Posts Tagged ‘Sales’

Sales rocks!!

October 26, 2010

In a startup sales is the only thing that matters!! I like this statement:

“In the early-stage days, building top line revenues becomes a nonstop adventure for the CEO; no other marketing plan should be considered. In essence, sales begin with a sales force of one. It is up to the CEO to get on the road and to flush out discrepancies in the business and revenue models. No amount of marketing planning experts back at the desk can possibly conceive what the CEO will discover on the road…. It is the CEO who needs to go out in the field, press flesh, and be the one person responsible for driving like hell to get the numbers up. This task cannot be assigned, cannot be outsourced, and cannot be buried deep in elaborate marketing plans”. Robert W Price of the Global Entrepreneurship Institute in ‘What is a sale crusader? Do we need sales reps?’

Startups know this already – In Stephan Schmidt developers blog post ‘6 reasons why my VC funded startup did fail’, the first three reason given are “We didn’t sell anything”. The lessons keep on coming – “Traction is the only thing that matters”, from Rich Aberman post “5 things I “knew” (or should have known) before starting a company, but didn’t fully understand until now”. Time and time again I hear founders say ‘the product should sell itself..’, and it needs to but no one is listening, no matter how great the product is. “More startups fail from a lack of customers, than a failure of product development”, Steve Blank

We already know the answer to getting sales. “The Lean Startup Entrepreneur looks like a combination of salesman and scientist.”, Kevin Dewalt describes this as:

  1. Curious – an interest in discovering problems and solutions
  2. A Listener – Sales is about understanding customer needs
  3. Skeptical – Start with hypotheses of customer needs and search for evidence
  4. Risk Averse – Risk can’t be eliminated but placing smart bets can mitigate it.
  5. And …optimism, determination, and intelligence to succeed in anything

Good old  Dharmesh Shah (On Startups) even gives us the tip on how to build a startup sales team. So, why do people still fail to sell in startups… Sales isn’t easy:

  1. Rejection – Sales involves lots of rejection. And of course most of us don’t like to be abruptly rejected, over and over again.
  2. Expense – Selling is not cheap. It takes many events, connections and calls to start the sales process. Then a sale requires expensive meetings, which often have to be repeated.
  3. Time – Sales take time. The average sale takes six communications before the sale is made. You have to patient and persistent.
  4. Belief – Money drives salespeople. However in a startup there is no money. The founders have to rely on their faith and belief in their product/service.
  5. Focus – Its much easier to work on a business plan, a marketing plan or develop some code. However there is no escaping the necessity for sales revenues (whether freemium or not!).

There is no choice in a startup, the founders have to be a the fore front of sales and  all staff also have to sell. In a startup you are all selling for survival!! I’ll finish with a concluding quote from Robert W Price post: “Marketing Starts with a Crusader who can lead in the tough times, who can fight the odds and win. They are willing to lay their lives on the line”, Marketing High Technology: An Insider’s View, William H. Davidow

People still buy from People

July 29, 2010

The marketing, sales and PR mix has been rapidly changing over the last few years. Today, customers are hearing about and evaluating suppliers in different ways. With so many channels the traditional marketing techniques such as TV advertising are no longer working so well. The growth and ease of the Internet has meant there’s less of a need for sales people. Or at least a need for a different kind of sales person and PR message, using social media to get to know customers.

Would you Trust Him? (Danny Devito in the Roald Dahl movie Matilda, 1996)

However, even in this brave new on-line world, the old adage ‘people buy from people’ remains true. Customers want to like who they are buying from and feel that they can trust them. “People ultimately judge only one thing about you: the way the engagement makes them feel”. – Seth Godin. “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons”. The challenge is trust is not quick and easy to gain and it cannot simply be bought.

Customers are no longer listening to the megaphone PR and marketing approach. They now prefer to research themselves and share advice with each other. PR and marketing now pays an increasingly important role as a salesperson. More than ever before PR and marketing has to develop that all important trust. However, how do you trust in a faceless message and person you don’t know.

Blogs and micro-blogging now brings a new way to understand and get to know someone. But it has to be real!! A website has to pre-sell and become a friend.  The question is: how can you trust a blogger or a company website/blog? From all that I’ve leant to become trusted, a blogger needs to be consistent, open, professional and show integrity. Honest as Seth Godin says. The only way is to be real on-line! The draw back with social media is that it takes lots of time and persistence to build social capital (as discussed by Ryan Carson). But then sales take time too – with 8% of sales people get 80 per cent of the sales because they are persistent!

However, I believe for the individual and company to gain credibility, reference points also need to come from other trusted sources. This still relies on traditional channels including independent editorial reviews, peer reviews, customer endorsements, etc. These references remain powerful in an increasingly online world because they are persistent and can be found and discovered by the new clients rather than pushed at them.

People do still buy from people but the process is changing. Blogs, mico-blogging (Twitter) and video’s bring a personal touch to marketing and PR interaction but conversations have to come from the heart. Recent case studies are now showing that Social Media Is The Major Contributor To Lead Generation. So, if you want and need sales as most of our companies do – get blogging, tweeting, videoing right now!!

