5 Reasons Entrepreneurs Must Be Salespeople More Than Visionaries
Great ideas are essential, of course. But even amazing ideas can flounder if they aren't sold effectively.
Entrepreneurs serve a number of different roles: They're creatives, marketers, financiers and charismatic leaders, even as they perform routine tasks and make endless phone calls. Still, some of these roles are more important and more prominent in an entrepreneur's life than the others, and they deserve more attention and focus.
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One of these bigger roles is that of "idea person," in which an entrepreneur visualizes what might be achieved, and dreams up the new ideas that will bring that vision closer to reality during the company's earliest growth stages.
"Idea person," of course, is the role people tend to think of when they consider an entrepreneur's chief function. Yet while generating ideas is undoubtedly a critical entrepreneurial role, there's another role even more important -- salesperson.
Here are five reasons why entrepreneurs are salespeople even more than they are visionaries:
1. Most breakthrough ideas are improvements, not original inventions.
Pablo Picasso said, "Good artists copy; great artists steal"; and even influential entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs have admitted to believing in and appreciating this strategy. If you take a look at some of the most influential developments in the past few decades, few of the stand-out, break-through successes were original ideas.
For example, Google wasn't the first search engine. YouTube wasn't the first user-driven video-uploading and sharing platform. These were merely improvements on a model that already existed. Instead of coming up with brand new ideas by themselves, the entrepreneurs behind these mega-successful companies merely found a way to make these ideas more appealing to a mass market.
In effect, they took an idea that already existed and found a better way to sell it to the public. Unfortunately, even amazing ideas can flounder if they aren't sold effectively.
2. Branding is more powerful than product appeal.
Take a blind taste test of a brand-name breakfast cereal against its generic or store-brand counterpart. Chances are, you won't be able to tell much of a difference, yet brand-name cereals can afford to charge more and still have far higher sales. Why? Because branding has a more powerful effect than raw product value.
As an objective example, consider the Pepsi challenge. In almost every unbiased run of the Pepsi vs. Coke taste test challenge, participants have favored Pepsi as their beverage of choice. Even so, Coke's powerful brand allows the company not only to remain alive, but to flourish. No matter how good a product idea is, how it's sold can make or break its eventual performance.
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3. Revenue is what keeps businesses alive.
New ideas are fun to dream up and even more fun to create, but revenue is what keeps businesses going. Without the ability to keep cash flow positive and keep business positive long-term, even a company with a constant churn of new, innovative ideas can fail.
The main job of a salesperson is to secure this stream of revenue, which is objectively more valuable than the ideas that may make that stream easier to acquire.
4. Ideas evolve based on customer feedback.
What looks on paper like a valuable idea may fail when it's tested in a live environment. Practical tests of an idea guide its development, honing it enough to please its users.
This process of shaping, molding and changing an idea is more of a sales role than it is a visionary one. The most important part of the process isn't coming up with a good start; it's fine-tuning that start into something that people will buy.
Salespeople take the lead in matching a product to customer needs, therefore, theirs is the more necessary role for entrepreneurs to take.
5. 'Sales' is a broad term.
Sales can apply to a broad number of situations and categories, beyond the conventional "sales" department. As an entrepreneur, you won't be selling your idea just to potential clients. You'll be selling it to investors, to new employees, to your partners and maybe even your friends and family.
Sales is all about persuasion, which is a necessary element of leadership in general. The talent to generate ideas can be useful in many categories and situations, but ideas exist in a more passive, theoretical state, making them less tangible and measurable than persuasive efforts.
None of this is to say that entrepreneurs aren't or shouldn't be visionaries. Without a vision, there is no business. But performing a sales role is just as, and sometimes more, important. Even decent ideas can lead to successful companies if the right salesperson is behind them.
So, imagine that you have a fantastic idea, with an experienced salesperson backing it. If you're an entrepreneur, work on being the best salesperson you can be -- you probably already have an idea worth selling.