Most of the successful entrepreneurs I’ve met in my life speak about their companies with unfailing conviction. Whether they are introverts or extroverts, college dropouts or MBAs, they summon such passion for their business and exude such confidence that it’s impossible not to be drawn in, not to trust their every assertion.
That conviction is typically borne of their intimate experience with their “baby.” They have likely lived through every moment of their company’s history -- from the instant they decided to exploit a market niche, or develop a pioneering product, through the rough patches of development, to scaling the enterprise to its current heights. Along the way, these entrepreneurs sweated the details, analyzed the minutiae and dissected every aspect of their market position.
If all that made them the most knowledgeable person in the company, then a lofty measure of confidence will rightfully come with it. Good for them.
Unfortunately, however, too often that confidence becomes eclipsed by ego. I’ve seen this happen time and again. Given how long it's taken entrepreneurs to learn what they know, and considering the breadth and depth of that knowledge, many think that that acumen cannot be taught. They make that assumption because they personally lived the history, because they acquired what they know by experiencing it firsthand, because they now assume that all that knowledge could not possibly be handed down to others, including the company’s sales force.
Yet, by making this assumption, these self-centered entrepreneurs ironically deny their salespeople the ability to acquire the very element most critical for success -- self-confidence. And many of their employees will buy into the myth. They too will believe that they can never know as much as the boss.
And, as a result, they'll resign themselves to a second-class status in which they're content to understand just enough to get by.
The price of this resignation will be an inability to sell with conviction because the two ingredients -- egotism at the top that assumes no one can ever be as smart, and resignation by staffers who assume the same view -- form a recipe for failure. The fact is, if entrepreneurs cannot transfer their knowledge to their staff -- and the conviction and passion that go with it -- they cannot be successful.
The key to passing along that learning starts with breaking down this formula. It requires distilling the entrepreneur’s magic potion into doses that can be prescribed for regular consumption by the staff. Here are the components for doing that:
1. Start at the beginning.
Tell your staff what you think are the most important elements of the company story. Make sure, for example, that salespeople know the company history, chapter and verse: how the company was founded, the characters involved, the notable milestones. Convey these stories with the kind of passion that can be replicated in its retelling.
2. Why, oh, why?
One of the most critical elements of the company’s history is the answer to the question: Why was it founded? Use the answer as an excellent way to demonstrate how the company is organized around a specific goal, about solving a particular marketplace challenge.
3. Convey these things when the time is right.
It’s not enough to know the company's history; it must be conveyed at the right time and told the right way. Don’t assume that that’s intuitive. Review how to deliver the message and in what situations.
4. For example . . .
Provide a talk-track, the actual verbiage that gets the message across, with just the right words and tone. Even better, provide a recorded talk track that can be listened to again and again.
5. Bottle the magic.
Keep track of those moments with clients when things just click -- when a client’s reaction makes it clear you were firing on all cylinders. Make a note of what was said -- we call it “bottling the magic” -- and reuse it later with other clients or prospects.
It’s not enough to simply send talk-tracks to the staff; you need to schedule practice sessions, with large and small groups alike. The more they get the chance to practice in front of others, the more their confidence will grow.
Instead of simply memorizing a talk-track and spitting it back like an automaton, your staffers should use their own words and create their own rhythms. Have each of the staff write his or her own personalized script, then repeat it back to you -- over and over. By the time they’ve done this six times, you’ll find that while the words may change, the essence will eventually emerge in individual staffers' own voice.
Company history is only one of the many elements that should be passed along methodically until it becomes a standard part of company lore. Entrepreneurs would be well served to provide a learning module for other important aspects. Transferring this knowledge will not only help educate your sales team about important matters related to your company’s offerings, but will imbue in each employee the kind of confidence that mirrors that of an entrepreneur.