A recent post from Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) describes 9 important qualities that all sales people should have. Sales skills are absolutely critical to the success of a startup. A product alone does not generate revenue. All companies require some sort of talented sales force in order to survive. Unfortunately, most entrepreneurs that I encounter are hesitant to perform sales. The fact is that all founders are required to perform sales roles. Below, I highlight three sales skills that most of my startups clients fail to recognize, but are fundamental to closing deals and growing revenue.
Adopt an adviser mindset
A significant misconception is that salespeople are equated to used car salesmen; pushy, sleazy, dishonest, and entirely self-interested. This could not be further from the truth. Modern, quality sales is about selling the reputations of the salesperson and their company, as much as its products. Sales involves learning deeply about customers. Understand the goals and challenges for both their company and their department. Be honest and knowledgeable about your products and their benefits.
Once the salesperson understands their customer, they should focus on how their products can create benefit for the customer. Explain how the products solved similar problems for other customers. Share testimonials or case studies that articulate the benefit the products deliver using quantifiable values (e.g. dollars saved, hours of labour reduced). Using real-world evidence will go a long way to both educate the customer and inspire confidence in the quality of both the selling company and its products.
When selling high-value products or doing B2B sales, it is crucial to address the key decision maker directly. Most individuals at a customer organization that a startup interacts with during the sales process do not have budget authority to make a purchase. In order to purchase a product, a key decision maker, or budget holder, must approve the purchase. The issue arises when startups do not understand their customer’s organization and focus their sales process solely on lower-level employees. Spending too much time interacting with individuals at this level may not lead to a sale, which will delay or prevent a startup from capturing revenue.
The solution is to identify the appropriate person in the target customer organization who has the authority to make the purchase. The startup must seek and engage this person during the sales process to close the deal. A startup should not neglect the lower-level employees at the customer organization they initially engage with. They may be powerful influencers or saboteurs to the budget holder. Win their support first, then move up the decision chain. Closing the deal by having allies from the customer will be much easier.
Ask for a next step
Most high-value B2B sales are not closed in a single call. In fact, the higher the value being traded, the longer the sales process and the higher the number of engagements between the salesperson and customer are required. Therefore, salespeople should prepare for scheduling multiple interactions with their customer and avoid finishing an interaction without some agreed next step between them and the client.
Subsequent interactions could range from sending a simple follow-up email with additional product information, to preparing and sharing a draft quote. This is also a good opportunity to arrange a meeting with a more senior budget-holder or key decision-maker. The point is that both parties know what the next step is, and the salesperson makes a commitment to try and move the sale forward. Never lose a sale because of a forgetful or busy customer!
Moving forward on the path to revenue
Sales should not be thought of as a talent that only a subset of the population is born with. Sales skills can be learned and developed over time. Startup teams without significant sales experience therefore should invest significant time in developing critical sales skills in their founding teams.
Startups should focus on identifying the appropriate decision-makers and budget-holders in the customer’s organization and work to engage them directly. Once the startup has the attention of the appropriate party, they should summarize what they have learned about the customer from previous engagement with lower-level workers, and present their product in context of their business to demonstrate the value product provides. After the pitch, reach an agreement with the client on future follow-up engagement to close the sale.
The sooner the startup can master these sales skills and begin earning repeating, growing revenue, the more likely it will be able to attract investment and transform into a thriving enterprise.