Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Startup Sales School - Important Lessons to Close Sales and Survive in a Difficult Economic Environment

People often ask me:
"Paul, are there things I can do or techniques I can apply to sell my company's products and services more effectively?"
Selling for a startup is not easy. That's because you're not only selling a product, you have to be "selling" someone on your company at the same time. Doing all of that in the context of today's difficult economic environment only increases the pain involved.

But selling effectively is essential if you want your startup to become profitable and to survive. And the good news is that the age old lessons that worked in good times, work just as well in bad times (if not better!). Selling is not a science. It's part science, part art, and part experience. But at the end of the day, there are some key things to remember when selling for a startup:
  • Connect. This is critical. You can't connect with someone as a customer, if you don't connect with them as a human being first. It is important to build relationships with your potential customers. Talk about their family, take them to lunch, take them golfing, etc... In other words, spend face-to-face time with them. You can't connect on a human level over the phone or over email. It just doesn't work. If that worked, business travel (and airlines!) would disappear tomorrow. It hasn't. Just accept that effective selling requires face time.
  • Be Persistent. People are busy. The C-level decision makers you'll be selling to are most definitely busy. Don't be shy or afraid to remind them of what you can do for their business. Don't be shy to stay on their case. This is a fine line, but people tend to err on the side of caution. They accept the fact that they're at the bottom of someone's pile and don't want to risk becoming obnoxious. You're better off trying to stay at the top of the pile (at the risk of being slightly obnoxious), because then you at least give yourself a chance at closing a sale. It's a fine line that requires experience to walk effectively.
  • Understand Your Audience. It should be obvious that you need to understand what your customers want or what their pain is. But too many startups make the mistake of communicating their value in terms that the customers just don't understand. Your customers are not like you. Chances are the decision makers are older, more experienced, and don't understand the Twitter/Flickr/Ning/Facebook/Digg/etc analogy you're using. Or they just don't understand the technology. It's not to say that they will never understand, but if it takes you 30 minutes to get them to that "aha!" moment, then you've lost your chance. It needs to take no more than 5 minutes. So, speak their language. Speak to business people in business terms. Don't bog them down with techie space cadet messaging.
  • Always Be Closing. Ok. So I stole this one from Glengarry Glen Ross (see video below). But the message rings true. Effective selling is all about making your customer say the word "yes". Always create opportunities to get commitments from them, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Once you get a customer saying "yes", it snowballs. It's no use having a potential customer who has expressed tremendous interest in your product if you can't close them. Get them saying "yes" and you'll see how much easier closing becomes.

1 comment:

Margaret Staples said...

Selling my startup is a tremendous challenge. Potential customers always say "yes! yes! yes!" when they hear about our product, but we need investors to say "yes!" to funding product development before any of that potential customer enthusiasm has any chance of making us profitable.

Do you have any suggestions for causing investors to believe in our product the way potential customers do?