Entrepreneurs come from many walks of life. You might be a graduate straight out of university, a seasoned professional or someone returning to the workforce after a lay-off. No matter the background, skills or experience you bring to the role, to be successful as an entrepreneur there is one role you need to embrace – that of a salesperson. You need to be able to successfully sell what you are doing to investors, partners, the market, customers and employees. If you can’t do this, you’ll likely fail.
Whilst being a salesperson might come naturally to you, many entrepreneurs find it uncomfortable. After all, salespeople in many circles have a reputation of being untrustworthy, sometimes sleazy and a bit uncouth (all, by the way, very undeserving labels based on the many sales people I have met).
Here are some tips to help become a better salesperson.
1. It’s a relationship, not a one-off
Make sure you treat every interaction as part of an ongoing relationship, not as a one-off meeting. That will ensure you look for win-win outcomes in negotiations, treat the other person with respect and dignity, and maintain your reputation (and brand) effectively. I can’t emphasise enough how important this is.
2. Plan one outcome from every interaction
When you head into a meeting where you need to sell your idea or concept, have one outcome in mind for that conversation that you really want to achieve. Cramming your mind with 20 different goals can overcomplicate things (e.g. explain product, obtain a referral, get funding, have another meeting, leave information, etc). If you can decide on one primary goal for the meeting, and achieve it, then your meeting has been a success. This goal might be something tangible (like funding) or it might just be another meeting. As long as you are progressing the relationship, you are on the correct path.
3. Listen, listen, listen
There is a well-known quote by Steven Covey: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” As an entrepreneur trying to sell others your vision and product, it is critical that, when you are in a conversation with a potential partner, investor or customer, you really listen to what they are saying. The more you can glean from what they say, and really understand their situation, the more you will be able to tailor your message for them. The best listeners often make the best sellers, they just don’t know they are doing it.
4. Explain how you can help
Part of selling is to inspire people to change. You need them to buy into your vision of the future and come along with you on the journey. The best way to do this is to become really good at explaining how your product or service can help them or their customers, and do this in a way they can easily and quickly understand. Whilst most entrepreneurs have a pitch deck that tells their story, I have seen many pitch decks that are very dry, may have some product features and financials, but don’t tell a story or paint a picture of the future. If you can get this part of your pitch right, you will go a long way to selling successfully to anyone you meet.
5. Have a conversation, don’t sell
While we all know how to have a conversation, we aren’t all great at selling. What many people don’t realise is that, in most cases, selling well really just involves having a conversation with a certain purpose. If you can enter a sales interaction thinking that you are just having a conversation, it will often make you more comfortable and the discussion will flow a lot more naturally.
6. Embrace your role as a salesperson
Body language is a very powerful thing, and if you are uncomfortable selling your idea or product it will show in how you present to other people. You will then have a much lower chance of achieving your goals in the conversation.
To be successful, you need to embrace the fact that, amongst many other roles as an entrepreneur, one of your key activities is to sell your vision to others and bring them along on the journey. Once you do that, your confidence will be apparent to others and significantly improve your chances of a positive outcome.
While some of these tips might sound basic, they are not always easy to implement, especially when you have a thousand other things going on in your startup. Take the time before your next interaction with someone important to follow this advice and you will be well on the way to becoming a great salesperson, whether you think you are, or not!
Shane Goldberg is principal and founder of CustCore Consulting, a company that helps businesses grow through a focus on improving end-to-end customer experience, sales effectiveness and go-to-market.