How a Kick A$$ Analogy Can Take You From Zero to One

The inconvenient truth about selling for a startup is you’re often selling something new that requires both education and imagination for the prospect to fully grasp and eventually purchase. Knowing there are high levels of perceived risk by the buyer in procuring a product or service from an unknown startup, the seller’s job is to reduce the risk by positioning the solution as relatable and as simple as possible. 

Essentially, associate your offering with something that is benign in nature and highly proliferated. This will help you capture those early sales and get the lift-off the startup needs to get off the ground. But what is the best way to do this? Well, how good are you at analogies? 

Devising a good analogy for the solution offered has been a hallmark in my sales career. If you can come up with a simple analogy that resonates with everyone in the room - you win, period. Why? Because simplicity in problem-solving is key - the old K.I.S.S. model. No matter how complex your solution is, you want the message received to be dead simple and repeatable. Here are a few examples from my past:

  • PowerBeam: “We’re the wifi router for wireless power”

  • WePay: “We’re the swiss army knife for payments” 

  • Braintree Payments: “We’re your lego blocks for payments”

  • Segment: “We’re the power grid for data” 

Take note that nowhere in the above was there a comparison to another company. You want to try your best to avoid saying things like “we’re the Twilio for blah blah blah or the Datadog in the so-and-so space.” That’s not ideal and can actually hurt you as you’re relating your offering to the performance of another company in the market, so wherever possible avoid that correlation. 

Once you’ve made your analogy statement, you can explain in more detail why you believe the analogy is appropriate - this helps with that education process you need to walk the prospect through. In the case of the Segment analogy, once I said “we are the power grid for data,” I would explain how when you walk into your office, home, or hotel room and plug in your laptop, phone, or even a light for that matter; it just works without you having to do anything at all. That’s because behind every outlet is a massive infrastructure that takes power generated at a source hundreds of miles away through a network of cables, transformers, sub-stations, etc. and delivers it to your outlet so you don’t have to think about how you’re going to power your device, you can just focus on how you use that device to improve your life. Not everyone is an electrical engineer who can appreciate the complexity of the power grid, however, 100% of the people sitting in that room have had the experience of plugging something into a wall and it just works. Hence, it is extremely relatable, simple to conceptualize which leaves room for imagination, neutral in nature, and widely propagated. The same could be said for a wifi router, a swiss army knife, and lego blocks. 

The key is really to keep your analogy as simple and generic as possible - you want it to be remembered and repeated as it is the ultimate “seed planting” statement (more to come on this topic in a future post). Basically, what you want is your prospect using this analogy to sell internally on your behalf. You want it so bulletproof that when a co-worker at your prospect’s company says, “Hey, heard you met with X-company, what do they do”, the prospect immediately responds with “oh, they are the ABC for XYZ” and everyone just gets it. When everyone just gets it, it’s amazing to see prospects move from the education phase to that imagination phase where they start to collaborate and brainstorm ideas on how your solution solves their specific problems. When that happens in real-time, you know your analogy works and you’re starting to win. 

Regardless of what analogy you create, if it’s simple and easily understandable - you’re reducing the cycles needed to spend on educating the prospect and their company. If it’s clever and well thought out - you’re stirring the creativity pot and getting the prospects to imagine how their situation is similar to what you’ve laid out and how they can start solving the problem with your solution. The sooner you can get past those hurdles, the sooner you can start closing deals and getting your startup the customers and revenue so desperately needed in the early days of going from zero to one million! 

Bonus tip: towards the end of the first meeting where you’ve introduced your analogy, end with “if you remember nothing else from this meeting today, remember we are the ABC for XYZ.” Not only does this reinforce the message you’re looking to establish with your prospects but it also conditions your prospects with a repeatable message they can use to sell on your behalf when you’re not there. If you can get your customers to sell for you - how much easier did your job just become?