining a full product line, they were ready to meet demand when the market rebounded. "Think globally and identify where the growth opportunities are," he advised.

5. Selling revenue increase over cost decrease

Finally, Kalev argued that offering solutions that increase customer revenue is more effective than cost-cutting measures. He shared a story of a company that offered a zero-cost implementation of their product in exchange for a revenue share. This deal, driven by the customer's need to launch a new product quickly, turned into the company's most profitable deal, generating over $100 million. "Selling revenue increase is always better, even during economic downturns," he emphasized.

By focusing on delighted customers, overcoming decision paralysis, leveraging crises, identifying global demand, and prioritizing revenue growth, businesses can navigate and even prosper during downturns. As Kalev concluded, "Go out there and build something massive."

Feel free to reach out to Kalev on LinkedIn for more insights and discussions on early customer exploration and sales strategies.

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