How To Be A Startup Sales Hero


Pontiflex is a Brooklyn-based online advertising startup that, instead of charging its clients per impression or per click, charges brand advertisers per lead. It’s doing well, says CEO Zephrin Lasker. He told us that:

  • This January’s revenues topped all of 2008’s.
  • Pontiflex is hiring a person a week.
  • It reached profitability last year, before upping its burnrate in an effort to reach “massive scale.”
  • All this while sales lead sellers like ValueClick and Leadpoint suffer from their exposure to mortgage-pushing clients.

But while there are plenty of smart ideas and good technology behind Pontiflex‘s early success, it wouldn’t be where it is without Jon Beardsley, Pontiflex’s chief revenue officer.

As an early member of Pontiflex’s sales team, Jon roped the client that put the startup on the map. 

Thanks to Jon, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign directed more than 2% of its total online spend toward Pontiflex — more than they spent in the Washington Post.

Listen up people: Jon is a startup hero.

We talked to him and he offered some advice for startup sales people who might find themselves in his shoes.

  • Reeling in the Obama campaign took more than a cold call. Jon spent 16 months banging away on it.  Jon got some back and forth going after contacting all the major campaigns in early 2007, but it soon died down. That dead zone last 11 months. During that time, Jon says he kept in touch with the campaigns by sending an email or calling every six weeks or so. Many of those emails went to the Obama aid who eventually arranged the phone call that would close the deal. Jon’s tip here is: Don’t wear yourself out chasing the big client, but don’t let them slip away, either.
  • After all that waiting, Jon had to be ready to hurry up when an email of his began zip around Obama’s Chicago HQ in August 2008. His closing call with the campaign lasted 20 minutes and he says “the core of that conversation” took about 5. Jon had time to give a boilerplate pitch, list Pontiflex’s other clients, get to pricing and name a minimum spend. He told the campaign Pontiflex had venture backing because “we wanted to convey that we weren’t some guy calling from a basement on Long Island.” In fact, Pontiflex is located in a warehouse on Long Island. When the call ended, Jon told Zephrin the deal was done. Be ready to hurry up.
  • Research, research, research. Jon says he would spend hours on Google looking for the right people to contact — for anybody to contact. He googled “every possible variation” of everything from  “new media director obama campaign” to “Axlerod’s assistant.”
  • Jon used to work for Unicef and non-profits. He says he shares an affinity with Obama campaign. “He’s a believer,” Zephrin told us. That kept him going during that big dead zone. The lesson? Target clients that fascinate and inspire you.
  • Jon considers himself a politics junkie. This helped Pontiflex close the sale in two ways. One, Jon knew where to look to find the right people to talk to. Second, when he finally got those people on the phone, Jon didn’t make them waste time catching him up on the state of the campaign. In August 2008, Jon knew exactly which states the campaign wanted to target.  Know your client inside-out.

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