A good entrepreneur is not necessarily born a good salesman. In fact, they are often the opposite, more focused on building things rather than selling them. Yet, in today’s world of information overload, marketing and selling skills are critical to the success of every startup.
The alternative, “If we build it, they will come” approach, has long been relegated to the field of dreams, after Kevin Costner’s movie by the same name. In my own effort to keep up with the times, I explored Julie Steelman’s book on selling, The Effortless Yes: Demystifying the Selling Process. Julie is known as the entrepreneur’s selling mentor for both men and women.
Steelman does a good job of outlining the key selling steps that separate great salesmen from the rest of us. In my view, every entrepreneur has to be a great salesman to succeed (among the many other required skills), so you should take a hard look at these points:
- Dust off your moxie. Don’t hope that a miracle will happen and your products and services will sell themselves. Be passionate about what you are selling, and decide to be of service, by providing your customers with something of value in exchange for deserved payment. Set aside fear and doubt, and stand tall with your message.
- Claim your sweet spot. The sweet spot is the essence of your brand. The way to claim it is to name your expertise or specialty, describe for whom it’s meant, and clearly state how it delivers on its promise (or what is called your unique payoff proposition). Make it real for you and your customers.
- Craft your irresistible pitch. An irresistible pitch is a clear and concise explanation of what you do best, benefits to your customers, an honest statement of why you do what you do, a question that pulls the listener in, and words and language that engage the hearts and mind of your ideal customer.
- Socialize your message. Generate leads using social media, but don’t rely on it alone to make sales. Use the media to initiate contact, highlight your human element, and communicate your specialty or expertise in a way that anticipates what your customers might be thinking about. Facilitate a transition to a private environment for closing a sale.
- Engage graciously. Always treat customers with respect, honesty, and warmth to make the selling process more enjoyable, fun, and delightful. The goal is to deepen the relationship and discover if their needs match your offer. Listen closely to what they are saying and expressing. Don’t forget to follow-up. Skip the cold calling – it’s just too cold.
- Discover your signature selling style. Learn to sell in a way that matches your personality and your strengths. Check the definitions in Steelman’s book or other sources to see if you are the humanitarian, visionary, maverick, romantic, nurturer, mentor, or one of a dozen others. Tune your approach and you will find yourself enjoying the selling process.
- Perfect your natural ask. As you go through the sales cycle with your customer, there comes a point when it’s natural for the transaction to conclude. Asking the customer for their decision demonstrates leadership on your part, shows you have confidence in your offering, and prompts them to make a final decision. You can’t win if you don’t ask.
I’m not suggesting that a startup founder has to do all the selling and doesn’t need to find or hire people whose focus is marketing and sales. In a startup, everyone has to sell – you can’t afford to rely on specialists for everything.
Just recognize that if you are in business for yourself, you are in the business of selling. Selling well is about creating relevancy with customers and aligning your product suite with their needs. That has to lead to a win-win close where the customer satisfies a need and you make money, or you won’t have a long-term business. Are you comfortable with your selling skills?
Image credit: CC by Elliot Brown