5 Reasons Every Entrepreneur Should Start in Sales
Ask any businessman which is more important, their product or how it’s sold, and you’re likely to get a long explanation on why product takes the cake any day of the week. They are not wrong. You don’t have a business if there was nothing to sell.
But, as we enter an era of hypercompetition, how we sell has become at least as important, if not more important. than the product itself. There is barely any industry that isn’t exploding with products and/or services. From healthcare to IT to eateries, we are swamped with endless options. A simple search for SaaS companies in Crunchbase alone returns over 9,600 hits!
And that’s only a tiny fraction of the total number of vendors out there. Being outcompeted and cash-flow problems are the main reasons cited by companies that fail in annot survive their first few years.
People in sales are acutely aware of both those challenges and many more. They are also the ones who are best equipped to tackle those problems, which might be why 15 percent Fortune 500 CEOs started in sales. Sales made realists out of them. They know what works, what doesn’t and they are competitive as hell. Those are the qualities you will need as an entrepreneur.
So, without further ado, here are five skills why sales makes the perfect starting point for your career as an entrepreneur.
1. You will become tenacious.
Tenacity is what sales people are best known for. It is a well known fact in sales circles that sales is mostly a numbers game -- success is often a process of elimination. We start with a general set of assumptions about how a business should look and work. With each failure, an assumption is ruled out, making the next move slightly better.
Complete this cycle enough times and you are bound to achieve your goal. Salespeople understand this cycle better than anyone. Being persistent is important in business as a sale rarely happens on the first contact.
Obviously, such resilience to adversity is vital to entrepreneurs who have to wade through a lot of failure before succeeding. Here are some ways you can make both yourself and your organization achieve unshaking grit…
Understand that you cannot do it alone: There is this really persistent myth that all the best salespeople (and entrepreneurs) are just flooded with self-motivation. This is just downright false. Everyone needs some help every now and then. Instead of focusing your efforts on simply getting people who seem intrinsically motivated (everyone looks motivated in interviews), your efforts are better spent trying to make a culture of motivation a pervasive part of your organization.
Have occasional meetings with your team: Sooner or later everyone asks - “why me?” When the going gets tough, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you’re the only one facing problems. Giving yourself and your team members a chance to vent frustration and learn that they are not alone can radically help you/them persevere. There is a good reason why the humble sales kickoff remains a pervasive part of modern corporate work culture.
Meetings such as these are remarkably empowering. They help to acknowledge a person’s strengths, overcome their failures and gives everyone the opportunity to celebrate each other’s accomplishments.
Foster healthy competition within your organization: While collaboration and teamwork are important aspects of productivity, every organization needs a competitive spirit to drive progress. But competition, if not managed properly, can devolve into petty office politics and selfish maneuvering. Healthy competition instills a sense of pride and playfulness all while respecting everyone around.
In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni lists the fear of conflict, which drives people to hold back their opinion out of fear of reprisals as one of the main reasons why teams fail to perform, in turn creating a team of “yes men.”
He instead suggests that a spirit of healthy productive conflict where people debate on the issues they are facing without any fears in order to help the organization achieve its goals.
Think of it as a game: Gamification is all the rage today, and for a good reason, too. It shifts our perspective from interpreting situations as a challenge rather than a threat. Seventy percent of business transformation efforts fail due to lack of engagement. However, you can easily circumvent the hardships by turn a hard task into a game.
Many companies are successfully using gamification to drive business. Airlines issuing frequent flier miles, loyalty programs such as Samsung Nation, the success of Pokemon Go, U.S. Army’s America’s Army all are great examples of gamification being put to good use. Workplace gamification can be used to drive up productivity. Consider the following...
Focus on small wins: Teresa Amabile, Baker Foundation professor at Harvard Business School in her article The Power of Small Wins notes the results of a study of 12,000 diary entries from 238 employees in seven companies.
Amabile found that the employees who journaled their experiences and tracked their successes reported a much higher rate of motivation. She explains that the practice of recording our wins, no matter how small actuates the reward circuitry of our brains which results in feelings of pride and accomplishment.
2. Sales makes you a networking ace.
Remember how cashflow can be a problem for a new startup? Impressing investors to back your idea is just about the hardest thing there is, and for a good reason too. Investors are approached all the time by founders who promise quick returns on their investments. Most fail to deliver.
