5 Minute Biz Magic: Make 5 Sales Calls
The sexy, mythical culture of startups, entrepreneurship, and insta-founder-fame can be incredibly distracting and misleading about what starting & managing a business is really like. Some of this “entrepreneurial culture” can reinforce decisions and habits that actually have nothing to do with growing a successful venture.
Several years ago, while working for a seed fund, this became clear. Everyone involved in the fund celebrating learning, socializing, blogging, launching great ideas, trying new things, coding, dreaming big, tackling multiple projects at the same time, brainstorming, networking, and other “entrepreneurial” things. The fund reached a critical juncture where none of the portfolio companies was able to stand on its own through generating revenues, and the fund was running out of investment and operational capital. The founder of the fund called a company meeting, and with a somber tone informed all employees and founders of portfolio companies that the fund was being shut down, and each company would have to sink or swim on its own merits. He gave a Cashflow 101 lecture to the group, and as the implosion unfolded, I thought more and more about the uselessness of the experience. Why had the fund and 12 companies failed collectively? What was lacking? How could we not have operated in ways that relied on the basics of business – revenue, cashflow, and profitability? What happened?
On reflection, we had been acting the part of entrepreneurs, but not doing the dirty work of business: making sales calls, watching expenses, and keeping an eye toward profitability. In the end, when everything else is stripped away – the glamour, the long hours, the brogrammer cultures, the world domination, the innovation, and all of the many things that we think constitute real entrepreneurship, entrepreneurship consists of 3 core tasks: making sales calls, paying bills, and looking at bank / accounting reports. Other aspects of business are luxurious and a lower priority, in comparison to these three key tasks. If that’s the case, why aren’t more entrepreneurs focused on these basics? Why do we procrastinate sales to the absolute last priority, and only get motivated to do them when the threat of shutdown is on the line? Why do we put off accounting tasks and scrape by with the basic annual tax filing, instead of scrutinizing financials regularly – monthly, even weekly?
I believe it is largely due to lack of skill and awareness. There’s so much written / said about the fluffy, optional aspects of entrepreneurship. There are a plethora of ways to learn how to write business plans, get a business license, do market research – and all of these are good to do, but not key to the success of a business’s financial viability. Business school is helpful for managing an existing business, but not as relevant for starting or growing an enterprise. And no business class can prepare an entrepreneur for the uncomfortable interactions of putting a potential customer on the spot (awkward!!!) or dealing with repetitive, massive, every day rejection of hearing no, time after time, until you get a service / product offering right enough to be worth a customer paying money for it.
Today we’ll focus on the first skill: making sales calls. It doesn’t matter as much whether it’s an in person meeting, a video / phone call, or an email outreach – the point is that you are directly contacting customer / client leads and guiding them through a buying discussion. The best investment an entrepreneur can make, of time or resources, is in direct contact with clients and customers, even when the product is not yet ready to be shipped / sold. Customers let you know if you are actually running a business, or just pretending to. There’s a lot that can be done or read to understand customer development – but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Get on the phone, send emails, schedule in person meetings or video conferences, and find out the answer to this question: WILL YOU BUY MY STUFF TODAY? There are only three possible responses:
1- YES: awesome! Give them a way to give you money (an invoice, a payment link, a contract, an address to send a check to, etc.) and get on your lovely way, you my friend are running a real business.
2- NO: awesome! Either your stuff is not a fit for this specific customer, in which you should continue your sales calls and try to find some “yes’s”, or, your stuff is not relevant / priced correctly / critical to your customer base and it needs SERIOUS ADJUSTMENTS in order for your business to make sense.
3- MAYBE / NO & WHY: awesome! Three key aspects of a sale are: timing, budget, and decision-maker. To get a YES, you need to manage a customer through the decision process of buying, where these three elements (timeframe, budget, and decision-maker) line up. If the customer is not willing or able to give a clear YES or NO, or they give you a “maybe / no and here’s why” response, working on these 3 elements with the customer, will greatly increase the likelihood of converting this MAYBE into a YES. A wise entrepreneur once said that “a conditional no, is a provisional yes”; in other words, that if a customer says no and gives conditions as to why not, if you are able to address / repair / revise the product or service (or package / price), the customer may be able to say yes at that point.
The purpose of a sales interaction is to provide the customer with the opportunity to get more information and to be given the opportunity to give you a Yes, No, or Maybe response. Your job is to make the call, send the email, set up (and show up to!) the meeting. The customer knows their job and if there’s ANY INTEREST there whatsoever, will take your call, email, or meeting. I think many times entrepreneurs get anxious about the rejection process and struggle with communicating with customers out of a false sense of security – that if they can wait until the product is flawless, 100% complete, and a no-brainer, then they will get less rejection or have a higher success rate in sales. In my experience, the more often you can make sales calls, and the larger base of customers you are interacting with, the higher likelihood of getting on track financially and the easier to keep the business focused on providing value that is worth money. And that is the key task of entrepreneurship.
If you’ve made it this far into this 5 Minute Biz Magic article, then you probably know what comes next: go make 5 sales calls, send 5 emails, set up 5 meetings! And let us know how it goes – drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org, we’d love to hear about your experience testing this skill.