"For technical founders, sales can be terrifying, uncomfortable, and even uninteresting." — I'm one of those founders; I know how it feels.
Today I talk about using sales to gain momentum in your startup. This subject is a continuation from my post on 'Gaining and Keeping Momentum as a Startup Founder.'
At the moment, I'm reading (and listening to) a lot of sources discussing sales. For me, it's the most neglected skill I have in my list of abilities. So all the more reason to write something on it. It forces me to learn more about sales!
From a young age, I had the impression that sales are what you see in the typical example of the 'used car salesman.' Slimy, dishonest, fake. E.g., not having your best interest at heart.
And mind you, a lot of salespeople still feel like that to me.
But now that I have been actively looking at what sales can also be, it is possible to be done entirely different than slimy.
It can be done in a way that is transparent, honest, and listening to real needs.
So, let's look at how you can do 'Good' salesmanship.
Tip 1 — Listening
The essence of sales starts with the ability to listen. To listen without judgment. Without imposing your immediate opinion. Without directly forcing your (potential) client onto your product or service.
When you're listening, you'll find out a lot about your client. They'll tell you about their problems when they feel you listen to them.
When you listen, you find out what it is their struggle. You can usually clearly hear what it is that your potential client wants to be solved.
When you can solve it for using your product/service, then you can tell your conversational partner (potential client) about it.
If you can't solve their problem, then that's fine too. You can save both of you lots of time and energy finding a match that wasn't going to happen anyway.
Saving time helps you focus on other parts of your business or other clients. This time-saving allows you to gain more momentum for the same amount of energy spent.
Tip 2 — Leave them better than before they met you
When you're not a match at that moment, you may know someone in your network that can help them. You can refer them, and they are better off after having spoken to you.
Referring someone to a good source helps you in the long run too.
Next time they speak to someone that has a problem YOU can solve, they may refer them back to you. Free marketing!
And at some later point, when they do have a problem that you can solve, they will most likely come to you. The will remember having had such a pleasant experience with you because you didn't try to sell them something they did not need.
Leaving your potential clients better off than when they met you causes your business to gain surprise clients in the long term — making your effort's return on investment bigger and bigger. It's like a bonus momentum boost for your business.
Tip 3 — Focus on emotion over logic
Let's say that after listening, you find you can solve a (potential) client's problem. (Or else you wouldn't be talking to them anymore, remember?)
An incorrect way to continue is by talking about your product's technicalities or specific features. Better is to focus on the client still.
Specifically, to talk about the emotional side of a client's problem. It is much more conducive to getting a sale that way.
You see, we humans make most of our decisions based on emotion. Our mind will then fill in the "logical" blanks to rationalize this decision.
Your potential client has a problem they want to solve. This problem causes emotions. An excellent way to approach those emotions is by letting them feel the opposite, e.g., positive emotions.
A powerful way to let them feel emotion is by telling a story — for instance, a story where their problem is non-existent because of your product. You should be able to offer that product or solution, of course.
Lets us look at this a little more with a specific example of Mary, a potential client, that comes to you with the following problem:
Mary has a blog where she has commenting enabled. But she continually gets spammy comments on her blog posts. All kinds of weird products and untrustworthy URL's are posted there by pseudonymous accounts. She does not know how to combat this, so she comes to you, a consultant on website design and development.
You listened intently to her story and recognized that you could help her.
So you start telling a story about your own blog, where you, at first, also had these problems. You continue by telling Mary how you built a simple solution to solve the problem of spammy comments. To prove to her it works, you open your browser and show her your blog, where there are many comments, but no spammy ones.
No doubt, Mary got all excited and emptied her purse right there in front of you!
A different version of this could be that Mary is a web designer that has clients of her own, that have the problems of these spammy comments. There, you would tell the story in a way where the delight of Mary's clients is at the forefront. Specifically, one where her clients are thriving because they got their commenting in good order.
An emotionally invested client churns less, spends more, and can be a missionary for you. You gain momentum because you need less energy in sales to reach profitability.
Bonus tip — Being honest to your client and yourself
When you're honest and transparent, it shows. Your interactions feel authentic. It's congruent with your past and future contact with people (that might turn into your clients in the future).
This honesty helps to keep them coming back to you or refer others to you. People equate honesty with trustworthiness, after all.
For technical founders, sales can be terrifying, uncomfortable, and even uninteresting. I'm one of those founders; I know how it feels.
But leaning into this uncomfortable feeling does provide you with interesting conversations. And these lead you to be less fearful of doing sales.
Having done some research into the subject, I feel I am better off knowing more about it. At a minimum, I will try to practice sales more and more in my conversations with potential clients.
A few good sources on sales (for founders) are the following:
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Louis Nichols' Podcast on "Sales for Founders"
If you have any successes or hardships to share about sales in your startup, feel free to leave a comment!