By Ismail Abdur-Rahman, CEO iVIBES Consulting
Remember the good ol' days? Well, if you're a millennial, chances are you haven't even heard of the good ol' days, but bear with me.
Back in the day, people really climbed the corporate ladder. They didn't go to college, get a fancy degree, and start a career in mid-management before working their way up to CEO. Actually, a typical corporate career path usually looked like this: start in sales, sink or swim, advance up the company hierarchy until reaching a senior or executive level.
Nowadays, people go to school, learn a lot of theory, and hop into a management position that they are ill-equipped to handle because they don't even understand the processes in the departments they're supposed to manage. Unfortunately, this corporate career track has also begun to affect (or infect, like a fungus) young entrepreneurs. I can't count how many still-wet-behind-the-ears entrepreneurs who are happy to tell me that they're CEO of their respective companies, just a couple of weeks after launching.
Look, I get it. You've decided to become an entrepreneur, so you want people to recognize your swag, and nothing gives you street cred as a business owner quite like business cards that announce your presence to the world as a 'Founder' or 'CEO'. However, you can't lose sight of the fact that the most basic role of an entrepreneur is to sell. As an entrepreneur, if you can't sell, you won't be in business for very long.
I've been involved in startups and entrepreneurship for a long time. I might not know everything, but I have certainly seen a lot. And, I have to be honest here - the most valuable training I got in my entrepreneurship journey was sales training. I've done telemarketing for crappy products. I've done telemarketing for pretty decent services. I've sold Kirby vaccum cleaners door-to-door....Cutco knives too. I've sold gym memberships and personal training packages. I manged a group of GNC branches and upsold everything. Yeah, sometimes it was rough, especially when sales were hard to come by. However, at the end of the day, if you never get comfortable selling, your business will suffer. In fact, there's a joke that experienced entrepreneurs like to tell (disclaimer: this is a very corny joke). "What do you call an entrepreneur who can't sell?" "I don't know. What?" "An ex-entrepreneur."
When you sell, you learn more about your market, your customers, and whether your product or service truly fills a need or solves a problem. If you learn to listen to your customers' objections, you'll learn where you need to adjust your offering, or if, in fact, you need to pivot and go in a different direction altogether. Additionally, getting your feet wet in sales will improve your ability to connect to your sales staff (assuming your business grows large enough for you to hire sales staff) and better coach them to deliver the results you are targeting for your business.
No, I'm not getting all sticky sweet on you, but I do need to make a point. There are two main components to making sales - logic and emotion. Logical selling is related to you mentioning your track record and building your value proposition around facts, ie., numbers - What's it going to cost? What's the cost-benefit analysis look like? You'll need a track record and established reputation to sell using a strictly logical approach. On the other hand, if you're a new entrepreneur, you'll want to go the emotional route.
Most customers tend to make emotional purchases for items and services that they hadn't already determined they needed. Building an emotional pitch to customers in this circumstance is pretty easy, but effective. You have to ask the right questions to understand their problem and listen as much to what they're not telling you as to what they actually disclose. Then, tailor your pitch to meet your customers' needs and solve their problems. As I mentioned previously, you will want to make your customer the hero of your brand's story. You can use 'what if' scenarios, future self projections, and 'imagine the possibilities' scenarios to build the emotional appeal to your customers that can help you close a sale.
Sales Roles - the ABC's of Selling
Most people have heard of the sales expression "Always Be Closing!" It's a great mindset, but there are other roles that are equally (or maybe more) important in the sales process.
In this role, you have to get out of the office and network to find contacts, exchange business cards, and bypass the gatekeeper to get to the decision makers who will ultimately make the purchases. The prospecting role opens up new markets and market opportunities, and this is critical because, without it, there would be no prospects to close.
This a very people-oriented role, and it can be draining if you're not naturally a people person. Sometimes I find myself having to get into character to deal with this aspect of business, especially if I'm physically exhausted. However, this function is the engine that drives the entire sales process. Remember, you can't close a sale if you don't have prospects.
In this role, you have to be a great listener. I'll go on record right now and tell you that if your presentation involves you talking for 10 minutes at a time, you're going to fail spectacularly as a closer. Closing sales has to involve putting the customer's needs first, and you can't do that unless you listen to the customer articulate concerns, needs, wants, and wishes.
In my experience, the best closers have their scripts and FAQ answers down to a science; they flow effortlessly through the process of eliciting customer requirements and crafting an appropriate appeal (emotional, logical, or emotional-logical) to get the customer to take action. You do need to have a thick skin so as to not be affected by customer objections, but if you can multitask effectively so that you can listen and craft an empathetic rebuttal, you should close upwards of 75% of your opportunities - assuming that your product or service actually solves a customer problem.
In this role, you'll follow up on the closed sales to ensure customer satisfaction and look for opportunities to upsell the existing customer and request referrals. This area is probably as vital to the survival of your business as the closer role because it is here that you maintain the business relationship and extend it with extended products and services. if you do this part right, you could easily double your annual revenue.
The good news is that the closer and development roles can be coached up. However, the prospector role is predicated almost solely on passion and hustle. If your company's sales aren't where they need to be, look at how you're performing in these three roles and stop the leakage to right the ship.
Being a CEO isn't a bad gig if you can get it, but if you don't get comfortable putting on your salesman hat, you'll go out of business just as fast as you started. On the other hand, if you master the art of sales and persuasion, your business should be trending up in no time, provided that your hustle matches your ambition and you have appropriate offerings for your market.