7 Lessons to Rock Both the Stage and Sales

Touring musician turned startup employee shares advice from his former life that applies to growing companies.

learn more about David Du Pré

By David Du Pré

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Musicians and startups share an entrepreneurial spirit: Both create their own brand, whether that's music, products or services, and learn to sell their creations to various (and often diverse) audiences.

Startups -- and the entrepreneurs driving them -- can learn a lot from rock stars, as the music world offers a surprising yet proven learning ground for successful sales strategies.

When I made the transition from guitarist in the Belgian rock band Arid to a career in sales at a fast-growing startup, I realized that my experience as a musician and performer uniquely prepared me for the compelling presentation style, speed and agility necessary to successfully sell and grow a startup.

Here are the seven key lessons startups can learn from artists:

1. Develop your stage presence. Don't substitute substance for style -- you need both to succeed in both the entertainment and startup worlds. First impressions are important for most people, but in sales and music they're critical -- so make it count. There's nothing wrong with wearing that Hard Rock Café T-shirt around the house, but it won't help you close a deal.

Related: How Being a Post-Punk Singer Prepared Me for the Startup Life

Develop a presentation style that captures your audience's attention and gets the crowd excited about your product or company. Being polished and telling a story with energy and charisma is essential to influencing everyone, from customers to venture capital firms.

2. Value your team. When Arid was touring, there were countless people to help us get from point A to point B and drive a great experience for our fans. At a startup, there are people behind the scenes in development and operations that drive product innovation and value for sales. Understand their roles and show your appreciation for everyone, not just the folks "on stage."

3. Keep the band together. As an artist and a performer, it can be tempting to fall in love with your own ideas and perspective. But Arid's best albums resulted from the collective creativity and collaboration of all of the band mates, not just one person. It is equally as important to solicit different perspectives at a startup to create the best product or determine the most efficient business process.

For example, sales and marketing teams should keep the lines of communication open and weigh both perspectives when making decisions. This will help bridge the gap between departmental viewpoints and empower all sides to achieve their shared goal: business growth.

4. Play to your audience. Audiences want to hear what they know and love, as well as new songs. You need to innovate to keep people interested while staying true to the brand and core values. Finding the right balance of well known vs. new material was crucial to a good performance. Understanding your audience is just as essential for startups.

Related: Big Business Lessons From Three Rock 'n' Roll Legends

To maximize customer experience and drive startup growth, it's essential that you do research on your customer, then customize and personalize sales pitches and conversations to make sure you are delivering relevant and smart information.

5. Avoid the one-hit wonder. Artists and entrepreneurs feel immense pressure after a major win, asking themselves, "What's next?" You don't want to be wildly successful with only one hit as a startup (Flipcam) or musician (Vanilla Ice). Commit to the slow burn by dedicating time to developing new innovations or revenue streams to ensure long-term sustainability.

6. Don't be afraid to experiment and change. Didn't play to a full house? Album has low sales? Not hitting sales targets? Maybe you need to change your tune. Successful bands and entrepreneurs need to know when to move on and try a new approach. Analyze the situation and make adjustments to meet your goals.

Flexibility and the willingness to try new tactics and technologies are often what drive success.

7. Be prepared for the unexpected. Becoming a famous musician is no easy feat, and neither is starting a new business from the ground up. Aspiring artists and entrepreneurs should always be prepared for the unexpected. Entrepreneurs have to take advantage of every opportunity to network and sell their business.

If the Wi-Fi cuts out during a board meeting, improvise. If your sales lead is constantly traveling, be willing to take the meeting somewhere offbeat and on-the-go. Your calm and creative responses to situations that don't go as planned will make you shine in front of partners and customers.

Strike the right cord using these tips and you can propel your startup to rock star status.

Related: Looking for Inspiration? Channel Your Inner Bob Dylan.

David Du Pré

Vice President of Sales, Showpad

David Du Pré is the vice president of sales for Showpad, a mobile-sales enablement solution. In his current role, he drives international growth, enabling customers to align sales, marketing and training. Staying true to his rock star roots, Du Pré is also a founding member of Belgian rock band Arid, which reached gold record status for sales.  

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