You’ve made up your mind to start a company, and you’re confident you have the necessary entrepreneurial skills. But do you have the most important skill? Do you know how to sell?
The ability to sell is critical at every step in building a company.
Don’t believe me? Here’s the reality for a CEO:
- You will be the first salesperson for your company. Before you can afford to hire professionals, you will be the person who closes business. And after you hire sales talent, guess who the customers will want to speak with before they sign a big purchase order? Yep, they want to hear from the CEO about the prospects for the company. You must be able to sell these customers by listening to their needs and showing alignment with your vision.
- You need to recruit the best and the brightest people to join your venture. A person interviewing with a start up has many questions and concerns and may be walking away from a secure corporate job. You must be able to sell potential employees on the benefits of working for your company.
- You may want to raise money from investors. You must be able to sell, and I mean more than simply being convincing. You will need treat money raising as a sales process where you talk to a lot of prospects, qualify them, gain commitment, and close.
- You may want a big company to resell your product. Are you working with the decision maker or are you spending days and weeks working with a low-level business development person who is just “kicking the tires?” You must be able to sell effectively in order to identify the decision maker, establish trust, and sign a contract.
- And you may want to cash out by being acquired. Do you know how to move the process along and how to negotiate a complex sale? You must be able to sell the decision makers at the acquiring company as well as the stakeholder in your company.
You see, you must learn how to sell!
Unfortunately, when my friends and I founded Ganymede Software, none of us had a clue how to sell. We had spent short careers working for IBM writing code, not convincing people to buy. My assumption was we would hire gifted sales people who would generate revenue. But we had no outside funding, so the initial selling efforts fell to myself and Steve Joyce, the VP of Marketing.
The first time I had to cold-call a prospect I was terrified. My voice was shaky, I was sweaty, and I had no confidence in how to get to where I needed to go. And I made the most common mistake that all rookies make, I was “telling” and not “selling.” I told prospects deep details about how our product worked and what the benefits were, but I failed to ask them about their problems.
People will tell you exactly how they need to be sold if you simply ask them the right questions. But this lesson came slowly.
To help me improve, I listened to a series of Zig Ziglar books on tape during the drive time to and from work. And with more practice and by incorporating Zig’s techniques, I did improve.
I can still remember the adrenaline rush from those first sales I closed with Cisco and Chase Bank. This will be one of the best feelings in your life!
It became obvious that every person in our small start up needed to be able to sell, so we engaged a sales coach to train everyone. I still remember an exercise where we had to light a match and recite the product value proposition before the match went out or burned fingers –trust me, it was highly motivational.
If you want to build a company, I recommend you build a portfolio of valuable entrepreneurial skills and start with the most important one. Learn how to sell.
A good place to start would be Zig Ziglar’s Selling 101. But don’t just read a book, listen to a video, or listen to a seminar. Practice in the real world.