If You Don’t Close Sales, Your Company Won’t Survive
ATI’s Lunch and Learn panel on sales management on August 12, 2009 began with a question: “Who in here sells?” A roomful of arms stretched upward. Everyone sells. Whether on a sales team, to prospective employers, or as the acting “every man” of a start-up business, the act of convincing others escapes no one.
While 40+ ATI member company CEOs and Founders, ATI staff, and TechBA company CEOs and Founders ate lunch in the Alamo Room of the WPRC Building on Braker Lane, the three panelists introduced themselves:
Michael Osborne (left) is the Senior Vice President of Sales for BazaarVoice: a company that makes word of mouth marketing work by enabling services and technology to gather, respond to and amplify content.
Janice (Jan) Ryan (middle) has worked in technology for 28 years and came to Austin to become the founding VP of Sales for Vignette, an early internet enterprise software company. She is currently the CEO and Founder of Social Dynamix, a new company in the social media space.
Mitch Jacobson (right) has worked just about everywhere the last 29 years in sales from Tandy Corporation to Dell to Tech Data Corporation. He started at A.B. Dick and says that, “if you can sell with a name like A.B. Dick behind you, you can sell.” He founded Eyes of Texas, an angel investment firm, and is currently the co-director at the Clean Energy Incubator advising ATI’s clean start-up companies.
Over the course of the Lunch and Learn, panelists spread significant words of wisdom. Here’s what they said:
Results-oriented selling. Remember you’re not selling a product, you’re selling the results that a customer wants to achieve. Slide to the other side of the table and look at the process from their viewpoint.
Paint a ‘zebra.’ Include all the stripes of an ideal customer in profiling who really needs your product (like Morphine, not aspirin). Understand exact needs that would cause him to write a check. All else is secondary.
Hiring – Hire people who know why they’ve been successful. They’ll be able to repeat that process in a new situation. When you hire sales leadership, don’t assume the highest ‘pedigree’ translates to an early stage venture. Their hunger is more important.
Find the maverick. In early stage sales, there’s always someone who wants to look good in the company. Find the maverick in your sale that wants a personal win. Study what his win will be, and shape your strategy around it. Help him succeed, and you will too.
Sales should be enjoyable experiences. “Sure, there are contracts and money involved, but it’s an enjoyable experience,” and those have been the greatest sale cycles, he says.
Look for intelligence, passion, and an ability to communicate when you hire. Sales experience previous to the job doesn’t necessarily matter; but intelligent people can answer questions or find answers, passionate people are likeable, and good communicators can drive the deal forward.
All salespeople are motivated differently. There are trailblazers, road builders and truck drivers. Trailblazers are motivated by ego, for example, and truck drivers by cash. Evolve your hiring process based on the current company needs.
Identify your target customer’s persona to increase sense of urgency. Innovators want to be first. Those who are behind want to catch up. Some work internally and think it’s about time for change. Others have a deadline. Find the pain.
Be persistent. In the early 1980s Mitch sold copiers. One day, while on a pitch, the copier jammed. “I was taught to say, ‘I’m glad this happened, so I can show you how easy it is to fix’, but it I couldn’t fix it,” Jacobson says. Ultimately, he made the sale because he came back later that week to follow-up.
Spend a day in the life of your customer. Someone might really need what you’re selling, but they don’t know why and you don’t know why, because you haven’t walked in their shoes.
Although you have little money to spend at the early stage, you have resources to find knowledge.
Keep track of your wins and losses. Repeat what you’ve done well and learn from what hasn’t worked out. Create and distribute ‘how the deal was done (or rejected)’ documents.
Know when to draw the line. If you pick the wrong customer and get mired down in the details, it can kill you. That’s worse than waiting a few more months to get the right deal. “When a sale becomes a negotiation and you feel like you’re buying a car, it’s a good time to walk away. A lot of the time, they’ll come back at your price, not theirs,” says Mitch.
The pipeline is a set of stages. The stages must be easy to understand, such as “meeting scheduled, prospect, opportunity, will close” or “cold, warm, hot, closing”. Evaluate the stages of a deal daily as an individual and weekly as a team.
A deal isn’t ever really closed. It closes on some level for you when the customer signs or gives you money and for the customer when your product is implemented and they’re paying. However, good salespeople retain customers, so the cycle never really ends.
Social media creates connections that are not work-related. It allows you to “learn about the prospect and connect via a legitimate connection,” says Michael.
The session ended one and a half hours later with networking and knowledge sharing. If you’re interested in learning more about Lunch and Learn events, or how you can sponsor one, please contact Aruni Gunasegaram, director of operations.
Lunch and Learn events are an exclusive offering for ATI, ATI member companies and ATI affiliates. Speakers must be entrepreneurs and business people who can share their valuable experiences with ATI member company Founders and CEOs.
by Laura Benold, ATI Marketing Communications Intern