10 Things Start-up Owners need to know about Selling

start-ups and sellingYou’ve done it. The months or years of toiling in your basement, garage, dorm room or tiny apartment have finally paid off. No more eating dry cereal or soup for dinner. No more working late in the evenings or weekends.

You have successfully created your first new product or service that you want to launch into the market. Your loyal employees who stuck by you are also thrilled. Your ship has finally arrived.

But wait a minute? You don’t know how to sell!

All those courses in computer science, coding, engineering or business never taught you the fundamentals of selling. Sure, maybe you watched a video or two of Zig Ziglar, or some other great salesperson. Or you cracked open a sales book once or twice, or read some articles online. You may have even taken a workshop or two about selling. But beyond that, your knowledge of selling is weak.

You admit it. So now what?

Well, like most start-up owners, you decide it’s time to hire your first salesperson or two. But before you place employment ads, there are some things you need to know.

1). Do you really need a salesperson? Is your product really ready for the marketplace or do you still have some more beta testing to do? While no product is perfect, no salesperson wants to spend hours over the phone dealing with a constant stream of technical issues or complaints about bugs. Unless you are paying that salesperson well to be a glorified technical support person, you may need to go back to the drawing board.

For example, I recently spoke to a new business development manager at a Maryland start-up who complained to me that his company was having a high turnover of salespeople. Some would stay for only a few weeks or a couple of months, and then leave. When I probed further, I discovered that his product was still being beta tested for the enterprise market. However, the good news is that his product was actually doing well in the consumer market, which didn’t require the same heavy technical demands as the enterprise clients. In fact, the product was receiving high ratings on Amazon and positive reviews from independent tech bloggers. I suggested to him that he immediately stop hiring sales people until his product was more ready for the enterprise market. I also suggested that his company switch gears, and focus more on the consumer market since he was having greater success. Sure, maybe he wouldn’t generate as much revenue in the consumer market, but at least he would be receiving some cash flow and generating positive buzz.

By using public relations, partnerships, and affiliated marketing, I suggested his company could do quite well in the consumer market. Hopefully, that good well in the consumer market would spill over into the enterprise market once his market was ready.

2). Amateur or Pro, does it matter?  There is a running debate within the start-up community about whether your first couple of salespeople should be amateurs or pros. Some argue that hiring inexperienced salespeople are better because they are hungrier and will hustle more. The argument goes that if you hire an experienced salesperson, he will not be very motivated to sale; instead, he would only rely on his contacts rather than making a lot of cold or warm calls. However, others argue that your first couple of salespeople should be more experienced because they can quickly increase your sales by their expertise and knowledge. In addition, they can also establish a sales process that can be used later when more inexperienced salespeople are hired.

My response – unless you are selling a highly technical product or service that requires advanced training and education, trust your gut and hire the salesperson who will help you generate a lot of sales. Young or old, if they know how to sell, if they are willing to learn about your product and market, and if they are trainable or coachable, hire them and get them prepared to hit the ground running.

Having a diversity of salespeople from different ages and backgrounds can offer your company different perspectives on how to grow your sales.

You can’t always judge a salesperson by his age, the length of his resume or his previous sales results. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut.

3). True believers, are they the best? Some start-up owners feel that only true believers, the ones who really understand their mission or see their vision, should be your first hires. Really? Chances are you may be hiring a wolf in sheep’s clothing – a con artist who pretends to believe in the “cause” but will quickly bail out as soon as your company hits rough water.

Look, forget about hiring true believers. You are running a business, not a religion. Just hire good salespeople. Once they start selling, if your product or service is good as you think, they will eventually become true believers.

I once worked for a small tax research publishing company where I didn’t know anything about accounting. However, over time, I became impressed with our products because our clients really loved what we were selling. Then and only then, did I become a true believer.

4). Should you learn how to sell? Let’s face it – popular culture has not been kind to salespeople. The Glengarry Glen Ross movie and the Death of a Salesman play have done little to enhance the image of salespeople by depicting them as losers or con artists. I actually know people who don’t admit they sell for a living.

So what do you do for a living?

“I, well, you know, I’m a new development person. I mean, I’m a new business opportunity person…I mean I develop new business.”

Whatever.

As a start-up owner, you may feel it’s better to hire a sales expert, so that you can tend to other matters, like product development.

But if you don’t learn about sales, your run the risk of either hiring lazy salespeople, or worst, con artists who will take advantage of your naïve. Either way, you could lose a lot of money, time and prestige.