To become a better networker, you need to have a plan. First, identify all the places where your prospects or investors like to hang out. Many professional networking places are good options. These include…
Chamber of commerce events
While professional spaces are nice, informal networking is a better option as people are not thinking about work there.
Consider going to...
Sporting events: Sharing a sporting passion with someone is a great way to open a conversation with them.
Gym/Yoga/Pilates/MMA Classes: Try helping someone out with their bench-press, then strike up a conversation with them. You could consider opening with - “Well, my work has been giving me hell so, I need to blow off some steam here.”
Book clubs: Often organize meetings to discuss new books. You won’t even need an ice-breaker here.
Charity organizations: Many businessmen and investors donate to and visit charities regularly. Talking to them about issues the charity deals with is a great way to build a relationship with them.
Social media: Are you member of any group that deals with areas of interests specific to your business? If not, then join them and start conversing with people on them. You can also create your own groups and communities and invite people to them.
Networking is an easy thing to mess up. Keep in mind the following:
Don’t make it all about you: Whatever you do, don’t approach people with the intention of taking something. Instead, try and find out what problems they are dealing with and then offer to help.
Know your story: Don’t be afraid to share your challenges, triumphs and failures once you become comfortable with someone. Doing so will help you build your own personal brand.
Be clear on your USP: When the time to tell people what you do does arrive, be sure of what you are offering. You should be able to boil down your USP to - “I work with [target market] to help them solve [their problem].”
Follow-up: 80% sales require at least 5 follow-ups after a meeting. Add your contacts on social media, send interesting, helpful content and respond to their posts to keep in touch with them.
Follow the 70-20-10 rule of content sharing: While the rule is for sharing content on social media, it will help you build your personal brand as well.
Develop a thick skin: You will be hearing “no” a lot. Get used to it and never take it personally.
Leverage your team’s networks: Everyone you know will have their own networks. Ask your employees or partners to provide referrals whenever possible.
It Will Make You Persuasive
Persuasion is the ability to get other people to see your point of view and agree with you. Suffice to say, it is an extremely important skill and one that you will need in your entrepreneurial kitty if you want your business to survive.
A study of 17,000 serial entrepreneurs by Target Training International found that persuasiveness is rated as the number one skill.
Fortunately, persuasion can be mastered as well. Here’s how to...
Persuade, don’t manipulate: Firstly, it is important to recognize that being persuasion is NOT manipulation.
To persuade, you need to focus on what’s important to your prospect, not yourself.
Go out of your way to help your prospects: In doing so, you can tap into the reciprocity norm, which states that people feel strongly indebted to those who help them.
Position yourself as a thought-leader: Think of yourself as a provider of solutions. Publishing interesting and insightful content that solves problems is a great way to build a loyal audience.
Share both the positive and the negative: When it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. In which case, showing you are aware of potential drawbacks will help you win confidence. You can always follow it up with how they can overcome said drawbacks, too.
Understand context and timing: Even the most well-crafted elevator pitch will fail if it is irrelevant. Framing your communication such that it fits your prospect’s situation will make it more relatable, therefore persuasive.
Timing is obviously very important here. Try and find out what your prospect’s current challenges are how your solutions can assist them.
Compliment your prospects: Circles back to the reciprocity norm. Did you know that complimenting someone had the same effect as giving them a gift?
Don’t be afraid to speak out: Being a little cocky can actually help you win someone’s approval.
People automatically assume that confident people know what they are talking about.
Brett Cohen, a Youtuber for instance, dressed up as a celebrity and went out on a walk in New York City to see how people would react to his presence. The result was shocking and hilarious!
While not exactly a double blind study, his social experiment is a perfect example of how a little confidence in the right context can go a long way to helping you persuade others.
You will learn to set realistic goals and achieve them consistently.
All entrepreneurs know the importance of setting goals. Heck, everyone today does. But whether they actually achieve them is a totally different story. A study by University of Scranton found that 92 percent of people never achieve their New Years goals. Their goals are either not specific, too ambitious or not in alignment with the person.
The same applies in business as well. While there are many reasons given for a startup’s failure, it invariably boils down to a lack of planning or foresight.
Salespersons understand the need to set smart, realistic goals early on and turn it into a process.
Because they are constantly under pressure to perform, their goal setting skills are refined to a very high degree, too.
