Sales is probably the most hated activity among startups.
You have built a product and now you need to find customers (paying ones as well). Founders, usually shy away from sales, because they are scared. Scared of being rejected. Scared of receiving a no. Scared of being perceived as one of those incredibly annoying door-to-door salesmen. So they opt for other activities, such as Facebook or Google advertising. They do everything possible to stay away from people and catch that sales virtually.
“If they click, but they don’t buy, it means that they might be interested…”
I am guilty as well of this behaviour. Although I have been in sales for quite few years, in my previous startup I was scared of being rejected and therefore thought that advertising would be the solution.
Advertising is definitely a great mean to reach more people, to get some buzz perhaps, but Sales is without doubt the most efficient and sustainable activity that you can do for your business, at any stage.
Talk with people, understand what they want and what’s their problem, and sell them your solution. Bear in mind that doing customer interviews is not selling!
If you skip this step and jump to advertising, you are assuming that you have the right solution to that particular target user problem. Are you 100% sure about this?
Nowadays, there are different ways to do sales. You are not required anymore to grab the phone book and cold-call prospects. Social selling is the new trend and cold-emails have replaced cold-calls, with great pleasure of shy people. However, don’t think that you can win new clients without talking with them. In 5 years doing sales, I rarely closed someone without a real “face-to-face” interaction, the times I did, the relationship didn’t last long.
Being proficient in sales is a long and tough road. There are many aspects to consider and sometimes we need to accept the fact that there are some people that are better at others in sales. After closing hundreds of clients in specific industries, listening to many no’s and experiencing different sales methodologies, I decided to group here below my 5 must-understand sales activities.
1. Don’t sell!
I know, you are thinking I am completely out of my mind. After 300 words of introduction on why you should do sales, the first point I bring up is “Don’t sell!”.
Everyone like to buy stuff, but nobody likes to be sold.
Picture this: you are in a shop and you want to buy a shirt (or whatever else for that matter). You really went out today with the idea of buying something, but you are not 100% sure that this is the shop for you. Then, a shop assistant gets you from the back and smiling at you, say: “Can I help you with something?”. Your alarm system goes off, you jump, scared and say “No, thanks, just watching”, and walk away.
For whatever reason, we are adverse to sales. The moment we realise someone is trying to sell us a product, we think they want to trick us into something that we don’t need. I guess this is coming from the traditional sales image that everyone has, selling enciclopedia or bibles door-to-door. I mean, seriously, how many of our parents really needed an enciclopedia… but still every house in Italy (where I come from) has at least one-set of enciclopedia (never used).
So how do we solve this problem? We still have to sell our product…
The first approach is the most important step in the sales process. If you make a mistake here, your chances to close go down considerably.
Let’s assume you have identified the right prospect. The first contact point with your potential client is crucial and is all about his/her problems, nothing about you.
Your job at this stage is to shortly present yourself and assess that your assumption that he/she is the right prospect is correct. That’s it!
The best way to understand this is by asking open questions. There might be a couple of yes/no questions, of course, but what you really want is to establish a conversation, you don’t want to interview your prospect, you want to let them talk.
Remember: People love to talk and if you ask the right questions, you will get valuable information.
2. Attitude is everything.
If you show that you need the sale, you will not sell.
Why did our shop assistant fail in approaching us in the standard way? Because we understood he wanted to sell us something. What if he/she would have approached us telling us more about the product or making some random comment about the color? We might have been aware of the sale, but we would have been more open for a conversation.
Good sales people won’t sell you anything, but you will walk away with $100 less in your pocket.
Most salesmen fail in negotiation, because they show the prospect that they need to sell. Most salesmen have targets and when it comes that period of the month, they get stressed and need to push more for a close. Their attitude changes and their closing rate goes down.
When you sell, you don’t need to sell.
If you show your prospect that you are selling something, they will run away. In the same way, if you show your prospect that you desperately need to close him/her, they will have the bargaining power and you are doomed to fail. The moment at the table when is clear that one of the two has the power to choose, the other one has lost. You don’t want your prospect to be in that position, otherwise you will either close a bad deal or lose it.
Be bold and be firm. Don’t beg for a sale.
Remember: The attitude that you need to transmit to your prospect is that there are other 10 prospects waiting for you. He is just one of them.This state-of-mind is not so easy to achieve as sometimes you might be in desperate need to close some new clients. The important thing is that you know and act consciously about it.
3. Be in the driver seat.
Negotiation is all about how successful you can manage clients’ expectations without harming your company’s bottom line.
You are the driver in the communication and negotiation, don’t forget!
I have found myself in different situations where it required an extra effort to keep driving the conversation. For example, you have the prospect that doesn’t want to talk or the aggressive type who wants to be the only one asking questions. There are simple techniques that you can use to overcome such situations, but the reality is that you need to practice and be able to recognise when you are in these, rather than thinking after hanging up the phone “Oh s#$t! He got all information and I got nothing!”
The simple answer to this situation is: questions!
Remember: Ask, ask and ask. Never stop asking questions. If you get the quite type, be prepared (you should be in advance anyways) and make sure you engage him in a conversation. Questions like “How do you do xyz?” are killer. You force the prospect to give you information. If you get the aggressive type, take it all. Answer his questions, don’t be scared. Step back but don’t fall. Once the prospect asks you a question, answers and get back to him with another question. Keep the balance.
4. Follow up!
This is really a basic one, but still it’s probably the most important and yet so many people fail at it (myself included sometimes).
All the points stated above are in case you got the prospect on the phone or in a meeting. What if he doesn’t reply to you? As easy as it may sound, you need to follow up.
Create rules for your pipeline (hopefully you have one) and make sure that you or your sales reps stick to it. There is this image going around on LinkedIn every now and then that states the importance of following up with clients.
On average if a person doesn’t reply to you after 3-4 emails, she/he is probably not interested. Don’t harass them, but move on with another prospect and come back to them after few weeks. If you are targeting a big corporation, on the other hand, most likely there is another person with a similar role to your prospect. Try to get them instead.
In case you had a phone call or a meeting with them, you sent a proposal and they don’t get back to you, it’s time for you to be creative with emails and bold with the phone. Pick up that phone and contact them, maybe they are just busy or they need more information to proceed.
Remember: After the first contact, if you “cold-call”them, you are not intruding their privacy. They decided to share with you their phone number once, you are entitled to get in contact with them now.
5. Keep track of everything.
Sales is a people job. You talk, you go out, events, meeting and sometimes also drinks with prospects. Nevertheless, if you are not organised you will not succeed in the long-term.
Sales is about persistency and organisation. It’s about being hungry, but consultative.
Keeping track of your prospect’s activities and yourself is a must. No excuses. The best way to do this is to get a CRM software. There are many out there that you can choose from. The best one is most likely Salesforce; however, it might be expensive depending on the functionalities you add. There are quite few that are free and you could use. Worst case scenario, the old excel sheet would make its dirty job.
Remember: Until you are alone or very few people in your team, you can rely on free softwares or excel sheet. However, the moment you start growing, you need a centralised tool, where you are able to track all team’s activities as well as making sure that if one of your team member leaves, you have all the information there.
I have seen so many times (even in decently big companies) mistakes of this type. Having perhaps a Gdrive doc shared among people that no one updated or letting reps use private notes. Then someone left.. and no one knew what was going on with some existing clients or new prospect.
Organisation is at the basis of a successful sales team. Don’t let your wild startup spirit take over this, it could be harmful.
What do you think? Do you have any other tips that you would like to add to this list?