Sales are a weakness in so many startups. I will talk with tech entrepreneurs who work incessantly on their product thinking that is the path to success. Having a quality product is very important, true. In some cases product deficiencies may make the difference. But most of the time startups fail (or limp along disappointingly) because of insufficient cash. And cash boils down to sales.
You see, no product is ever perfect. I was an executive in a publicly-traded tech company for almost a decade, and I can tell you that all of our products had deficiencies — some small, some large. And no one knew those deficiencies better than those of us working in the company, because we worked daily to improve the products. Despite not having perfect products, ours was a successful unit of the company. Part of the reason: we had strong sales processes and an experienced sales team.
The importance of sales was driven home for me one day while in an internal meeting. Things got a little heated. One of the product managers bemoaned the lack of time to make yet another round of product improvements, and said, “The product still needs work!” Then one of the sales executives broke the tension when he laughed and said with perfect comic timing, “So what’s your point?” HIS point was that skilled sales reps knew how to address product objections.
A good sales person sells. Period. This is why I always suggest that entrepreneurs get sales training. It’s the most important part of your education for running a business.
A GUIDE TO LEARN HOW TO SELL
One resource to improve your sales I suggest you check out is an ebook called “The Smart Business Guide to Winning New Work.” A review copy of this PDF-format book made its way to me several weeks ago. I get a lot of ebooks and find there are two types:
- First, there are free ebooks. These are fairly shallow in content and designed mainly as marketing pieces for the company offering them. They’re a bit like getting a free sample of food at a local fair. You get a taste and it may be awesome, but it’s still just a taste.
- Second, there are ebooks offered for sale. These are more in-depth. The best ones offer something you can’t get in a printed book — up-to-the-minute information, or insights into a narrow niche market, or extensive worksheets and tools.
The Guide to Winning New Work falls into the latter camp. Written by Pawel Grabowski (@pawelgra77 on Twitter), the book is a complete outline of sales for those who have not done much selling. The core text of the book explains how to sell in 52 pages, including how to set up a sales process for your business, from scratch. It covers:
- the difference between marketing and sales
- 3 traits of a successful sales person
- finding and qualifying prospects
- cold calling
- making the sales presentation
- overcoming objections
- closing the sale
- follow up
Now, if you’re like me and you’ve had some sales experience and read a lot of sales materials, you may not find anything earth-shatteringly different in the above list. The real beauty of this book comes from two things. First, the book is written in simple straightforward terms. You don’t need formal sales training to understand what to do. You don’t have to learn an entire new vocabulary. Pawel presents sales as an interaction between two business people — a structured interaction, to be sure, but it’s still just an interaction that anyone can relate to. Second, you get some valuable templates and tools — what Pawel calls “bonus materials.” These include:
14-day Plan — this 20-page supplement walks you through 14 days of prospecting to develop new contacts for sales. It literally gives you a step by step approach to identifying companies to approach.
Follow-up sheet — this is literally just a fill-in-the-blank sheet for sales follow up. While this may seem simple, in my experience, many sales are lost by startup founders due to poor follow-up. That’s because you’re so busy and may lack a system that forces you to focus on follow-up. Or your prospect is not quite ready to buy, but you allow your connection to him or her fade away, thereby wasting your investment of time.
Killer Questions — these are questions designed to probe for needs and pain points during the selling process.
Meeting Preparation sheet — this is a sheet where you jot down all information needed to make an effective sales call or sales meeting. Again, this is deceptively simple, yet powerful. A disorganized unprepared mind leads to a disorganized unprepared sales call.
Email templates — these are email templates for introducing yourself through email. It’s cold calling through email.
Tracking system spreadsheet — this is a simple Excel spreadsheet template for tracking your pipeline — from proposals to lost sales. Depending on your sales process, you may have to adjust the spreadsheet, but at least you have the bones of a sales tracking system and can build on it from there.