I once knew a small publishing company owner who admittedly knew nothing about sales or marketing. He never held a sales meeting. Never cracked open a book about selling. His marketing campaigns were from the Dark Ages. Instead, he hired a saleswoman who literally sat by the phone all day waiting for it to ring. She spent her three-year tenure at the company reading books. When a prospect did contact her, she went through the motions of qualifying him, scheduling a short demo, and offering a trial. Sometimes she would follow-up and sometimes she didn’t. With a large base salary, she had no incentive to work hard. Then one day, she quit. A more proactive and assertive salesman was hired. He ended up generating more new sales in 4 or 5 months than the previous saleswoman did in an entire year.

Why? Because he made cold and warm calls. Because he followed-up. Because a true salesperson can’t live on his base salary. In short, he knew how to sell.

The owner, realizing his mistake, now regretted not hiring a more proactive salesperson in the first place. All those potential sales slipped through his fingers because he didn’t take the time to understand the sales process and hire the right salesperson.

On the other hand, I knew another owner who not only took the time to understand sales, but provided a small library of sales, marketing and business books for his sales team to read. He even watched videos about not only how to sell, but how to hire good salespeople.

But let’s say you are an extremely busy start-up owner, and have little time to read about selling. Have no fear.

I would like to suggest two books you should read to get you quickly up to speed –

The Big Book of Sales, by Alan Gordon
The Ultimate Sales Machine: Turbocharge Your Business with Relentless Focus on 12 Key Strategies, by Chet Holmes

If you are ambitious, and want to read more, HubSpot has created a list of the 20 Most Highly-Rated Sales Books of All Time.

Also, there are several excellent YouTube videos about selling that you can also watch.

And BTW, I know there is a lot of debate about which is the best sales process. Is it The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, or could it be SPIN Selling, by Neil Rackman? Maybe you believe in Relationship Selling: The eight competencies of top sales producers, by Jim Cathcart.

Look, all three are good books. Read them. Consider their arguments. But at the end of the day, you will have to decide which sales process really works best for your sales team and your company.

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Speaking of books, if you like this post, please read my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career for help.
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5). Should you create a Quota system? As a start-up company, I wouldn’t worry too much about setting quotas for the one or two salespeople you have on staff. In the beginning, you are going to spend most of your time testing the market and seeing who is actually is buying your product or service – if in fact, there is a real market. Sure, you can guess. Create a client profile of who you think will be a good customer. You can make some cold calls, send out some emails, and maybe send out some direct marketing pieces. But I would avoid creating any hard quotas for sales until you have a better feel of your market.

Rather than creating sales quotas, you may consider doing activity quotas. Activity quotas are when you expect salespeople to make x-number of phone calls per week, or schedule x-number of demos or trials per week. On paper, this sounds like a great idea. However, be carefully that you are not forcing salespeople to do a lot of “make or busy work” – you want them to focus on selling, not dialing for bogus dollars.

carving up sales territories6). Should you carve up and create sales territories? If you had three or more salespeople, my answer would be yes. But if you only have two salespeople, and the entire country (if not the world) to cover, I would say no. However, as your sales team grows, in order to avoid duplication and hard feelings, setting up sales territories by geography or market segmentation may not be a bad idea.

Some companies prefer using the Round Robin method of distributing leads – where inbound leads are dole out on a rotating basis among the sales team.

Experiment. See what works. But no matter how you distribute leads, always focus on the end game – obtaining sales.

7). Should you use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool? My answer is yes. Using Excel spreadsheets or Post-it Notes isn’t going to cut it for you. While Salesforce.com is considered the dominate CRM in the market, as a start-up, you may not afford to purchase it. There are other CRMs that do cater to start-ups and small businesses for free or at a reasonable price, including –

Close.io
Contactually
Act!
Insightly
Pipedrive
PipelineDeals

To get a full listing of CRMs and obtain independent reviews, please check out Capterra, a Northern Virginia based company that helps businesses and nonprofit organizations find software.  Not only does Capterra provide reviews, but you also receive product details, deployment, vendor contact information, and features checklist. You can even request a free consultation from a Capterra customer service rep to find the right match for you. They also publish interesting blogs and infographics that you can download.

My final advice is this – buy the best CRM you can afford. In the long run, a good CRM will save your sales team a lot of time and money. Take your time. Do your research. I recommend that you consider at least three CRMs before making a final buying decision. You may want to contact other start-up owners and compare notes with them.

