What is the best piece of sales advice you can offer a first-time founder?
The following answers are provided by members of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
1. Listen to the Market
“They just don’t get it:” I once heard a former employer say that. The truth was, she didn’t get it. If your product or service is based upon your personal preferences, your chances of success are slim to none. What you have to sell should either solve a problem or help a prospect meet an aspirational goal. You’ll never have to convince someone to buy if they believe you can make their life better.
2. Bring on a Rainmaker ASAP
Make a talented salesperson your first hire. This is much harder to find than operational or technical talent, but it is just as critical to your business success. In addition to that, cultivate a sales culture throughout your business.
3. Approach Sales From a Human Perspective
Sales is first and foremost about connecting with people. Look at sales as an opportunity to meet people, learn about their pain points and provide solutions. As a first-time founder I never thought of myself as a sales person; however, when I approached it with an interest in people and how I may be able to genuinely help them, I was able to close 10 customers in the first three months.
4. Build a Process
Most founders will jump on any business that comes their way, which makes sense. However, the sooner you build a process and start targeting the segments that fit your company, product and vision, the sooner you will succeed in sales. We found the book “Crossing the Chasm” very help in building a basic understanding of this.
5. You Have to Be the Top Salesperson
If you don’t have the sales ability or confidence, then you need a co-founder to be the top salesperson. Sales is not something you can easily delegate, as you need someone on the top level to collect objections and figure out how to change your product, service or pitch to properly address the customers’ needs. Don’t think you’re above being on the front line in sales.You always should be.
6. Know Your Product to Market Strategy
Having an amazing product is a lot easier than getting people to pay attention to that product. Invest in a strong product to market strategy, the way you would invest in your technology itself. It can be your make-or-break difference.
7. Sometimes the Best Deals Are the Ones You Don’t Do
Keep it mind that not every deal you encounter is a good deal. Part of having great sales is also having the right kind of sales with the right people. When you negotiate, the deal should be good for both partiers. If it is not a good deal for you, explain why and ask for what you need in order to move forward. If they don’t make a concession, don’t be afraid to move on.
8. It’s About Giving, Not Taking
Always look to be a resource for your customer. Show them you are interested in their business and what is affecting them. I always send news articles or videos that I think will help my clients with their company. It’s about building the relationship that your competitor isn’t; then when they are ready to pull the trigger they will look straight to you, their trusted resource.
9. Plan to Get an Answer as Quickly as Possible
The prospect of working with large corporations can be very exciting. However, you’ll face long sales cycles with a tremendous amount of uncertainty where the discussions can be halted at any moment. When navigating through the cycle, make sure you are doing everything you can to get to a decision quickly, maximizing your time to pursue other opportunities.
10. Let Content Be Your Sales Team
Invest in quality content from the beginning. Great content such as motion graphics, infographics or interactive experiences have the opportunity to connect with a wide range of potential clients and each piece of content you release becomes a lifetime sales person.
11. Get Everyone Invested
Desperate to acquire initial customers, an entrepreneur might eagerly offer clients a free trial. While that approach may increase the number of deals you close, retention rates will be low and the feedback you get from customers won’t be very valuable. Instead, focus on selling your product or service at full price to clients who will be invested in the long-term success of the project and you.
12. Be Different and Make Friends
When we first started, we overheard some of our potential clients complaining about salespeople in our industry who approached them with sales pitches during trade association events when they were just trying to have fun. So we decided to do the opposite. We left our business cards at home and focused mostly on making friends. We essentially became “one of them.” It worked.