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The Best Advice on How to Increase Your Startup’s Ability to Sell

A Thought Leader Guest Post from Kevin Ruef  of 10-8 Systems:

How to Increase your Startup’s Ability to Sell

How to Increase your Startup’s Ability to SellThe idea of selling both your product and personal credibility can be daunting for most technical founders, or those with minimal sales experience.

And rightfully so, the sales process can be an excruciating process. Most conjure images of used-car salesmen. Although it does help to be a smooth talker, there are certain steps that can be taken to make anyone a more efficient sales professional.

Who is your customer?

This should be the first question before even trying to sell a product. If you don't understand why your customer wants your product, it’ll be much harder to succeed. This will be an ever-evolving process, but you need to understand your “ideal” customer. Start creating these fictional characters and attempt to understand their innermost desires. Sample questions include:

  • What industry is your ideal customer in?
  • What’s their company like? (Size, location, type, etc)
  • Are they the decision maker?
  • What’s their biggest pain points?
  • How does your product improve their lives?

By understanding their perspective as a potential customer, you’ll do two things: 1) Bring them value, 2) Not waste anyone's time.

Don’t waste anyones’ time.

To stay efficient as a salesperson, it's important to qualify your customers without interrogating them. The easiest method to qualify customers is by remembering BANT:

  • Budget
  • Authority
  • Needs
  • Timeline

For a customer to be qualified, these four aspects need to be present in your sales situation.

  • Without a proper budget, then there might be no point in continuing your interactions.
  • Authority is also important - are they the decision maker? Is this the right person to be talking to? If they are - great. If not - then ask for a referral (easier than a cold call).
  • Does your customer actually need this product? This goes back to the idea of understanding your ideal customer - make sure you’re a good fit.
  • Lastly, it's very important to get a timeline. it's always fun to go window shopping, but unless you have an actual timeline, then your sales cycle can be unnecessarily stretched out (or time can be wasted).

A crucial part of understanding and collecting this information: do NOT interrogate your customers. Try to find a way to organically ask these questions during the course of your conversation. For example, instead of asking “do you have a timeline?” Try asking “is this something you needed yesterday or are you still shopping around?” This usually gets a good laugh out of the customer and provides some real insights into their actual timelines.

Listen.

When actually talking with a potential customer, listen. You should already have some assumptions of their biggest difficulties/challenges, but ask probing questions to find pain points. When it comes to sales, the most important effective salespeople listen more than trying to “sell” the customer. It's crucial to listen to the customer, understand their pain points, and find a solution that's the product/solution of their dreams.

Regardless of your way with words - if you don't have a deep understanding of your customers hot buttons then they’ll never be excited about your product. In the sales world, this is called the “Fajita Effect.” When you’re at a restaurant, the server walks out with a fajita, and everyone sees/smells the “sizzle.” This sizzle gets customers excited (that’s why it's displayed through the entire restaurant). That sizzle is why people suddenly want the same exciting experience.

Find that “sizzle” for your customers and they’ll be hungry for your product, too.

Know what you know.

Be honest with customers. If you’re in an awkward spot and don’t have an answer, be honest. “That’s a great question, I’ll have to check on that and get back to you.”  It's embarrassing not having all the answers, but it's better to be honest and keep your credibility intact.

When I was “green” (aka brand new) to car sales, I knew almost nothing about cars. During my first week, I tried to shadow the more experienced salespeople. I learned some of the scripted talking points about our trucks (“these have a V8 with iridium spark plugs”). Well fast forward to week two and a gentleman walked onto the lot to check out our trucks. I went over my talking points “oh, this is a V8… and it has iridium spark plugs.” After the test drive, pulling into the parking lot, the customer waited to say “by the way, this is a diesel. Diesels don’t have spark plugs. Maybe we should find someone more knowledgeable.” Beyond the embarrassment, it completely destroyed my credibility as a knowledgeable resource for the customer. Never be afraid to say you don’t know something.

Follow up.

It's easy to get overwhelmed by the number of potential customers that can enter your sales funnel. It's really important to find a system that works for you. Use a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) or spreadsheet to keep track of where each client is in your funnel, when you’ve spoken to the customer, and any relevant information. Once you have their contact information, periodically follow up until you have the sale or they tell you to go away (bought another option, canceled the project, requirements changed, etc). Beyond emails and phone calls, don’t be afraid to text your customers and build that rapport.

Although this definitely isn’t an exhaustive list, these will definitely increase the efficiency of a salesperson. Following these tips will definitely make your sales process a lot smoother.

Thanks for this Guest Post and its graphics to Kevin Ruef, the Director of Business Operations & Co-Founder of 10-8 Systems.

Want to share your advice for startup entrepreneurs?  Submit a Guest Post here.

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