8). Are the Yellow Pages a good source for sales leads? Unless you’re living in the 1980s, my answer is No. As a start-up, you are probably under a tight budget. However, there are several inexpensive or free lead generation sources you can use including –

Data.com (formerly Jigsaw)
LinkedIn
Twitter
Industry newsletters and blogs
Business websites
List of clients from your competitor’s website (yes, I know this is sneaky, but if your competitors are going to publish their clients, you might as well call them. Who knows, some of them may be upset with their existing vendor).
Google Alerts
Networking events
ZoomInfo

RedJester created a list of 23 lead generation tools you may want to consider.

Also, check out Neha Jewalikar’s article on the “7 Must-Have Lead Generation Tools for Marketers” in Radius.

As you grow, don’t forget to take advantage of inbound phone calls or emails, referrals, and trade shows.

No lead generation tool is perfect. You will always have bad contact information. When I receive a new lead, one of the first things I do is check the contact on LinkedIn. While not everyone keeps their LinkedIn profile up-to-date, it’s usually a good way to verify if you have a good lead.

sales pipeline9). What are your expectations? You really need to keep your expectations within reason. For example, in most cases, it takes a good salesperson at least three months to build a pipeline from scratch – that means straight cold calling with no referrals or no inbound leads. And even if a salesperson is lucky enough to receive some inbound leads from your website or word of mouth, converting that lead into a customer can take weeks or months. I’ve worked at sales jobs where the sales cycle can last anywhere from a few months to two years. I know of some salespeople who spent five years closing a sale.

It really depends on what you are selling and the type of industry you are in.

And when it comes to cold calling, it’s not unusual to make at least 6 to 8 attempts before you reach the decision maker. I know some sales people who have told me it will take them at least 12 attempts before they reach the key person at a company or organization.

And yes, there are ways you can help shorten the sales cycle, like providing a good CRM, generating good qualified sales leads, and offering great marketing solutions. Remember – your salespeople are serving on the front lines. Like any good soldier, they need your support.

10). Are Salespeople miracle workers? Do you still believe in the tooth fairy? If your product or service is crap, the best salespeople in the world aren’t going to help you.  While it’s expected that any new product or service will be shaky during the first couple of years, if what you are offering is completely bad, salespeople are not going to save you. Sure, they may use hard sell or strong-arm tactics in the beginning to generate sales, but in the long run you are going to fall flat on your face. Selling is a team effort – the product, development, shipping, marketing and administrative teams all have to work together with the sales team to ensure success. In today’s economy, and this is especially true for a start-up, all employees are salespeople.

Summary:

Selling is tough. But for a start-up it’s even more difficult because you are facing several obstacles – tight cash flow, little brand or no name recognition, shoestring budget, and an ever evolving change of plans or directions. You have to be agile, smart and focused.

You have to face the fact that some salespeople you hire won’t cut it or just don’t like working for a start-up. It’s nothing personal. It happens to the best of us.

When it comes to hiring salespeople for a start-up, you need to be brutally honest. If the hours are long, tell them. If the compensation package is low, tell them. If your resources are limited, tell them.

But also tell them this – that you worked your ass off for months, if not years, to create a product or service that will benefit thousands of people. That you truly believe in what you are doing is not a pipe dream. That you really believe your product or service could change the world for the better. That you are committed to improving your company. And if they hang on, the ride will get rough, but the rewards may be great.

Note: If you like this post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career for more help.

What are some key Cold Calling Techniques?

cold calling in salesWhile some sales experts argue that cold calling is dead, I believe that cold calling is very much alive and well – and needed, if you are going to increase your sales. While it’s great to receive inbound calls, or make warm calls to prospects who are already familiar with your company, at the end of day, you have to make your share of cold calls in order to survive.

Gavin Ingham, sales motivational speaker, argues that cold calling will make you feel more control of your destiny and more empowered.

I agree. Sure, you can sit around waiting for the phone to ring. But really, is that a great plan? No. You have to be more proactive. While social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) and marketing (e.g., trade shows) can help, you have to reach out to your prospects directly if you want to increase new business.

Mr. Ingham offers 10 tips for making cold calls. I will add some tips and insights of my own below.

1). Plan and prepare your opening statements. A good way of doing this is to tell the prospect upfront who you are, why you are calling, and mention that you have a product or service that could help them (e.g., save money, improve productivity, save time). And then ask the prospect if you could ask him a few questions.

For example, you may say “Hi, I’m Bob Smith with ABC software company. We offer a software program that can help you prepare taxes for your clients more quickly and efficiently.”