WHO THIS BOOK IS FOR
The advice in this e-book applies best to those who sell B2B, i.e., to other businesses. Consultants, freelancers, Web designers, software developers, copywriters, SEO professionals and the like will find it applicable. The book is not about online eCommerce sales nor is it about mass consumer retail. It applies best to a one-to-one sale offline.
I recommend this book for beginners. If you’ve never had sales training before or have minimal experience with sales, there’s a lot you can learn from The Smart Business Guide to Winning New Work. Pawel Grabowski takes the intimidation factor out of sales. Best of all, the book helps you establish a sales process and structure in your startup — because it’s not enough to know how to sell. You need a well-oiled process if you want to keep the sales pipeline flowing.
Dave from SMBCommunicate
Great article thankyou. I really like the idea of the followup sheet, its small ‘systems’ like this that can make a big difference. I find from week to week, and sheer volumes of interactions with customers, I don’t remember all the details – so that is a great suggestion, thankyou.
For my businesses one of the main aspects has been customer relations, staying active in a prompt and professional manner with every potential contact. A soon as I see an email or an opportunity to make a connection, I make the effort and people like that. They feel appreciated/validated, and they are in my opinion. It’s like the old saying sometimes, the early bird catches the worm.
I too beleive you need to be more personal, one on one is the best way to connect with a customer.
While I do feel that a proficient sales team is important in the success of a start-up, a viable baseline product that (1) meets the needs of your target client base (2) is (mostly) bug-free (3) is attractive and (4) is properly supported is also very important. Relying on just the ‘pitch’ and not delivering a solid product could mean disaster, given the reach of the web and, specifically, social media. Though we all know how to manage a reputation, no company wants to spend its first 2 years playing ‘clean up’ to bad reviews. So, while it is imperative to make the sale to create revenue and growth for a company (especially a start-up), it is also extremely important that the sale is properly backed by a standout product (or service) as well as ongoing support.
Great article. I love idea of the meeting preparation sheet. If it is a meeting with a sales prospect or even a internal meeting with your team. If there is no “plan” there will be very little productivity!
Great Article. I personally use the tracking spreadsheets to assist in tracking time on large projects.
Hi Anita, thank you very much for this review. Not sure what to say really, well, apart from… YAY!
I believe this book can help a lot of newcomers in business to do not make one of the most common mistakes in biz, neglecting sales (and that’s usually just because they don’t know where to begin. I aim to change that with this book).
@Dave, yes, the follow up sheet is a great idea to organize clients and prospects you need to get back to. I consider follow up a (usually) missed sales opportunity so well done on acting on it.
@Jason, you are absolutely right, it’s all about being personal. No one buys from a salesman but everyone buys from a person, right?
@Joel, I wouldn’t put it any better!
@Marvin, ha ha, yeah, that used to happen to me, long time ago. That’s why I created the prep. sheet, it helps me to organize everything. It also serves as a way to quickly remind myself of the most important things I prepared for the presentation right before I walk into a sales call. I usually keep it in my pocket and run through it while I approach the prospects premises. It helps me to keep focused and also, refresh everything I have prepared for the meeting.
@Brad, well done on time tracking. I am sure it works great for you!
I agree with most of this review, and great info, I run a small business, and yes the start up was tough, the backbone of my Business rely on a sales team to convert sales, but I also stress that customer awareness is crucial, most sales teams are pushed to get sales. A combination of great product,training, support, will lead to customer satisfaction. Understand what your customers want and deliver.
To maintain and grow sales, a customer relationship management (CRM) system can be invaluable, even-and often especially- for independent and micro businesses. I like zoho.com (free) to plan, track calls, send templated and personal email and schedule tasks for follow up.
Thanks for the ebook tip! I think it will be a great companion to the book, “Sälj dig själv och ta betalt” (“How To Sell Yourself and Make Them Pay” in Swedish) by Ulla-Lisa Thordén. It won the prize as the best sales & marketing book of the year 2005 in Sweden. I got the book from Victoria Hallén, CEO, Awoque (social media agency).