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How Best To Handle 5 Common Sales Scenarios

How Best To Handle 5 Common Sales Scenarios

The most successful entrepreneurs are great salespeople. Have you ever seen Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Mark Benioff presenting in front of thousands of people, all eagerly listening and buying into their vision? If Jobs, Musk or Benioff weren’t true masters of sales and fantastic storytellers, there would be no Apple, Tesla or Salesforce. Here’s an ironic statistic for you: After a presentation, 63% of attendees remember stories, and only 5% remember statistics.

Y Combinator founder Paul Graham suggests that entrepreneurs do work that doesn’t scale (recruit, delight, etc.), and sales plays a crucial role in what he recommends.

Yet I meet many product founders who believe it is not necessary to learn how to sell or craft a story about their product. They think the product is so revolutionary that they can build a great business without selling. This is an illusion. Here are five sales scenarios a startup founder can’t avoid, and how you can hone your selling skills to make the best of each situation.

Selling To Your Family

Why it’s important: Building a startup is hard. You must get your family’s buy-in in order to proceed. Without their support, your life can turn into a nightmare if business doesn’t go as expected, and you’ll definitely need their buy-in during the lean early years.

How to do it well:

  • Read Dale Carnegie’s book How To Win Friends And Influence People. Carnegie teaches soft, non-manipulative techniques that help you find compromises and convince people in a way that won’t backfire or negatively affect your relationships. This is of utmost importance when dealing with family.
  • Plan ahead. I personally had to do a hard “multistep sale” to my grandma. My grandma is very old; the idea that her grandson was going to drop out of school for a chance to go to the US really stressed her out and I didn’t want her to worry. I had to get buy-in from my “champions” (my aunt and mom) six months in advance in order to have them help me convince my “decision maker” grandma.

Selling To Your Team

Why it’s important: Great people are in high demand. How do you get someone who is already doing well to take a risk by joining your company? Well, it takes some serious skills. Selling the upside and your vision requires understanding other people’s motivations and values.

How to do it well:

  • Learn to present really well in front of your team. Frequent presentations and speeches are a great way to deliver your message and vision to your team, and you can simultaneously practice for higher-stakes stages with investors, press and partners.
  • Invest time. It took me over four months to persuade my co-founder that starting a business with me and quitting his job was a good idea. Our marketing director took two months to do a consulting project with us before she decided to join full time. I made this happen by “upselling” them regularly and keeping the lines of communication open.
  • Read the book Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff. It will teach you how to persuade groups of people. Excitement is an emotion — you’ll be unstoppable if you learn to work with not only logical thinking but also with emotional thinking to build excitement.

Selling To Investors

Why it’s important: This should come as no surprise, but investors are a tough crowd. They hear thousands of pitches, so you need to convince them that you’re the best option for them, which — even with a great product or idea — takes a very talented salesperson.

How to do it well:

  • Act on warm leads only. Build a pipeline of relevant angels and VCs, and get personal intros to all of them. Cold call only if there is no other option.
  • Don’t oversell in the initial stages. First calls and meetings are normally used to introduce yourself and build a relationship. Don’t try to sell yourself too hard at first contact.
  • Shyness and fundraising don’t mix. I was shy and humble when it came to pitching investors. This was a mistake. You need to be incredibly confident in order to get a buy-in from investors. Remember, you’re not trying to get them to like you; you want them to invest millions in your idea.

Selling To The Press

Why it’s important: Pitching to journalists is, essentially, sales. The only difference is that they don’t buy from you (they write about your startup) and what you’re selling is not a product (it’s the vision). You need to convince them that your vision is relevant to their space and that your startup has the potential to be big.

How to do it well:

  • Leverage your existing network. Get warm introductions to journalists from your connections. I’ve tried going cold; the conversion rate on this type of outreach to journalists is miserable.
  • Be ambitious. Journalists won’t be satisfied with hearing about what your startup is like right now — they want to be part of a story that will have a major impact.
  • Concision is key. Write short yet informative emails. Journalists have no time to read multi-page novels. The same applies to in-person interviews with the press: keep your answers to their questions short and to-the-point. Let them write the story around it (they’re professionals); just give them the facts.

Selling To Customers And/Or Partners

Why it’s important: This is the most obvious and straightforward selling you’ll have to do. Even if you don’t directly sell to other business (startups, clients, established businesses etc.), at some point you’ll still need to negotiate on items such as credit card processing and recruiting agency fees.

How to do it well:

  • Bolster your sales. Build a pipeline of potential deals and use a CRM to track your progress.
  • Review your data. Evaluate your historical performance and use it to build a forecast. Track obsessively so that you can make sure to invest in the right resources in order to hit your goals.

Invest in improving your sales skills even if you’re not a salesperson by trade. As a founder, you’ll need this skill set over and over again, at every stage of your business.

Mikita Mikado is a software engineer, entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of PandaDoc, makers of all-in-one software for better quotes, proposals, and contracts. 

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organisation comprising the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship programme that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

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