Then you go on to say –

“We have helped our clients reduce their workload by 40%, so they can focus their time on other activities like seeking more clients. I’m confident that I can do the same for you. Would you like to learn how?”

As Mr. Ingham points out, put yourself in the client’s shoes – what will your product or service do for my business and why should I care?

All prospects have fears and concerns. Is your price too high? Are you a highly reputable company? What is the availability of your customer service or technical support team? What is the difference between your product vs. your competitors?

And also, what value are you offering your prospect? What makes you different compared to all the other vendors out there selling similar products or services? You don’t have to go into a long explanation, but find something that stands out that your client will remember you, and hopefully, he will be asking you questions.

What you don’t want to do is use deception or tricky when you reach your prospect. Do that, and you will be dead in the water before you had a chance to proceed.

2). Get in the right state of mind, and expect success. You don’t feel like making cold calls today? Too bad. Whatever negative feelings you have, bury them deep, think positive thoughts, and start calling. Maybe watch a positive motivational video on YouTube to get you in the proper frame of mind. Or take a short walk around the block to clear your head.

3). Know why cold calling is important to you – it’s unrealistic to assume that you are going to close a sale on the spot with the first call. So why are you making a cold call in the first place? Simple – to set an appointment. That’s it. Your goal is to set up an appointment so you can go into more detail later about what you have to offer. An appointment can be a face-to-face meeting, a phone conference or scheduling a webinar (demo).

4). Practice delivery. You should have a couple good opening statements written down. Practice them repeatedly until you feel so comfortable making your statements, that it sounds natural and unrehearsed.

questions for cold calls5). Plan and prepare relevant questions – I always have a list of questions to ask before making any calls. Also, it helps to do a little research on the prospect before contacting him. A great source is LinkedIn, the company’s website and industry newsletters.

At the end of the day, you have to find out if what you are selling is going to help solve your client’s problem. But sometimes your clients may not even know if they have a problem until you ask good questions to raise some concerns.

What you don’t want to do is ask lame questions like “How are you doing today?” – especially to high level clients who are probably very busy, stressed out, and most likely are not doing very well at all.

And never ask “Is this a good time to talk?” – because you are giving your prospect an opening to end the call on the spot before you even have a chance to speak further.

6). Have your support tools to hand – don’t forget to have pens and paper handy for taking down notes. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to have a comparison sheet of your products and services vs. your competitors, or some other notes highlighting some of your key benefits. In short, be prepared to answer questions.

7). Divert calls and minimize interruptions –  If you are working in an office, from home, or in a high cubicle, this shouldn’t be a problem. However, it may be more difficult to do when working in an open space environment. Hopefully, your employer is using white noise to minimize the noise level, and you are sitting in an area where you are not going to be distracted, or dealing with a lot of multi-tasking projects.

8). Set clear objectives – don’t wing it. As mentioned above, your goal is to schedule an appointment to move the sales process further.

9). Don’t put your phone down or better yet, wear a headset. Personally, I prefer wearing a headset so it frees up both my hands.

10). Master your physiology. Sit straight. I know of some sales people who use a small mirror to force themselves to smile while speaking to prospects.

I would also add that using scripts could help you when making calls. Eventually, you will develop your own voice and techniques and abandon the scripts altogether, but in the beginning using scripts can help. Yes, of course your goal is to understand the value that you can offer your prospect, understand his problems, and ask good qualifying or needs based questions. But using a script in the very beginning can help you until you feel more confident speaking to prospects until you can get it down cold.

Speed matters too. I don’t mean speaking fast, I mean have a process and system in place that allows you to make a lot of calls on a daily basis. For example, if you are using SalesForce.com, you may want to ask your employer to purchase software program like KiteDesk to improve your productivity and workflow. KiteDesk integrates with SalesForce.com, and you can even import prospects from LinkedIn or websites to the database. Or purchase a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) that offers good workflow like Close.io.

Here is Mr. Ingham’s video below –

Recommend: Close.io “how to sell” video presentations on YouTube

Steli Efti, Founder & CEO of Close.io, has created an excellent 16 part video series on how to sell. The series is posted on YouTube. While the presentation focuses mainly on inside sales and start-ups, some of his advice can also help outside salespeople and those working for major corporations.