Valuing an MBA in a startup

February 3, 2010

Over the last week there’s been alot of talk questioning the value of having an MBA in a startup – Giff Constable, Rob Chogo, Jon Steinberg, and Charlie O’Donnell (All stateside and non of whom I know). I’ve an MBA in entrepreneurship, 20 years tech business development experience and now a startup. In my experience an MBA does not teach anything you don’t  already know or can work out for yourself. However it does say something about you as a person. Unfortunately this counts for squat in a startup.   As in sales and in a startup you are only as good as your last months or quarters sales.

“Reach for the sky!”

Why do an MBA?

From my experience meeting other MBA’s Jon Steinberg summarizes  really well why people undertake the MBA:

  1. Value in building a network
  2. Credential – certain employers require an MBA for certain jobs
  3. Need a break from work
  4. Career change

For me it was about adversity, learning and change. Adversity has been shown to be the number one  driving force for successful entrepreneurs. I don’t have a first degree and dropped out of  college. I’d been stuck on an educational ledge ever since. Some of my close family and friends strongly advised me against doing the MBA, particularly in entrepreneurship. Yet it was one of the best years of my life. I loved every MBA minute!

Experience v’s an MBA

During my tech career I’ve built significant profitable customer bases three times from scratch. It ‘s been an amazing experience with great highs and the occasional low.  In my last employment I grew a remote managed services business unit  into a highly profitable multimillion dollar Global business winning customers like Richard Branson’s V2 Records. Building customer bases from nothing is not easy. I’ve found building a company even harder.

There is much an MBA does not teach you. It does not show you the many practical skills needed in business. In particular skills like sales, marketing a small business, attracting resources – the list goes on..  There are  so many skills needed  to run a startup.  Given the choice real small business experience wins hands down over an MBA in a startup. However sometimes we forget that an MBA is an academic qualification. I’ve found that my MBA  has brought value to our startup.

We like difficult challenging times

Some of us perversely put ourselves into difficult and challenging positions where the odds are not good. It’s often not a comfortable place to be. However we keep going back there! The MBA is deliberately tough. It was challenging for me not having the educational experience and understanding from a first degree. The first semester was the hardest. Its like a bootcamp. They give you too much work. It was an especially hard as my mother was diagnosed and died of cancer during the first semester – all part of life and doing an MBA!

Does an MBA bring value to a startup?

After so many years at the practical coal face of business development the MBA has definitely helped me see things differently. I now look at decisions more objectively. It has brought a greater understanding of internal business structures and holistic competitive markets. Was it worth the $10,000’s of dollars it cost? Plus all the living costs and lost savings –  probably not. Would I make that decision again to do it – defiantly!

An old serial entrepreneur friend of my said that ‘a startup is an MBA of life.’ And he is so right. Nothing can prepare you for a startup. It is unlike anything I have ever done. It messes with your mind and body. We all know you didn’t need an MBA to start as business. So why do it? For me is it’s about exciting new adventures where you push yourself to the limit and learn new tricks. This could be doing an MBA, starting a new challenging job or having a startup. Keep learning and pushing your own boundaries. Life is boring otherwise. And why have a boring life! You only have one of them ;)

Yeah I know I’ve got an MBA, so I’m bound to be a bit bias. However on balance I highly recommend an MBA for those that have something to prove and love challenges. If your heading to startup ville and not moving up the career ladder in the same company an MBA will probably set you back. It will cost you lots of money and if your doing it to change career will put you back years. But these are  good things. They keep you fresh and hungry. It’s the learning and personal growth that really matters.

What has LinkedIN done for you lately?

January 15, 2010

After much networking over the last two years I’ve now reached LinkedIN’s 500+ connections. I’ve followed up every new meeting with a personally edited LinkedIN connection email. Was it worth all the time and effort? It was. The time investment  has demonstrably helped our startup  more than once. It’s also re-connected me with many long-lost colleagues.

Many people have said to me that LinkedIN‘s only good for recruitment. They’re right, it’s great for that. However its great for other things too. LinkedIN has help us find freelancers. We needed a web developer and designer last year for our Web site monitoring application startup Aware Monitoring. Without my LinkedIN connection to the lovely Mel Kirk, made after meeting her at the FOWA conference in 2007, we might never have found Luc Pestille. And Luc did a wonderful job for us :) Before choosing to work with Luc we looked at 11 other developer designers, many found via LinkedIN.

LinkedIN is excellent for helping to understand and profile people.  Whether they are business partners, suppliers, competitors or potential customers. The information brings great intelligence quickly and effectively. It’s now so easy to find out who’s the CTO or CEO of a company. A very useful tool to identity new contacts within potential customers. LinkedIN also helps maintain weak tie relationships and friendships when people change jobs. I’ve spoken, emailed and met-up with many old friends and colleagues since using LinkedIN.

LinkedIN have cleverly made it worth your while putting the effort into growing your network. More connections brings a greater visibility to 2nd/ 3rd degree contacts. Your loose tie network grows!  In theory I now have over 5million 3rd degree connections.The founder and former CEO Reid Hoffman has tapped really well into the ideas of ‘six degrees of separation‘, ‘network effects‘ and ‘business social networking‘. Hoffman and LinkedIN have done great job in making a  useful business social service!

UPDATE: Ian Brodie and Webex have carried out a poll on ‘How to Use LinkedIN to win new business: poll results’ - these interesting and useful results echo my personal findings.


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