A Wake-Up (Sales) Call to Entrepreneurs
Selling is not something just for the sales staff, nor is it some automatic phenomena. It's a skill any founder can and ought to acquire.
Entrepreneurs are some of the most passionate, inspiring, quick-thinking and hard-working people on Earth. I love entrepreneurs. My dad was an entrepreneur, and I work with entrepreneurs every day. However -- and again, I say this with nothing but love and respect -- lots of entrepreneurs are simply not natural sales people. The skills that you need to start a business and pursue a strategic vision are not always the same as the characteristics you need to close deals.
Fortunately, it's not too late. Entrepreneurs tend to be curious, self-motivated people who love to learn; you can learn to be a better sales person. Having managed hundreds of lead generation programs for entrepreneurs and small businesses, there are key points that entrepreneurs should keep in mind to help them get better at sales.
1.) Sales aren't automatic.
Many entrepreneurs, especially in technology or complex B2B verticals, tend to be technical types. They have developed great solutions, and they're passionate about their technology, and they know how all the moving parts, bells and whistles work, but they don't understand much about the sales process.
Too many entrepreneurs mistakenly believe that sales just happen automatically. They think that you just call or email someone, and next thing, you have just sold a $50,000 piece of business. The truth is much more complicated.
The more complex and expensive the solution that you're selling, the more time and effort you should be prepared to spend on making that sale. In major account B2B sales, the average time to close a new account is typically six to 18 months.
Be prepared for the long haul, both in terms of patience and of the impact on your company's finances. Everything depends on the timeframe of how soon your buyer is willing and able to make a purchase decision, how soon you can establish credibility and build a relationship with that buyer, and how soon you can get in the room with all of the key decision makers and stakeholders who have an impact on that purchase decision. It's complicated. And it takes time. So don't assume that you can just pick up a phone and rack up big sales numbers.
2.) Read up on your sales skills.
Lots of entrepreneurs learn how to code or learn how to manage accounting; sales is the same way. Being a sales person is one of the many hats that you have to wear as an entrepreneur, and you should invest some time in learning how to sell. (Check out a list of the best business books to find some inspiration.) A few key sales skills that you should think about:
- Elevator pitch: You should be able to quickly describe your business, your product/solution, and why someone should care, for a 30-second elevator ride.
- Sales script: Once you get on the phone with a prospect, what will you say to them? Practice in advance by writing a sales script. Lots of entrepreneurs are reluctant to do this; they think they can just improvise and talk off the top of their heads. But a script will help focus your thoughts and keep you organized and on-message.
- Making "the ask": Sales is all about having the confidence and courage to make "the ask," to formally ask the prospect to agree to take the next step in the sales process, whether that is to sign up for a demo, to attend a sales presentation, or finally to close the deal. Sales is not about being pushy, it's about guiding the prospect in the right direction. Prospects want you to lead them and be clear about asking for what you need them to do next.
3. Create a sales process.
Not only do sales not just "happen," they are the result of a disciplined process. Sometimes called the "sales funnel" or "sales cycle," the sales process is a multi-step evolution of taking sales leads from initial contact to final deal closing. Your sales process might be different from other companies or industries; that's fine. Find a series of steps that make sense for what you sell, for example:
- Initial conversation;
- Product demo;
- Formal sales presentation;
- Solution implementation budget estimate and ROI discussion;
- Final meeting with key stakeholders; and
Learn how to move prospects through this sales process, or one like it.
4.) Build Trust.
It sounds simple, but it's profoundly complicated: Selling is all about building trust and getting people to trust you. If customers don't like you and don't trust you, they won't want to buy from you. Sales is all about building relationships.
Selling to your internal network of contacts who already know you or know about your business is very different than selling to folks who don't know you at all. Prospects need to trust your ability to deliver, especially if you're selling a complex B2B solution with a lengthy implementation phase. And all that takes time, hence the long sales cycle. Fortunately, entrepreneurs are often charismatic people who believe in what they're doing; learn how to project that confidence into your sales conversations.
5.) Cultivate resilience.
Entrepreneurs know how to roll with the punches. There are lots of ups and downs that go with running a company, and sales are the same story. As you work through the sales process, there are always going to be hiccups, and that's fine. Your job is to get to the bottom of it and keep moving the process along. Follow up on questions, listen to what customers are saying, and read between the lines. Find out what people are really worried about, or what is the root cause of their objection.
Don't assume that selling is something that only sales people can do. The truth is, selling (at its best) is fun. It's a learning process. It's a chance to meet new people and build relationships and to discover new insights about your company and your product. Every day as an entrepreneur is a chance -- in some small way -- to reinvent the world. I hope you'll take these insights to heart and use them in your journey to becoming a better sales person.
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