In Wall Street parlance, "the order" is the opportunity to do a transaction. You, the salesperson, are telling the customer in no uncertain terms that you want to do a deal given a particular set of parameters. It is part and parcel of the culture that you can (and should) educate, compare alternatives, and frame the opportunity in light of the customer's particular context, but that you absolutely, positively have to tell the customer what you want in unambiguous terms. It is also critical to demonstrate why they should do the transaction with you instead of with the myriad competitors from whom they could get something that is largely undifferentiated (though a big part of the job is creating sources of real differentiation, but this is extremely difficult at the commodity-end of the product spectrum). But the bottom line is, you can't be afraid to ask for the business. You can do a great job educating, positioning and convincing, but if you don't ask for the order guess what happens: all your hard work ultimately benefits another who has the guts (and brains) to ask for it. It happens every day.
The Wall Street example is merely a microcosm of life. Being clear as to your wants and desires is essential for establishing and maintaining healthy relationships in both professional and personal realms. And it is CRITICAL for succeeding in business because, well, if you can't hire, lead and sell, it is very difficult to win. And this applies to a middle-manager in a Fortune 500 Corporation and perhaps even more importantly to start-up founders. Start-ups need so much stuff, that if a founder lacks the ability and/or impetus to aggressively go out and get it, life is going to be very, very hard.
My friend James Altucher recently published an excellent post on TechCrunch about negotiation techniques. How to negotiate is a higher-order manifestation of what I'm getting at. Before negotiation skills come into play, you need to ask for the thing around which a negotiation can take place. I find that many first-time founders have a hard time with this, sometimes due to inexperience, other times lack of confidence, and often because what they want to ask for isn't crystal clear and, therefore, doesn't get asked for. These "things" span a wide array of activities: advice from industry mentors; alpha adoption or a proof-of-concept with a potential customer; input from more experienced founders; money from friends and family, etc. All really important stuff that can - and should - be asked for.
It is hard to ask for things, I get it. Especially when it comes to stuff like money and and advice. The tone I frequently see from more technical first-time founders is almost apologetic: they are passionate about their gig but are more comfortable operating in a vacuum because it is hard to ask "outsiders" for help. This, in my experience, is seldom a good thing. Being forced to deal with others is healthy and will ultimately benefit the business. But in order to to be effective a few attitudinal elements must be in place:
Be confident. You rock; you really do. The fact that you are starting something and devoting your life to it is freaking awesome. This alone should give you the confidence and esteem to ask for help with head held high. The worst thing that someone can say is no. And if they do? Screw them - and move on to the next one.
Be focused. You have to know what you are asking for. Being confident while being unfocused in your ask is really annoying and will ultimately lead to failure. If you've gone through the trouble to set up an ask, make it time well-spent for all parties. Do you homework and know what you want. Confidence + focus is a recipe for success.
Be tough. Getting kicked around and rejected is part of any great mission. It means what you're doing is either really stupid or orthogonal to conventional thought (read: a potential home run). Given that you rock, I'm going to assume it is a differentiated but dissonant idea which will require a very refined pitch to communicate and convince smart, cynical people (be they potential employees, investors or customers). No is a perfectly reasonable answer: just make sure that you are getting textured rejections in order that you can learn and use that information for subsequent meetings.
Be persistent. Staying in touch with those to whom you've pitched, where they are potential "yesses" in the future but need to see more and better thinking/product/proof, often yields tremendous results. Saying what you're going to do and then doing it is a boon for fund-raising at every stage. Use that confidence, clarity and toughness to fuel the persistence necessary to win over high-value people as your company evolves.
Starting a company is one of the hardest things anyone can do. You've already taken the leap; it is time to leverage that by asking for the order. Don't be afraid or ashamed, because always remember: you rock.
This post originally appeared in InformationArbitrage.com.
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