If you want a successful startup, then you’re going to need a hot sales strategy for your product or service, and a great team to do the legwork, at least initially.
Well, duh. Of course a company will need to make sales -- lots of them -- to stay afloat, keep growing and ultimately succeed. This is the most mind-numbingly obvious advice of all time.
So, why is it that so many founders struggle? We’ve noticed the conversations from exasperated founders in-person and online, and they go something like this:
“I had no choice but to fire my sales guy/gal… they just don’t seem to “get” it.”
Meanwhile, this same founder might lament that they’re having an absolute nightmare securing funding. It seems no-one “gets” their pitch, either.
Therein lies the deep-seated issue that can really threaten success: a founder who can’t sell their own product. If they can’t get it together to win the hearts and minds of those around them, how the hell do they expect anyone else to fly that flag for them?
The founder is, without question, the most important salesperson in the entire business. Let’s explore why, and the key areas that call upon every savvy sales skill in the book:
Pitching is a nightmare without sales skills.
As the founder of a growing startup, it’s likely that you’ll require the sweet cash of outside investors to keep the wheels turning on your venture. And you won’t get anywhere near the funding without winning over those investors first.
When it comes to pitching your business, if you’re tripping over your concept, unable to effectively -- and succinctly -- explain it, or worse - you don’t even appear enthused by it, it’s going to come across very poorly. After all that time you spent setting up a meeting, you can pretty much kiss funding goodbye.
Great salespeople have their ‘elevator pitch’ memorized - they get straight to the point, and it’s a well-rehearsed description of the product or service, including how it’s going to change the game in that particular field. They speak with confidence, energy and (at the very least) the outward appearance of caring deeply about the company mission. If it’s your own company and you can’t muster the pep in your step to talk with conviction, you may have bigger problems than simply flubbing your pitch.
If you lack confidence, take some public speaking classes.
If you’re unprepared, make ample time to practice and be sure to pitch to others around you. Take note of their feedback.
If you simply don’t care for your own business at its current stage… well, that sucks, but consider speaking to a business coach. You might see an opportunity to develop it into something that excites you, or perhaps it’s time to move on.
Whether you like it or not, investors tend to throw their money at people, rather than ideas. And the founder is in the pole position. The pitch is not something you can leave to your sales team, your PA, or anyone else. So, sharpen those sales skills!
Your teams can’t inspire themselves.
A founder is, by default, a leader. Good leadership skills can be learned and refined (with a healthy dose of self-reflection required), but it’s a given that as soon as your company grows and employees jump on board, they will be looking to you for direction.
Yes, you will hire talent in the required areas. Your team will come equipped with skills, experience and attitudes that will help them thrive in the role, but ultimately, their best lessons will come from the subject matter expert: you.
Your sales team is no different; they will look to you for answers on pitching the product, the problem it’s going to solve and how it should be positioned in the market. The energy with which you go about this yourself will likely set the tone for them, and if it's all flustering and lacks conviction, it’s going to permeate their confidence.
Bottom line: if you, the founder, are having trouble convincing the market that they need your product or service… how could you expect a person with less knowledge and experience to outperform you?
Empathy will get you everywhere.
Amazing salespeople (yes, founders included) are usually adept at selling with empathy.
Of course, most will make an effort to understand their customer: who are they? What do they need? How will my product or service solve their issue? But true sales empathy goes beyond these basic parameters.
We live in a crazy, fast-changing world. Time and money are limited for most, and people are sick and tired of being sold to; they want and expect much more from the interaction. By exercising empathy and walking a mile in your customers’ shoes, you will have a much clearer picture of their true pain points, their reservations and what would delight them so you can pitch accordingly.
Empathy is a big indicator of emotional intelligence, and that is a feather in the cap of any entrepreneur. You will form better relationships with your team, any co-founders and by extension, your customers. And that is the foundation of a solid, kick-ass business.