A good entrepreneur is not necessarily 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 and global reach, marketing and selling skills are critical to the success of every startup.
The old axiom "If we build it, they will come" has long been relegated to the field of dreams, since at least 1989, with Kevin Costner's movie by the same name. In my own effort to keep up with the times, I just finished a new book by Landy Chase, titled "Competitive Selling: Out-Plan, Out-Think, Out-Sell to Win Every Time."
Landy does a good job of outlining the key selling methods 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:
- Sell value versus price. This concept applies equally well to convincing investors to fund you, employees to join you, or customers to buy from you. Show them you are the highest value alternative, not the lowest price. Show them a return on investment (ROI) in their own terms.
- Establish the competitive playing field early. Do your "due diligence" through good homework before someone else sets the parameters. For investors, find out what they like, what they need, and what they have done, before the first meeting. Then sell to these points. Do the same to get the best employees, and win key customers.
- Become a "notoriously detailed information gatherer" (D.I.G.). Listen before you talk. Do a real client needs analysis before you start pitching your company value, employee role, and customer product. Lead from private interests that your competitors never ask for, and therefore overlook.
- Identify the inner circle and key influencers. Investors are heavily influenced by other respected investors. New employees may know someone in your company or family. Customers have an executive approval chain. Find and get face-time with these, and the right decision will happen. Politics really do matter.
- Selling around tough competition. Real success in this area comes from a combination of strategy, patience, and persistence. Always refrain, even if invited, from making negative comments about your competition. Maintain your professionalism, emphasize value, and match your advantages to investor and customer interests.
- Gaining the upper hand. Learning to negotiate properly is the key to every competitive sale. First you need to present the most effective offer, even alternatives, to support your position (based on the due diligence above), then take the initiative on making an offer. Decide ahead of time what is acceptable and when you will walk away.
- Learn the art of closing. You can't close unless you ask for the order. Outline the terms clearly and identify the next step. Ask for and address any final concerns. All documents are post-decision, and follow the "thank you" or handshake. The concept is the same for getting an investment, a highly desired employee, or a customer.
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.
As Landy says, it's a jungle out there, certainly with startups. The goal in today's world is to make every opportunity an unfair fight -- in your favor. You have to take control of your environment. Be assured, your competitors are out there to do the same thing.