047 Tukan Das on getting your first customers and why you have to sell yourself

Tukan Das, CEO of LeadSift, comes from a computer science background, doing his research on sentiment analysis. He used machine learning to analyze topic-based sentiments, like “I love Steve Jobs’ vision, but I hate the latest iPhone”, which has positive and negative sentiments in the same sentence. (Tukan notes that computers have even more trouble with sarcasm than people.)

Tukan was comfortable writing code, not with sales and marketing. So when he started LeadSift, he hired a sales person. This was a mistake, because he had a “glorified idea”.

At that stage, “it’s almost impossible for an outside salesperson to sell.”

It took almost a year to realize the problem, and then Tukan had to step in, after a lot of developers building custom code based on sales requests that weren’t really the right fit. When Tukan started running sales, he first insisted that they couldn’t give anything away. People had to pay some non-zero fee. Then he switched from month-to-month to 90 day paid pilots. (They picked $99/month, almost out of thin air. One prospect insisted on paying $500. From that point on, they went with $500.)

For the first 2 years, they focused on outbound emails. In 2016, they got about 6 meetings per 100 contacts. 20% of those meetings that were a fit became customers. So they got about 1 customer per 100 contacts.

Tukan emphasizes that each contact required several emails, LinkedIn follow up, and a lot of persistence. About 30% of the emails are personalized, 70% is template. (Note that LeadSift has some capabilities to make this easier.)

They also got rid of their slide deck presentation. (Hallelujah! How much time have we all wasted in PowerPoint hell?) They would tell stories based on the specific needs of the prospect, along the lines of John Livesay’s better selling through storytelling.

Tukan also learned to not take rejection personally. Sometimes people would come back later when the timing was better. Sometimes they don’t. It’s ok.

After a seemingly successful sales meeting with a Fortune 100 prospect, followed by ghosting, one of Tukan’s advisors gave him some great advice:

Customers who do not understand your value proposition don’t owe you anything.

So now Tukan asks people to tell him upfront if there’s not a good fit.

The Wine (and Cider)

Tukan is enjoying some Angry Orchard Hard Cider.

I’ve got some Becker Vineyards Texas Tempranillo.

Where to find Tukan…


Where you can find Reuben: @Sales4Nerds, @Mimiran, Mimiran.com (the easy CRM for people who are awesome at serving clients and would love some help getting more, but hate “selling”). You can also  listen on Overcast, or Subscribe on Android, or Player.fm.

Also, if you can get a free “fill in the blank” hero proposal template. Remember, a proposal is a story, not a brochure.

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Published by

Reuben Swartz

Host and Chief Nerd.