3 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Steer Clear of Startup Roadblocks

By Matt Sunshine for SCORE

Here’s a bit of not-so-surprising news: Startups fail. In fact, a 2018 Statistic Brain study says after just five years in business, 55 percent unfortunately do. And the reasons for failure vary: Most often, it’s incompetence (46 percent); other times it’s plain lack of experience (11 percent). But what if a new business fails because it hits a roadblock it can’t bounce back from?

If your new business hits a bump in the road — and it might — proud entrepreneurs, don’t let it kill your startup.

Ways to pivot do exist, but first you have to identify what went wrong.

But how, exactly, do you do that? Believe it or not, “not seeing desired results” isn’t the answer. Too often, business leaders focus on the finish line, and when they can’t see it immediately, they assume they’ve hit a roadblock and change strategies prematurely.

Instead, there are more specific, telltale signs to watch for:

  • You’re not getting the performance output you expected.
  • You’re not getting the compliance you need.
  • Your salespeople are not properly working the process.
  • There’s no mastery to any part of said process.
  • Customers are giving pushback or less-than-stellar feedback.

If your startup reflects one or more of these, it’s time to back up, and head in a different direction. Put it in reverse to identify your bump in the road.

Here are ways to ensure you not only steer away from the roadblock, but also stay away from it:

1. Go back the way you came.

Remember that original problem you looked to solve with your startup? Get back to that place, and build your business around it. Revisiting what you first set out to do offers a much better chance of success — you’re far less likely to hit another hurdle if your eye is on the original prize.
That said, know that there will always be iterations of your original product or service. Even though its integrity is intact, what you end up with will be an evolved, improved version of your initial startup goal (especially if you’re attempting to overcome a setback — your service or product will be overcoming it, too).

Regardless, identify the problem you wanted to solve when you first dreamed up your startup, and then build a product or service to cater to it, even if it may change over time.

My company did this recently with the creation of our “sales playbook,” catered to B2B salespeople. When the idea came to us to make the playbook, we didn’t start off by saying, “Let’s do this!” Instead, we asked, “What problems are B2B organizations having concerning their sales teams?”

It turns out most B2Bs have a wonky manager-to-salespeople ratio: There are far more salespeople than managers to lead them. This results in salespeople “waiting in line” to consult or seek advice from the sole manager on the floor because everyone else is vying for the same. So the idea of a playbook was born — it would allow sales teams to consult an all-inclusive guide instead of a manager juggling everyone’s needs.

Case in point: We saw a problem; we created a solution. Go back to the beginning, remember what you wanted to fix and reinstate the integrity of your startup.

2. Put the right people in the driver’s seat.

Your business is only as successful as your team, so make sure during your pivot, you have a solid crew in place. The only way to have that, however, is by ensuring your hiring process — from the job description to the interview stage — is streamlined and well-established.

At my company, a disciplined process has ensured successful hires time and again. It’s done the same for Google, Facebook and Apple. They, too, believe in a regimented hiring process to ensure they land the right person the first time, every time. Not convinced? Google’s process is so in-depth, it can take up to eight weeks for a candidate to learn his fate; same goes for Facebook.

Good employees don’t show up on your doorstep; they show up when you put the work in to finding them. When vetting candidates, job descriptions should be incredibly detailed — don’t just highlight the position’s day-to-day tasks; include what your company desires in terms of a candidate’s communication style, work style, etc. Further, all interview questions should be standardized. You can have fun with what you ask, but make sure you’re asking a standard set of questions with every interviewee.

3. Make your process as streamlined as an assembly line.

Most entrepreneurs find it a lot easier to focus on product development and deliverables. But in doing that, one major business component can get overlooked — selling. More specifically, the selling process. Just as I encouraged a streamlined hiring process, the same is true here.

Luckily, it’s not difficult to form a sound sales process. It looks a little something like this: First, determine your ideal business profile. Then, develop the connection strategy you’ll use to get in front of the right decision-makers. At The Center for Sales Strategy, we make seven different attempts over a two- or three-week period to connect with a lead. These can include emails, phone calls, handwritten letters, more calls, or even drop-ins.

Next, perfect your elevator pitch and product presentation. Also discern a proposal, its structure and potential deliverables. Last, but definitely not least, close the deal and prepare for a proper handoff.

In my experience, lacking a disciplined sales process can break a business. And if you’re trying to reverse from that roadblock in your startup, missing a strong sales strategy is the opposite of what you need. Employ a predictable process that can be performed again and again to yield the same successful, measurable results.

As business leaders, we all hit potholes. What differentiates the strong from the weak, the successful from the failed, is how we dig ourselves out of them.