Here are some of the key takeaways –

Salespeople need to hustle1). Hustle –  you have to hustle if you want to make sales. Sitting on your ass and waiting for the phone to ring isn’t going to work. If you want to get into the money zone you need to get out of your comfort zone. You have to be proactive. While you hope your company has a good marketing department that can provide good inbound leads, you have to take responsibility for your own success. Remember – the marketing team isn’t working on commission – you are. So start calling.

2). Show up, follow-up and close – really, in summary, that’s what selling is all about. Just showing up daily (and on time), making your calls, following up with more calls and emails, and closing is the key to your success. It’s not rocket science. You just have to be consistent in your actions. Sure, there are certain techniques that you can learn along the way. There are a lot of books, articles and blogs to help you. But when you think about it, selling is like acting – you just have to bury your negative emotions and bad mood, and professionally play the role you were hired to do. You have a process, use it well, and you will be successful. But don’t try to fake it until you make it. Clients can spot a phony a mile away. Just make it work – now.

3). Rejection is your friend – Embrace it. If you are not getting a lot of rejections, you are not doing your job well. Don’t focus on just the low hanging fruit – go after the high hanging fruit  with the potential of bigger sales. Low hanging fruit is for order takers. Salespeople don’t take orders – they make orders happen.

4). Be a Journalist –  Ask good questions. Listen more and talk less. If you really want to help your clients and solve their problems, you need to dig deep by asking good qualifying or needs based questions. You want to be seen as a problem solver, not a sleazy salesperson trying to peddle his wares.

5). Value – focus on selling value, not features. When you do a feature vomit on your client, he will run, not walk, away from you. Remember – it’s not about you, it’s about your client. What value do you offer that’s going to solve his problems? If you don’t have what the prospect needs, be honest, and move on. As the old saying goes, there are plenty of other fish in the sea to catch.

6). Lead generation – as I mentioned in other posts, there are many ways of finding leads. But before you start buying or developing leads, review your existing customers (if you have any). Create a client profile of your top 5 to 10 best customers. Who are they? Why are they buying from you? Do you see any patterns? Once you have a good idea of who your clients are, you can then start targeting prospects that fit the same pattern. It’s better to narrow down your prospects than waste time going too broad. Yes, a wide net will catch a lot of fish – but do you want big fish or minnows?

7). Objections – there is a lot of advice on how to handle objections. In my opinion, the most common objection is price. However, it’s always a good idea to list some common objections and have answers prepared for them. In short, it’s better to be ready and respond with one or two sentences, then fumble around sounding like a fool. Because if you sound like a bumbling idiot, the next sound you hear will be “click.”

8). Send emails – contrary to popular belief, cold calling is more than just making phone calls and leaving voice mail messages. You also need to send emails. Some clients respond better with emails than by phone. No problem. The key is to connect with your prospect and hopefully get the sale. Phone, email or carrier pigeon, do whatever it takes to make the connection. Get a response. If it’s no, OK…but don’t cross your prospect off your list too fast. Try to circle back later. Maybe he will be in a better mood or have budget to move forward. Based on studies I’ve read, you need to make anywhere from 6 to 8 attempts before a prospect will acknowledge your existence.

To help you learn more about selling, Close.io is offering a free 30 day startup sales success course sent to you via email.

Here is the link – http://close.io/free-sales-course

I thought the videos were on point. I have two criticisms – First,  I wish the Close.io would put the videos on an organized playlist on their YouTube channel to make it easy to follow each presentation. I found myself jumping around too much trying to find the next video in the proper order.

Second, Mr. Efti argues that start-ups shouldn’t hire traditional salespeople because they don’t know how to adjust in an ever-changing work environment. I disagree. I’ve worked at major corporations that constantly go through reorgs and other changes throughout the year. I also know salespeople who have worked at major corporations who had their compensation packages changed every quarter – if not every month.

For example, one of my friends use to work for a popular large car dealership in the Washington, D.C. area. Every month, the car salesperson with the lowest sales of the month would be fired – regardless of his seniority or his sales record YTD. Why? Because the sales manager wanted to keep his sales team “on their toes.”

Nice guy.

My point is this – any good salesperson has to know how to be flexible in order to survive. The business world – whether we are talking about start-ups or major companies – is changing all the time. If you are seeking a nice, safe conservative job, become a banker or an accountant. The sales process is constantly evolving – either keep up or switch careers.

Close.io has other videos I would recommend that you check out. Also, the company has one of the best blog posts I’ve ever read about selling. Yes, they are promoting their product to some degree (hell, we are all in sales). However, the blogs offer great sales advice that you can apply in any industry.

Below is a sample video from the 16-part presentation –