Creating systems and standards isn’t just for the foundational part of designing a successful go-to-market strategy.

Companies also need to establish a set of best practices and processes for actually executing their sales tactics.

The exact tactics will vary by company and industry, but the most critical part is to have a set of guidelines and standards in place, says GTM expert Tom Levey, who advises enterprise startups at Greylock. This includes

“The specifics of the process are less important than ensuring its existence,” says Levey. “Moreover, when it does exist, it must have clear definitions and aligned expectations internally.”

Building on our earlier discussion on best practices –  in which Levey outlined how to establish the foundations of a cohesive GTM strategy – this conversation focuses on the actual execution of sales tactics and processes at the earliest stages. From must-haves as the first meeting to the complexities of category creation and problem definition, Levey provides a primer for sales processes applicable to a wide range of startups.


You work with very technical founders whose products are aimed at solving complex problems for large enterprise organizations. What’s the first thing they need to establish with their customers?

Tom Levey:
Every product is designed to solve a specific problem. However, the issue being addressed is often one that people aren’t consciously aware of or motivated to resolve. This can happen when the problem has become so ingrained in daily life that people don’t recognize it as something that can be solved. The crucial first step is to clearly identify a problem that people genuinely care about and that is significant enough to be worth solving.

This may seem straightforward, but many companies with excellent products can struggle to attract customers. Often, the problem is that their product is almost too good. Eager to showcase their innovations, they seek validation in the excitement a prospect shows instead of ensuring they are targeting the right audience from the start. The worst five words you can hear at the end of a first meeting with a customer are, “That demo was really interesting.” This is usually followed by, “Let me take this away and talk to my team.” While this indicates interest, converting it into a genuine intent to purchase can be extremely challenging.

The core challenge here is a harsh truth: Nobody really wants to buy your product—or any enterprise software, for that matter.

Of course, there are exceptions. Apple, for instance, has built such a strong lifestyle brand that when they release a new product, people line up to buy it, even if they don’t need it. Some might even purchase without knowing what new features the product offers. These customers may not be able to articulate why they need it, but they do. Kudos to Apple!

However, this is rarely the case with enterprise software. People are seldom excited enough about enterprise software to turn curiosity or interest into intent. Yet, these same individuals do want their problems solved, and they want solutions that make good business sense. Identifying a problem that someone is personally motivated to solve and genuinely helping them address that issue is how relationships are built, trust is formed, and software is sold.

What about founders who are creating new categories? How do they define problems and convince prospects that their product can solve it when awareness is low?

Tom Levey:
I enjoy working with founders who are creating new categories because they are, by definition, helping customers identify a problem they were not consciously aware of (or were not aware was solvable). However, in order to position a product in a new category, it is essential to have appropriate messaging which focuses on problem framing, trust-building, and value articulation. My personal belief is that anything less is a form of over-confidence and perhaps arrogance to assume a customer needs/wants your product.

Remember these two things:
1. Customers are not the experts on your product. You are.
2. Customers want to make decisions themselves. But they are also busy and will welcome your experience, expertise, time, and effort to help them!

It’s easy to get overly excited about your groundbreaking product and rush into demos with anyone who shows interest. While it’s important to strike a balance—since the technology can indeed be captivating and customers may want to see it—shared excitement doesn’t always translate into an understanding of the product’s benefits or impact as it translates to their personal challenges.

It’s crucial to take the time to truly understand a prospective customer, their pain points, and the value they place on resolving those issues. Just as you never want to hear, “That was really interesting,” at the end of your demo, you also don’t want to see the prospective customer struggling to retroactively build a business case to justify the expense to their boss at the end of a sales cycle.

Avoiding this outcome happens by setting yourself on the right path 3, 6, or even 9 months earlier. Don’t underinvest in the early stage discovery process: do the research needed to for you to deeply understand the prospect’s potential problem and to articulate a clear – and differentiated –  solution.

Describe what this looks like in practice. When working with startups to determine where improvements can be made, what do you commonly see?

Tom Levey:
One tremendous benefit that has arisen from the past four years since the COVID pandemic hit is that people meet virtually a lot more often. And they often record their virtual meetings for note-taking, follow-up, and research purposes. I often take advantage of this, and one of the first things I do when working with new companies is ask for 20-30 hours of call recordings from early sales engagements with prospects.

When I delve into these calls, my primary focus is to gauge the depth of research, discovery, and understanding the sales team has undertaken prior to the meeting. Are they adept at identifying potential issues and empathizing with the challenges of the person they’re meeting with? Or are they overly fixated on the product’s features, rushing to showcase the impressive UI? By listening to these calls, I aim to foster a more empathetic and customer-centric approach, as it allows me to view the early sales process from a prospective customer’s perspective, free from any bias from established sales processes or best practices.

Builder is a prime example of a tremendously successful early-stage company that had many existing sales achievements – but still seized on the opportunity to level up by implementing changes to their early-stage process. Here’s how:

Throughout the company’s history, CEO Steve Sewell has produced a wealth of valuable thought leadership content, which the marketing team has effectively distributed to an eager audience, generating substantial inbound interest. However, this success has led to a large sales funnel to manage. While it’s a good problem to have, it has sometimes resulted in customer leads who want to see a demo, but struggle to convert into genuine opportunities with the intent to progress.

By integrating intelligent technology and tools to qualify leads more efficiently (along with more disciplined early discovery and engagement processes) the team at Builder has significantly boosted its conversion rates. This helps to translate customers’ interest in the product into intent to solve real problems. This approach enables Builder to utilize its sales team’s time more effectively and provide better service to the prospects they engage with.

Describe a best-practices first meeting with a potential customer. What information should they share with their prospect, and how should they present it?

Tom Levey:
Sales should be equipped with what I describe as the single most valuable asset in the company: the First Meeting Deck (FMD). In this deck, – which typically would take 15 mins to present but 30 – 40 mins to hold a strong discussion around – should be everything we initially want a prospect to understand about the company and value proposition. That’s what makes it the most valuable, and compelling asset in the company!

This deck should never be copy and pasted over from the higher level message on your website. It doesn’t contain abstract, visionary concepts full of industry buzzwords. This deck should be concise, simple, specific, and targeted as well as being well-researched and personalized. When this initial problem identification and subsequent value framing and value quantification is done well, deals stall out much less frequently in later stages.

Of course, I hear all the time that people don’t like slides. But I believe that’s just because we’ve been using them wrong – we use them to speak at people rather than as a means of instigating discussion. The deck should be a thoroughly well researched and customized presentation, which assists in aligning the customers potential pain points with a differentiated value proposition to solve, and articulates how this is achieved.