In startups, “sales cure all” – Mark Cuban.
But how many entrepreneurs consider themselves to be salespeople? Mighty few – and i’m willing to bet that you don’t either. We would rather be called the “creative this” or “idea that” than be associated with selling. But if you really want to get past that block in revenue growth, you must invest in sales.
Having increased sales of your product or service not only increases the morale of your team, it is also what keeps your business running and what pays your staff. But we all know the bad reputations salespeople have. If used-car salesmen are anything to go by, it’s not the most loved profession by a long shot. Millennial employees would not touch sales jobs with ten-foot poles because they consider it “uncool”. And it probably is too. When we hear the word “salesman”, what comes to mind are the traditional salespeople aptly portrayed in a movie like “The Wolf of Wall Street”. As a result of all this, most entrepreneurs especially startup founders feel no need to learn how to sell their products and services.
Steven Osinski, sales expert at San Diego State University and former entrepreneur said “The concept of selling isn’t cool, but the truth is so many businesses have gone under because they don’t know how to sell. You can have the greatest product or service on the market, but without sales strategies, you’ll never get it off the ground.”
Startup founders today have three main sales to make.
The first is selling your business idea and execution plan to potential investors.
The second is selling your company and it’s benefits to potential, hires.
And the third is the most popular process of convincing customers to pay for your product or service.
In order to be successful at these three, you need to master the following sales skills.
- Don’t start with your product:
This bit of advice may sound like shooting yourself in the foot, but it is probably the most difficult lesson a salesperson can learn. Yes, your product or service is something that you’ve built from the ground up and love with all your heart – you’re very proud of it. But instead of starting with it, you would serve your audience – and eventually yourself – better if you started your pitch with questions about their needs.
UNC Kenan Flagler Business School professor Dave Roberts, who runs the university’s sales program says “What every client is really looking for is help”. When you lead with questions, you find out what your customers need, what their problems are and if you can provide a solution to them, they see you as more of a problem solver than a salesperson. Get to know the people you are pitching to. Focus on the clients first and your product or service second. Only when you understand them well enough that you know where exactly your prooduct fits in their lives. This approach also lets you know more about the prospects you are pitching to – the kind of investor, staff and customer that will buy your product and how you should go about selling to them.
- Weed out those too polite to say no:
Some prospects will say their “no” immediately and decisively. There is almost nothing tha can be done about them. However, there are those people who (mostly) out of politeness let you make your entire pitch even though they have absolutely no interest in buying. This is a waste of your time and you need to learn when a prospect is genuinely interested in your product, so as to save yourself the time and unnecessary disappointment.
One way to avoid this is to make the people you’re pitching to comfortable refusing your offer. Have a time limit for your pitches and after the initial chat to get to kow a little about them, you can continue with a statement like “I think I get what your problems are and I have a possible solution. I’ll tell you about it, and you’ll let me know whether or not you think it would be helpful”. This approach is good in two ways – it makes people less likely to keep their refusal till later and it makes them more willing to consider it because they know they can comfortably say no at any time.
That way, customers are less likely to hold off on saying “no” out of politeness. But there’s also another benefit: They’re more willing to take a serious look at the product once you’ve made them feel comfortable saying no.
- Look for the sweet spot:
Way more people than you realize can find a use for your product in one way or another. Your job as a salesperson is to find the unique reason your prospects will have for being interested in your product and use it to make your pitch. While one person may prefer your product because it’s environment-friendly, someone else might like it because it’s a status symbol to him or her. One approach to take when looking for a prospect’s sweet spot is to start with simple, yesor no questions to put them at ease. When you get a feel for him/her, you can move on to open-ended questions to help you find that sweet spot.