Have you tapped your network for all it's worth?
When you’re starting out, you can’t rely on family and friends to sustain your business forever. In fact, you really need to start expanding your network and making sales before you bleed your family and friends dry.
So, what gives?
You're going to have to start making sales.
Maybe you're thinking, Sales isn't my forte. I'm more of a product development person. Or I'm not a natural salesperson.
If you're planning to succeed in business, it's time you kissed your sales allergy goodbye. I'm sorry to break it to you. Actually, I'm not sorry at all. If you're in business, you're in the business of sales. Sales are what keeps your business alive. No sales, no business.
So, here are four lessons to keep in mind:
1. Avoid going in cold. OK, maybe not so tough, right?
For the savvy business owner, cold calling should always be the last resort.
Most people don't buy from people they don’t know or from someone who shows up unannounced, and for good reason. People do business with those they know, like and trust. That's why it’s vital to have an ever expanding network of healthy relationships.
So, how can you get potential customers to know and trust you?
Warm introductions. With social media, making new connections is easier than ever before. Facebook shows your "mutual friends" and LinkedIn lets you see the degrees of separation between you and those valuable connections.
Start by identifying a prospect or a group of customers you think you should be having a conversation with. Then figure out whom you have to go through to connect with them. If they’re only one or two degrees away, you’re good to reach out through your network and initiate correspondence.
Ask your mutual contact for an introduction over email. And if you can, get them on the phone! But if you keep coming up empty with few common connectors, it’s time to get more social and grow your network.
Permission-based marketing. Provide value to your prospects by producing consistently creative and interactive content, and you will gradually earn their trust. As they see how helpful your content is, they will want to be part of what you're doing. In other words, you've done the hard work of selling before you actually arrive to close the sale.
Earned media. When your content gets shared and talked about organically, that's a massive boost for your social proof. It’s well earned. With the likes of PR, you can create newsworthy events, get media coverage and exposure to influencers without having to spend a dime, other than using your time. (And in the promotional vein, I'll point out that my company recently published a presentation, "The Beginners Guide to Startup PR.")
2. Selling starts before you open for business. If I've learned one thing from helping startups succeed, it's this: You need to be selling even before you put an open sign in your window. With the right exposure and a solid network, you'll have a flood of customers waiting at your door on opening day.
Building lasting relationships is key here. Knowing the right people will be a huge help when you're ready to start making sales. Remember, people buy from those they know, like and trust. So your job -- as soon as you even think about starting a business -- is to grow your network and get people to know, like and trust you. Then they’ll be ready and waiting the moment your product or service goes to market.
3. Selling is customer validation. You want to know whether your product will succeed? Then get out there and start selling.
There's no better validation than a customer handing over money, even if it’s just a dollar.
The moment someone opens his or her wallet, he or she is validating your product or service. They're showing they're convinced that you can help them save time or money or solve a pressing problem. But be warned, revenue does not necessarily indicate traction. You need to prove a functional business model, create demand and consistently deliver value before you go popping bottles of champagne with excitement.
4. ABC or die. The ABCs of business is Always Be Closing. Ain't that the truth? The sale isn't done until the person has signed on the dotted line.
Once you've built your network, you need to get into the habit of closing deals -- all the time.
To prepare prospects for the close, you need a solid sales pipeline in place. As you bring prospects through your pipeline, you need to:
Identify prospects. Who in your network could use your services?
Qualify prospects. Are they a good match for your product or service? What's the probability that they'll hire you?
Create proposals. This means explaining to your prospect how your product or service will help them achieve their business goals. This can be the toughest part of selling, but it isn't nearly as difficult as it sounds. Do the following, and you’ll maintain a healthy pipeline:
Listen to people in your network. Keep the conversation going by asking insightful questions. Show how you can help solve their problems.
When you do this right, you’ll have a stream of incoming clients ready for you to close the sale.
One final tip: If you want to be a closer, don't be afraid of following up. According to David Peoples in his book Selling to the Top, 60 percent of customers say no four times before they say yes.
Remember, sales are built on relationships. That means keeping the conversation going until your prospects are ready to do business with you. If you're not constantly tapping your network, then you're letting one of your most valuable assets go to waste.
Stop whining and start selling. Now that you know how simple sales can be, you can quit the wimpy "I hate sales" act. Business is sales. Relationship building is sales. Making money is sales. Get over it, and start selling.
It's the only way your business will make it big. And it's the only way you'll learn how much your product helps your customers.