Your Early Stage Startup Should Not Suck at Sales

The purpose of this article is to get the wheels turning for start-ups. Hopefully it will at least get you and your team to begin considering what you can do to become more effective communicators. We have found strong selling and communication skills have been instrumental in understanding our users, building great products, and identifying issues quickly.

Why Worry About Sales So Early?

I’ve spoken to a lot of startups that basically ask this exact question. For them, and many other recently funded companies, sales is a distant concept while product development rightfully takes center stage.
Sales is almost an archaic concept, at worst solved by hiring a sales person. There is a belief, or a hope, that once the product is done it will sell itself. Sales is an afterthought, a presumption, a bridge to cross once reached.

In reality, sales is inherent in every role you have, at every stage of your company.

sales === “effective communication”;

It will help here to better explain the concept of sales, compared to common pre-conceptions.

Sales is effectively communicating your message, your goal, your request to anyone and everyone you speak with.That includes prospects, partners, board members, investors, team members… if you’re talking, it’s sales.

Sales, at least how we use the term at my companies, is not manipulation. It’s not tricking people or forcing them to do something they don’t want to. It’s not lying or being slimy - more often than not, that’s bad sales.

It’s understanding how we, as people, are prone to think and behave, and presenting information in the best way to have our meaning reach the other person. What they do with that meaning is up to them.

Quick Example of What Sales is Not:

Your phone rings, you pick it up to hear:
“Hi, how are you doing today? I am calling about our new Acme Identity Protection Plan. The Acme Identity Protection Plan is the only protection plan that can guarantee your…”

You grumble a “no, thank you” and hang up.

Of course, the Acme Identity Protection Plan may be an amazing product - something truly wonderful that you would love to have in your life, but the only message you got from them was “I want to sell you something and, regardless of who you are, convince you that you want it.” And you, of course, had no interest in that message. That is bad communication, and bad sales.

How do you get better at communicating?

The same way you get better at everything else. Become mindful of what you’re doing, understand what you want to be doing, and then practice the hell out of it. It’s called having a system.

A selling system is a process for having repeatable, trackable, improvable, and fully intentioned communication. A selling system is analytics for your conversations. You would never build a product today without analytics. Start-ups today are brilliant at tracking, quantifying, and effectively applying all types of data relevant to their product, but when it comes to conversations there is a regression to shooting from the hip and just hoping things go well. When they do it’s great news and little is lost, the same when your app just goes viral without warning, but when they don’t it’s an agonizingly frustrating problem, and you are left with no data to help understand and move forward.

With a selling system in place, every conversation becomes a data point. Even if a conversation ends in a “no”, you now have actionable information about how the conversation went, why it ended in a no, and would could be done differently next time. That’s a far better and more productive experience than just cursing out the prospect and throwing your phone.

A sales process is not just about tracking conversations. It does not mean create a spreadsheet and keep notes on every person you ever speak with. It doesn’t even mean keeping track of where prospects are in your sales cycle or determining your close rate. Those are all fantastic behaviors, but they won’t give you the insights, practice, and growth that you will need to become an effective communicator.

How to build a selling system?

There are many sales systems out there, and any system is better than no system. I have the most experience with the Sandler Training sales system (my father is a Sandler Trainer, and I have been an adjunct coach to a number of companies), and have found it to be a fantastic fit for start-ups due to its non-traditional approach. It’s a lot like sales jujitsu, and coming from an arts and programming background, it was far more accessible to me than more hard-sell traditional approaches.

That being said, every sales system should be viewed as a starting point for a framework, like the initial setup of your preferred analytics tool. What you track, your actual sales cycle, your prospects’ tendencies, and your own abilities will affect how you should customize and tailor your approach.

Next Step?

If you are interested in learning more, here’s what you can do:

Get a book: There are a lots of books out there that cover sales systems. Most are marketing tools for sales training organizations (Sandler Training included), but you can still get a lot of good material out of them.

Attend a Workshop: If you live in or around Philadelphia, come to a 2-hour Sandler Training workshop. They are free (marketing opportunity for Sandler), but a good place to start wrapping your head around sales.

Talk to Mentors and Advisors: Chances are they can recommend you to a sales coach or trainer.

Talk to a Trainer: I’d be happy to put you in touch with a trainer, just ask.


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