Sales. For many new entrepreneurs, putting on a salesperson’s hat is anything but enjoyable—but it’s a necessary evil. During the first years of your business—if not the whole life cycle of the business—you are your company’s best spokesperson. Even if you eventually hire a sales guru or a sales team, you must still represent your business in other contexts that have lots of sales-like qualities.
For instance, if you’re at an event, you need to be able to communicate what makes your product unique. If you’re meeting with investors, you have to do the same. Networking? Talking with potential marketing partners? Hosting a workshop? Need some new text for your website? It all comes back to you.
Articulating a prospect’s problem, and then persuading the prospect that your product is the solution, is an essential skill for success. Here are seven proven techniques to streamline this process:
Bring value to your customers.
The best sales process can’t hide a weak product. Even if you get customers in the door, they’ll eventually see that your product doesn’t truly solve their problem. And when they do, the resulting anger can be a bigger problem than not having customers in the first place. It sullies your reputation, which can dramatically stunt your growth potential.
I can’t overstate this. You need a great product idea. It doesn’t have to be fully developed or a perfectly refined product, but it has to bring value to the customer from the start.
Practice articulating the problem—and your solution.
Can you succinctly describe the problem your product solves? For Uber, the problem was that hailing a taxi is a frustrating experience. For my company, FDI, we saw that paper-based vehicle titles were inefficient. We found we could tell a clear story about how much waste we could cut for a business if they used our software.
Being able to communicate the value of your product in simple, concise terms like this is critical. If you can’t do it, the prospect won’t see it either.
Set expectations for every meeting.
If you’re entering a prospect’s office for a sales appointment, make it clear what the goals of the meeting are.
If it’s your first appointment and you’re making a sizable B2B sale, the sale is unlikely to happen in this first meeting. The goal is to decide if you should have a second meeting. This may sound unnecessary. But once you begin having sales conversations, you’ll see that establishing clear expectations for each meeting—and holding your prospects to those expectations—helps you control conversations and move prospects closer to the sale.
Understand the decision-making process.
One of the great challenges in sales is getting in front of the person or people who can actually make the decision to buy your product. In B2B sales, that can mean getting the entire C-suite (the C-level executives, such as the CEO, CFO, and COO) to buy-in. In B2C sales, that might mean getting a married couple to agree on the same purchase.
If you don’t talk to your prospects about what their decision-making process looks like, you may end up giving a pitch to someone who has zero ability to buy from you. Sure, you may need to get through some gatekeepers to get to the decision makers, but few things in business are as frustrating as giving it your all in your pitch only to discover that you spent all of your time talking to the wrong person.
Maintain your self-respect.
When you feel as though your financial stability is on the line, you can become desperate to make sales, and prospects will take advantage of it. If a prospect promises you an hour but cuts the meeting down to 30 minutes when you arrive, ask to reschedule for the full hour at your convenience. If a prospect starts making you jump through unnecessary hoops, challenge it. If prospects don’t follow through on their commitments to you, respectfully call them on it.
Yes, you need sales, but the path to sales doesn’t mean dancing like a puppet as you beg for the business. You are coming in as an expert, and you and your prospects are equals. If you don’t uphold respect in yourself and in how you are treated, prospects won’t respect you either.
Follow a consistent process.
Sales meetings shouldn’t be improvised. You should have a regular agenda for your meetings so that you can make your process repeatable and revisable. If you wing each sales call, learning from a sales conversation is difficult, but if each meeting follows a regular format (and you stick to it), you can identify points that you can refine and improve.
In addition, when you have a well-defined target audience, your prospects will likely respond to the same kinds of messages, and a repeatable process helps you hone that messaging to a sharp, engaging point. When you eventually hire salespeople, having a sales process to share with them will help them get up to speed faster.
Keep up with your follow-up.
Not all prospects will convert in the short-term, so you should be prepared to market to those prospects over the long-term. Automated e-mails are an easy way to do this, but you also should not underestimate the power of a phone call, even if it feels old-fashioned.
If you have trouble keeping track of your prospects, consider a sales tool that tracks them for you, like Salesforce or Pipedrive. If budgets are tight, an organized set of notes can do the trick.
These techniques are an essential part of being a Necessity Entrepreneur. These are entrepreneurs who are in business to put food on the table for their families and employees. Though I wasn’t a natural salesperson in my own business, continuously engaging prospects helped me get closer to my target audience. When you immerse yourself in this process, you learn to improvise and adapt on the fly when your prospects aren’t cooperating or are throwing you curve balls.
As they say, “Practice makes perfect.”