Most aspiring entrepreneurs believe that a great idea alone will assure business success. Experts argue that it is more important to have a great plan, and personal business acumen. Hardly anyone mentions selling principles. Yet, in this age when customers have a thousand alternatives, and are overwhelmed by a multitude of messages, sales efforts can make or break a business.
In fact, I believe modern entrepreneurs need to be super sales people, in the most positive sense, to their team as well as customers. I recently found the classic sales training book “Bootstrap Selling The Sandler Way,” by Bill Morrison, who has 20 years in sales leadership roles, and I was amazed at how many of his sales lessons are great lessons for new entrepreneurs as well.
Based on my many years of watching entrepreneurs struggle and too often fail, here are some of his key lessons for dedicated sales professionals that every entrepreneur should take to heart:
1. Focus on what customers want to buy, not what you want to sell. You can either find customers for your solution or you can find solutions for your customers. The smart answer is to find solutions your customers need. Putting all your effort into driving your favorite solution can lead to forgetting the problem being addressed in the first place.
2. Your first idea about where pain resides is nearly always wrong. Smart founders and smart salesmen look for customers with a painful problem, rather than pushing a nice-to-have solution. No pain usually means no sales. Then every startup has to learn to pivot, because their first understanding of the real problem is usually not quite right.
3. Your price and their value are not the same thing. Entrepreneurs set the price of their solution based on their costs, and their perception of value. Customers set value based on similar products found. For example, with smartphone apps, most are free. Thus, no matter what your value, it is hard to build an app business that makes money today.
4. You and the customer have to be on the same side. Too many entrepreneurs, especially ones with work-at-home schemes and multi-level marketing, believe that someone has to lose to help them win. Like many salespeople, they see themselves as hunters. With the best solutions, the customer gets value which exceeds your revenue.
5. You are not the servant of your customer. At the same time, every customer is not always right. Entrepreneurs need to be customer advocates, but not a slave to their every whim. Businesses must part quickly with low-profit or abusive customers to focus on those who deliver greater return, and appreciate the value their solution provides.
6. Proactively look for problems, rather than react only. In every new business, as in every sales territory, problems happen. Reacting to a customer crisis is always more expensive to recover, than to view a problem brewing, and head it off with proper actions. That mentality has to be part of the culture of every startup team member from the start.
7. Make the tough decision rather than no decision. It is easy for entrepreneurs to postpone decisions in tough situations, in favor of more study. Yet, a startup image can be destroyed more quickly than a big auto company, by not taking action on a customer problem today. Sales people alike, who will not face their fears, lose in the long run.
8. Telling is not selling. Having a snappy presentation on your solution or startup is great, but it is only half the battle. Entrepreneurs need to actively listen to customers, investors and other constituents, just like sales people need to listen before they talk. Push marketing does not work well today, in the age of interactive networking and peer reviews.
9. People buy from people and companies they like. Entrepreneurs who fail to invest in establishing rapport with their customers will suffer the same consequences as sales people who don’t put themselves in the shoes of their prospects. Through social media and customer interaction, you must convince customers that your culture matches theirs.
Morrison espouses a selling success triangle of good techniques, behavior and attitude, to turn prospecting opportunities into business success and personal value. Again, these same attributes are equally relevant for an entrepreneur turning an idea into a business. So before you conclude that your technology alone will catapult you to riches, take a success lesson from some super sales people who have learned the hard way.
Image credit: CC by Akairom