Always Be Closing: The Best Sales Tools for Startups

We salute the companies who can make the “build-it-and-they-will-come” model work. But there’s nothing wrong with the “build-it-and-tell-them-about-it” model, either—in fact, when you need revenue, it’s better. These tools will help you turn strangers into opportunities, opportunities into prospects, and prospects into customers faster and more effectively than ever before.

Even most pre-revenue startups are actively working towards developing a customer or client base and also trying to prove traction to investors. Or if you’re bootstrapping it, you’re trying to keep the lights on and invest in future growth without dipping into the red.

So yes, we’d say sales is pretty important.

And having the right tools is important too. Whether you’re a one-person show, or you’ve hired a sales team, these apps will make selling easier, faster, and more predictable. Check out our top picks for startups for each phase of the startup sales funnel.

  1. Lead Generation
  2. Research/Business Intelligence
  3. CRMs
  4. Email Cadences
  5. Scheduling and Meetings
  6. Collateral Management

Lead Generation
Sales begins with lead generation. In theory, you could buy a list of 1,000 phone numbers, hand it to your sales team, and ask them to start dialing. But since only 1% of cold calls ever lead to sales, that would be a waste of time. Instead, focus on lead generation: the process of turning strangers into potential customers by sparking their interest in your product. To both create and capture leads, take advantage of these tools.

SumoMe: Tools to Grow Your Website’s Traffic
You’ve probably seen at least one SumoMe pop up asking for your email address—startups love how straightforward and budget-friendly this pop up creator is (it’s free up to one million website visits.)

Along with customizing how your pop up looks, you can choose when it shows up. Maybe you want it to show up right before visitors leave, letting you collect their email for future re-engagement. Or, maybe you want the pop up to appear once they’ve scrolled halfway down the page, as that means they’re interested in your content.

The TLDR; version: if you need a low-tech tool for building a contact list, SumoMe is a strong contender.

Pricing: ranging from free to $119/month depending on the plan.

LeadIn: Get to Know Your Website Visitors
Want to go beyond the email newsletter? LeadIn is a free, no-code plugin for lead capture forms. Once you add it to your site, it’ll automatically grab and maintain records for every form submission your visitors make.

This tool also works with your existing forms, so you won’t need to waste any time or effort on transitioning.

In the words of Careerleaf CEO Afifa Siddiqui, you’ll get a “high-level summary” of the people filling out your forms. Not only that, LeadIn also tracks their subsequent activity. You can use this data to reach out to contacts at the optimal time in their buyer journey.
 
Pricing: free.

Conspire: Painlessly connecting you to your next customer, investor, or employer
You’ve identified a highly qualified sales opportunity. The problem is, they have no idea who you are—and although you could send them an email from out of the blue, you’d rather leverage your network and get an introduction. None of your mutual LinkedIn connections look promising.

That’s where Conspire comes in. The concept is simple: as Sorc'd co-founder Bob Girolamo explains, “You enter an email address, and Conspire tells you how you are connected to that person.”

Unlike LinkedIn, Conspire gives you suggestions based on relationship strength. If you want an intro to John Doe, it doesn’t suggest every person you and John both know—it only suggests John’s frequent contacts.

Pricing: free.

Socedo: A B2B Demand Generation System for the Social Era
These days, everyone is on social media—which means your prospects are, too. Finding them? That’s the difficult part. With Socedo, you can sift through the noise. This platform uses real-time behavior and specific keywords to identify which users fit your buyer persona and have demonstrated interest in your space.

To give you an idea, maybe you ask Socedo to surface UX designers who’ve looked at wireframing tools online in the past 10 days.

Once you’ve found prospects, the app’s customizable workflows let you engage with them at scale.

Pricing: Not publicly available.

Summary of Lead Gen Tools: Lead generation is key to a healthy sales process. Socedo helps you identify the right kind of consumer, so you’re not shooting wildly into the dark with your targeting. SumoMe is a quick and easy way to build a contact base. LeadIn lets you know who’s on your website and filling out your forms. Conspire goes beyond LinkedIn connections to provide you with meaningful common connections to leverage when you contact a potential target.

Research
According to research from CSO Insights, researching prospects before you contact them can improve your sales by approximately 15%. But it’s a catch-22. High-quality prospecting takes a lot of time, which means reps have fewer hours for actually connecting with buyers. That’s where business intelligence tools come in. With their relevant, actionable insights, you can circumvent the issue.

Datanyze: Datanyze tells your sales team who to contact now.
Datanyze is a sales intelligence platform powered by tech data to help business uncover, research, and reach the right prospects. With this tool, you’ll immediately know when prospects have added or canceled products that complement or compete with your own. You can also tell Datanyze to find prospects that look like your current best customers.
 
Got ‘em? Thanks to the tool’s browser extension, learning more about a prospect is as simple as highlighting their name or company and tapping your mouse. You can qualify prospects and easily push them to your email platform.

Pricing: not immediately available.

Act-On: Marketing Automation for Fast-Growing Businesses
If you were 80% confident you left your laptop on your desk, but 20% of you wonders if it’s in the conference room, where would you look first? Your desk, naturally. It’s always logical to focus your energy where it’s most likely to pay off. Similarly, successful salespeople concentrate on their most qualified prospects.

