« Enter Knight Entrepreneurial Fellows contest for chance to win free tickets to SIME MIA | Main | abc* Continuity Forum brings social entrepreneurs, world experts together »

Four sales tips for startups

By Mark Crofton 

MHJC picAnybody who starts their own company is constantly selling. Sales, however, often gets a bad rap, or at best, the wrong rap. Many think it’s a dirty word. However, sales done the right way leads to happy customers and successful startups. Here’s a few things I’ve learned in my sales career.

1)     Sales is about process, not golf.

People think selling is about glad-handing or schmoozing customers on the golf course. Sales, and to a greater degree, sales management, is nothing so exciting. It is, in fact, all about process. You need a goal (sales target, quota) a way to incent your salespeople (commissions work nicely) and a cadence (forecast calls, deal reviews, etc). Define a process, make sure everyone knows the expectations and, here’s the tough part: stick to it religiously.

2)     Hope is not a strategy*

Salespeople  need to be optimists. You get told “no” much more than “yes.” Yet, sometimes that optimism goes too far. We believe a deal will close, because we want it to. To ensure it does, test every opportunity by asking four questions:

-          Are we talking with the person who decides (decides, not influences)?

-          Is there budget for our product, service (not budget in general, but in specific for the project we are addressing)?

-          Have we vanquished the competition?

-          Do we have a date to sign the contract? (“Around the end of next month” is NOT a date)

Unless, you know the answers to these questions you shouldn’t console yourself with the hope that the deal will close.

3)     Nobody cares about how cool your product is.

I’ve had many entrepreneurs tell me that their sales are going to take off because their product has a feature that is soooo much better than anything else. Here’s the simple truth: nobody cares about your features, they don’t care about how nice your interface is, they certainly don’t care how well coded your software is. What they do care about is what your product or service can do to solve their problem. Say you develop a new jet airplane that can get me to San Francisco an hour faster. I don’t care how fast your jet is, I care that I have an hour more with customers or that I can get home faster to see my family. Focus on your customers’ needs, not on your product.

4)     People buy, not companies.

A corollary to the above is that you need to solve a person’s problems, not just a company’s.  After all, it’s a person who will sign the contract and cut the check. What is the “win” for the person who is deciding? If you’re telling me that you can save money by cutting staff in the accounting department with your new software, and I am the one who hired and have managed the accounting team for the past five years, do you think that’s gonna move me to buy? Now, if you tell me that I can redeploy those folks to higher value work, fine. Understand the buyer’s motivation and needs, and express the benefits of your product in terms of a win for the person you are talking to.

Do all of the above and focus on your customers’ long-term success, and you’ll be well on your way to driving long-term sales for your startup.

*This is the title of a great book on selling into big accounts. Worth the read.

Mark Crofton is a vice president of sales at SAP. He has held prior roles in M&A and post-merger integration and has previously worked at strategy consulting and venture capital firms. He is active in the Miami entrepreneurial  community and has advised several startups.