Typically, businesses require goals, KPIs and targets in order to function properly.
Goal refer to the general objective you are trying to achieve. For example - increasing profit margin.
KPI or Key Performance Indicators are metrics that tell you whether you are moving in the right direction. For example - a company’s Client Acquisition Rate.
Target refers to the benchmark you are trying to achieve against a KPI. For example - acquiring 10 new clients per month.
Salespeople have their own goals, KPIs and targets which they achieve over and over again. Since their commissions are tied to performance, their goals tend to take a lot more tangible form.
As a business person, you need to break down your goal into concrete, measurable indices that your team understands and pursues. Constantly measuring whether your company is on track is the only way to ensure your goals are consistently achieved.
The first art you should master is making a habit out of writing down your goals.
Seeing your goals in front of you is strangely empowering and gives them a very concrete feel.
Some people like to write a post dated check for themselves, while others simply write it down on the back of a napkin. Whatever your prefered method is, make sure it is something you can see every day.
Next, consider following the SMART formula for goal setting. SMART stands for...
Specific (Simple, easy to explain)
Measurable (You can put a number on it)
Achievable (You are confident it can be done)
Relevant (Realistic, it helps you achieve your objectives)
Time Bound (There is a time limit within which it should be attained)
Your goals should be specific.
Be very clear on what actions that you need to take in order to achieve your goals. Consider asking...
What is to be attained? How it is to be obtained? Who all will be involved? Which resources will be used?
Your goals should be measurable. There should be a starting point and an endpoint for each goal. This is where KPIs can help you out. By defining realistic KPIs and measuring them, you can keep a close eye on your progress.
Your goals should be achievable. While optimism is great, each step of your goal should be within your reach. That’s not to say that your goals shouldn’t be challenging.
Questions to consider...How you could achieve your goals? How long it will take to achieve them?
Your goals should be relevant. Relevance can be both personal as well with respect to your company. Are your actions actually helping you fulfill your desires, or, taking your company in the direction that you want?
Your goals should be timely. Open-ended goals have a way of becoming unimportant. Putting a time limit on your objectives makes them a lot more real while providing a challenge to you. However, ambitious time limits can hurt rather than help your business. The best way to figure out how much time you need is to look back at the amount of time you required to complete a similar activity.
You will know what your market wants.
By far the biggest reason why startups fail is because they have a product that no one wants. That’s just another way of saying that most entrepreneurs are utterly detached from their respective target markets.
Sure, everyone thinks that their idea can change the world. But do they actually have the data to back that hunch up? While you can always run your own market research or hire a company to do it for you, nothing beats on the ground, first hand experience.
As salespeople are the ones responsible for promoting the product, they know their customer’s evaluation, objections and potential upgrades. Many companies rely on insights from their sales teams in product development.
Truly innovative companies try their best to engender collaboration between sales, customer relations and product development teams. In doing so they not only allow new ideas to flow quicker, but remain grounded in their approach as well.
Letting the users know that their feedback was taken into account empowers them and can help you develop a deeper rapport with them.
Uservoice in their survey - The Influence of Customer Feedback on the Product Development Cycle, found that product teams considered feedback from customer relationship and sales teams the most vital.
By starting out in sales, you will already have a good idea on what direction to take.
With the US economy already back from the 2008 recession, we are again seeing an increase in startup activity. Trends in Europe and Asia are taking a similar route.
Not only are more people expressing interest in starting a business, but governments are starting initiatives to support them as well. In other words, it has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur. Startups are rebounding and the trend is expected to continue. While the development is a boon for the economy, it also means first time businesspeople can expect increased competition.
Consequently, it is best to arm yourself with the right tools for the job before even getting into it. For those looking for a career as an entrepreneur, sales remains a great starting point. It can help new entrepreneurs gain crucial skills in overcoming the very challenges that cripple most startups.
Remember, most of your competitors will probably not consider taking the same line, giving you will a massive head-start. You can eliminate many assumptions very early in your career while your competition grapples with them. Sales experience offers many more benefits than the points covered above as well…
You learn to work with a wide number of people regardless of your “type.”
You will gain a zen like mastery over your time.
You will become an expert in closing.
You will become more realistic in your approach.
Even if you choose not to pursue a career in entrepreneurship, sales experience can be utterly rewarding in it’s own right. Not to mention, it can open doors to other career options, too.