Yet in sales, you can’t solely rely on your gut. That’s where Act-On comes in. It assigns values to leads based on predetermined criteria, such as the person’s industry and job title, website visits, content downloads, event attendance, form completions, and so forth.

“It’s a Pardot competitor with a lower price point,” says Dan Goldstein, founder of Neumarkets.

Pricing: $600/month.

Summary of Research Tools: Investing in research and business intelligence will save you a lot of headache in the sales process. Datanyze helps you analyze which customers are like your current customer base, and Act-On assigns value to leads, so you know who to pursue.

CRMs
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are deals. The length of your sales cycle depends on your product, market, industry, and so forth—but across the board, convincing potential customers to sign on the dotted line takes time. That’s why having a tool for customer relationship management (CRM) is so crucial. Even the most gifted sales rep can’t mentally keep track of all the details of all her deals. Not only will a CRM record every piece of information your salespeople need, it can also capture additional data and even automate many of their tasks.

Pipedrive: The leading sales management tool small sales teams love to use
Do you have a small sales team—or no team at all? Pipedrive is simple, easy, and budget-friendly, making it a solid option for early-stage startups.

Unlike other CRMs, this one is incredibly visual. Your sales funnel looks like a Trello board: each stage is a list, and each deal is a card. If you want to see your deals by their likely close date, you can flip over to Timeline view. The format is the same, but now you can see how close you’ll be to making quota for the next several months.

“The dashboard is really easy to navigate,” says Christine Carrillo, co-founder and CEO of Impact Health. “It works really well on your phone, which is important if you’re not always at your desk.”

Pricing: Like its product, Pipedrive’s pricing is uncomplicated. Each user costs $12 per month (up to 50 users).

You might be wondering what happens when you start adding salespeople, and Pipedrive’s simplicity becomes an obstacle rather than an advantage. That brings us to the next CRM...

HubSpot: Close more deals with less work
HubSpot’s sales software is the Goldilocks of the CRM space. While it’s certainly got enough power to make your sales team successful, it’s not so jam-packed with features they’ll be overwhelmed.

Impressively, the basic version is completely free. You can add as many contacts and companies as you’d like without ever paying a dime.

But Jeff Ernst, co-founder and CEO of Smync, believes the upgrade is worth it. He says the added features—which include scheduling, email templates and reports, message automation, in-CRM calling, and the ability to track how people interact with the documents you send—are “enormously helpful.”

Plus, if you use HubSpot’s marketing automation tools, it’ll effortlessly connect with your CRM. Sales and marketing teams are famous for clashing; however, this integrated solution might just put an end to the strife.

Pricing: $800/month for Pro with $3,000 required onboarding.

Salesforce: Find, win, and keep more customers.
Almost one in four Stacklist companies use Salesforce. “It’s an amazing tool,” explains Shanon Marks, president of MU/DAI, “... if you have the right people to take advantage of it.”
Marks means that Salesforce has a lot under the hood. And just like troubleshooting a car issue is tricky when you’ve got no idea what you’re looking it, using Salesforce can be incredibly tough when you first begin. 

In addition to tracking all of your communication, the app also offers detailed analytics into your relationships, so you can figure out which strategies are working and which deals you’re most likely to close. The email tools are also pretty nifty: with predictive notifications, shortcuts, and dynamic scheduling, you’ll move through your inbox at a rapid clip.

The sales app also ties into any or all of the apps in Salesforce’s ecosystem. As a result, you can manage your marketing, sales, support, and service efforts all in one place.

Pricing: Unsurprisingly, the cost is (literally) high. Depending on how many features you want, you’ll pay $25 to $300 per user every month.

Summary of CRMs: CRMs are key for making sure you have all your ducks in a row and nothing is falling through the cracks. Pipedrive enables you to funnel your projects, so you can see exactly what stage you’re in in the sales process and what the next steps are. Hubspot is a multifaceted tool that lets you know how people work with the documents you send them. Salesforce offers you insight into your relationships with your customers.

Email Cadences
When your rep sends an email to a prospect and hears only crickets in response, does she give up and move on to the next one? Research suggests just two in 10 salespeople send a second follow-up—yet on average, it takes five outreach efforts before prospects say “yes.” Your CRM will help your team keep track of whom they’ve contacted, when, and through which medium. However, to make matters easier, use a cadence tool. These let you design a sophisticated blend of phone, email, and social outreach efforts that’ll go off with minimum effort.

Outreach: Outreach Is The Sales Engagement Cloud
Stacklist users say this engagement platform is “great for sales outreach,” “really easy,” and “like Yesware 5.0.”

The Branch Metrics sales team loves how simple it is to set sequences for emails, says co-founder and COO Mike Molinet. “You can set up a sequence of five to seven emails and then forget about it.”

Outreach syncs with Salesforce, so there’s no danger of spamming prospects. However, you can also use it as a standalone tool.

Pricing: $12,000/year

SendBloom: Make outbound sales feel inbound.
Like Outreach, SendBloom lets you build and reuse multi-step, multi-type cadences that are automated but feel human.

