Convincing your first sales leads to buy your product is tough for most startups. You’re asking potential customers to risk a lot of time and effort, long before you have a polished product. Instead of starting sales conversations as transactional, I advise founders to ask their first leads to be ‘customer advisors’. Here’s how to use a ‘Customer Advisory Board’ to incentivize a lead and ease them into a sale, along with some templates you’ll need:
1. Research Leads & Personalize Emails
What: Prepare for your outreach by researching each sales lead. Look for highlights in their experience and accomplishments, as well as how they might be helpful to your company, e.g. feedback on your solution’s usability. Send personalized emails directly to a sales leads’ email inbox; not a social media inbox (e.g. Linkedin).
Why: High quality, personalized emails can achieve a 3x higher response rate than using social media messages. There are various tools available to find someone’s email address.
2. Turn Leads into ‘Customer Advisors’
What: When you’re ready to reach out to the sales leads via email, ask them to join your ‘Customer Advisory Board’ (CAB). Although the ‘Customer Advisor’ title holds weight, this should be someone you’d hope to become a customer very soon, rather than an industry expert who would advise you on strategy.
Why: In the early stages of a startup, it’s better if your sales leads are friendly enough to give you lots of feedback on their pressing problems; their purchasing habits, budget, and your product. Standard sales outreach, such as mass emailing and content marketing, is unlikely to provide that kind of relationship. Hence the ‘Customer Advisory Board’ label works by creating a stronger connection.
3. Offer Equity Incentives
What: Include an equity incentive in your email, however, this should not be a significant amount (ideally 0.001% or less). Move on quickly from those that ask for larger stakes. For those that do want this small amount of equity compensation, the document template is below.
Why: Offering equity demonstrates to the sales lead that you’re serious about them joining the CAB. In most cases, they will not accept the equity anyway due to their employer’s rules or potential conflicts of interest.
I’m Ash, the CEO of Acme. Based on your experience at AlphaNet and Beta.com, along with your industry insights (I took a quick look at your conference talk), I thought you’d be a great addition to the Acme Customer Advisory Board.
We’re building the board to get feedback on the Acme product from customers like you, and we want to make sure it’s tailored to your specific needs. Members of the board will receive equity in the company and help us build this much needed solution through their input.
If you’re interested, you can find more information on our website and the one-pager attached. The board is almost complete, with 1 or 2 spots remaining, so please let me know if you’d like to schedule a brief call.
I’m free at 11am PST Thursday and Friday this week, if either of those work for you?
Looking forward to chatting more!
4. Advisory Board Agreement
This sample ‘Customer Advisory Board Agreement’ document allows a startup to engage someone on their ‘Customer Advisory Board’. It’s what we suggest Sterling Road companies use as well.
It Includes a vesting schedule (I recommend 12 months, with a 1 month cliff) and offers a way to give a small equity incentive (100–200 shares), even if your company doesn’t yet have an equity options plan in place. In order to use the document, you’ll need to edit yellow highlighted text and fill in the relevant details of Section 7.
Note: You may use this document at your own risk; its free provision here does not constitute legal advice.
Although closing your first sales leads is hard for most companies, creating a personalized exchange with your customers can make it easier. Offering a small incentive in exchange for valuable insights from potential customers, can help you close those leads more easily.
This article is part of a series on Sales for Startups.
1. How to Incentivize your First Sales Leads (Templates Included)
2. How to Convert your First Leads to Customers
3. How to Get Pilot Customers to Pay
4. How to Charge Your First 5 Customers
5. Common Sales Mistakes by Founders
6. The Basics of Customer Success
Sterling Road invests in pre-seed B2B startups based in North America. Full process here: sterlingroad.com/process.
You can reach me here: firstname.lastname@example.org