Start-up founders should not be ashamed to be salesmen, writes Emma Vites. It’s the name of the game.
There is a word among entrepreneurs that makes the strong men shudder and the weak men fall. It’s a profession disguised by titles such as consultant, business development manager, client manager and account manager… yes, it’s “sales”.
I’ve met many founders who very seriously say they “don’t sell”. They “consult” or they “listen”, which pre-supposes that sales people don’t consult or listen. In fact these are the two most important traits of selling.
It’s understandable why an entrepreneur would not want to be labelled as a “salesman”. The profession has a shortage of good sales people, and the bad ones give the industry a bad name. When you hear about sales, you imagine a used-car salesman, a Del Boy type con man, the cold-callers that try to sell you insurance.
I worked in recruitment, the most cut-throat sales environment there is, for several years. What I noticed was that the sales people who actually cared about their customers were a lot more successful than the cut-throat, aggressive ones. You can learn from this.
The main reason they got repeat business was because they delivered a good service, which resulted in referrals. You can’t build a long-term professional reputation without having empathy and respect for your customer.
There is also a misconception that you don’t need to be intelligent to sell. But to do a good job in sales, you need to understand your customer. The whole process moves away from you – it’s all about them. You need to be intelligent to work out what your customers’ true goals are. What is their growth strategy? What are their emotional triggers? Then you tailor your solution to meet their needs.
In a recent article, Jeff Haden wrote that without sales skills, start-up founders can’t succeed. When he asked 20 business owners to name the one skill they felt contributed the most to their success, each one of them said it was their sales skills. Without solid sales skills, they felt success is almost impossible. Sales skills are about communication, which is critical.
As start-up founders, you have to sell all the time; it’s the most important skill of all. In the early stages of building a company, everything involves sales: winning customers, lining up distribution deals, bringing on investors…everything. Embrace sales and you will create more revenue, profit and results.
Facebook, Google, VMware – these are all companies that have a positive perception of sales and have been extremely successful as a result. One of the best UK start-ups to have done this is Huddle which, from an early stage, appointed excellent sales directors. The company doesn’t shy away from using the word “sales”; its sales team has catapulted Huddle’s growth and has helped to make it the market leader it is today.
You started your company for a reason. You’re passionate about your technology and truly believe it can add value to your customers. There was a saying that “if you build it, they will come”, but it isn’t always true. You also have to meet your customers, understand their challenges, and sell them your solution.
It’s time to change your perception and become a proud salesman. I guarantee that if you do, you’ll meet more customers, produce more revenue and your company will grow. Who’s in?