SendBloom differs in two ways. First, as Underdog.io co-founder Joshua Goldstein notes, “it’s a pretty, intuitive product”—so if you care about aesthetics, SendBloom scores a point.

Second, while both tools provide hyper-specific segmentation, only SendBloom segments prospects for you. When you’re only reaching out to a small group of prospects at one time, manual segmentation is fine; when you’re reaching out to hundreds or even thousands, automatic segmentation can save a lot of time.

Pricing: contact the company for more details.

Summary of Email Cadence Tools: An important part of the sales cycle is persistence. You often need to reach out to a target multiple times before you get a result. Outreach is a great way to engage your customer base without spamming. SendBloom will segment your prospects for you, saving you a lot of effort that could be devoted to other tasks.

Scheduling and Meetings
Landing some time on a prospect’s calendar is always a win. But before you can show up to the meeting, you have to agree on a day, time, and communication medium that will work for everyone involved. As we all know, that’s easier said than done. Good thing there’s an app for that.

Calendly: Simple, beautiful scheduling
Sam Utne, managing director of Impact Hub NYC, is a big fan of this simple, streamlined scheduling tool.

“I’ve probably gotten about 100 people to start using it because anytime I do, the person I’m scheduling with falls in love with it too,” Utne explains. “It has saved me so many hours.”

Just pick a couple meeting options, send the link to your recipient, and the slot they choose will automatically be added to your calendar.

Pricing: free for basic, $8/user/month paid annually or $10/user/month billed monthly

Zoom: #1 Video Conferencing and Web Conferencing Service
If you’ve ever bemoaned the inherent bugginess of Skype and Google Hangouts, you’re not alone. Fortunately, Zoom is much smoother, says Pipedrive’s head of marketing Andrus Purde.

Bridget Harris, co-founder and CEO of YouCanBook.Me, agrees.

“Zoom is very efficient, low-cost, and reliable,” she explains. Her team tried “at least ten different tools, including Google Hangout, Skype, and join.me,” before settling on this one.

Pricing: free for basic, $14.99/month/host for Pro.

AnyMeeting: Host webinars or meetings, easily and affordably
Like Zoom, AnyMeeting offers web and video conferencing with dial-in options (handy when your internet connection is cutting out and you need to quickly jump to your phone). But there’s one big difference between the two: AnyMeeting’s basic package also comes with custom branding and personal meeting URLs.

Being able to put your own stamp on things boosts your credibility, so this feature is actually pretty important if you’re frequently scheduling meetings.

Pricing: $18/month or $180/year.

Summary of Scheduling & Meetings: Setting up a time to meet or discuss with your prospect is a necessary step in the sales lifecycle. Calendly is an easy way to pick several slots and have your prospect agree to a time. Zoom is a more efficient video conferencing tools than many competitors. AnyMeeting is another great tool for video conferencing.

Collateral Management
Your sales reps are probably sending a steady stream of attachments to prospects’ inboxes: between product information, pricing guides, competitor comparison charts, and of course, the all-important proposal. To keep everything organized, use these file management tools.

DocuSign: Send, sign and approve documents from wherever life takes you
If the majority of your files require signatures, DocuSign is a good option. It’s economical, lightweight, and easy.

“I spent a full Saturday looking at the cost and features of DocuSign, RightSignature, and EchoSign,” Brian Rainey, CFO of Makeable. “We went with DocuSign because it was the cheapest solution.”

The trade-off: unlike other apps in this space, DocuSign isn’t set up for view-only files. Teams that consistently send prospects educational or marketing material should consider an alternate (or additional) tool.

Pricing: $10/month for a personal account, $40/user/month for a business account.

Proposify: A simple way to deliver winning proposals to your clients
With a large selection of templates, drag-and-drop functionality, WYSIG editor, and real-time collaboration, there’s little doubt Proposify will streamline your proposal creation process.

“It’s a gorgeous tool,” says Dan Belhassen, president and founder of SmarterU. Belhassen tried six other tools before falling for Proposify’s perfect “combination of design and functionality.”

When it comes to metrics, this app delivers. It tracks how many proposals you’ve created, your close rate, the average and individual view time, number of opens, and session length.

Pricing: $25/month for the tall package, $50/month for the grande.

PandaDoc: Close more. Close faster.
If you’re more concerned about budget than beauty, check out this Proposify competitor. PandaDoc may not be as visually appealing or flexible as Proposify—but it’s significantly cheaper.

In addition, PandaDoc lets you set up automated workflows. Maybe you’d like your sales reps to send proposals to your VP of Sales before they go out to the client. Or maybe you’re selling to a company that requires approval from five different stakeholders: set up a workflow so the file goes to the next recipient only after the previous one has signed it.

Thanks to PandaDoc’s detailed file history, you’ll be able to see every change, open, send, and sign.

Pricing: $19/user/month for professional, $39/user/month for business.

Summary of Collateral Management: This is an important, but often overlooked element of the sales process and is crucial to closing the deal. DocuSign will actually allow you to ink the deal. Proposify will track your proposals. PandaDoc will do the same thing as Proposify, but on a smaller budget.

By Aja Frost