As entrepreneurs, we all remember those first few sales. The first time someone actually pays for your product or service is a distinct and exciting experience — enough to get you hooked. In the event that you’re just beginning your entrepreneurial journey, here is some advice for gaining those first critical sales.
One of the first questions I commonly get is, “Who’s gonna do the selling?” That’s particularly common with first time founders who have a background in something like engineering or product development — common roles in my network given that that’s my background. Hate to break it to you people, but that job is yours. It’s your idea, company, and vision. YOU HAVE TO SELL IT.
The good news is that you don’t need to be the primary sales person forever. It’s a skill that can be sharpened over time, and passion goes a long way. For those new to sales, I recommend this book — it’s probably my favorite recent book on sales.
To get started, get in front of people. Find someone who will listen — friends, old co-workers, even your kids. Write down your talking points and look for a reaction — good or bad. Address key pain points and the reason you started the business to begin with.
Create the short version: the Elevator pitch. Create a longer version: the full sales pitch. I like to build a few different versions — the high level pitch (sometimes called a first call presentation) and a second more in-depth version (sometimes called the second call presentation). Each has its place. Get non-verbal reactions either in person or virtually (not quite as good but still works).
What shouldn’t you do? Just build that shiny new website and hope people find it. The “If you build it, they will come” fallacy is definitely not what you should bet your company on! Even if you don’t ultimately want salespeople, if you are building something, get relevant feedback directly and sell directly. It’s the best data you can get to inform your strategy. Oh, and no I don’t care if long term plans say otherwise and the unit economics are such that x y and z, blah blah blah. Go sell it to start.
I also recommend being “creative” on the first few sales. Creative is a loose term, but for now that might mean using tactics you don’t plan to over the long term such as adding products or selling below cost. That being said, it’s not a sale if you don’t get paid. Even a small amount requires a commitment. Underpricing can be okay but doing work for free isn’t helpful. It’s too easy to say “Yes” to free. Also, if you don’t have an idea of what the sales pipeline and conversion rate might be — especially if you are new to sales — know that the conversion may be low. Real low. Lower than you think. Professional sales people might only close 1 out of 4 proposals, and those 4 proposals might have taken 20 leads and dozens of meetings. The leads probably weren’t free either. It takes work. Learn from the “No”s but stick with it.
Lastly, trust matters. Start with some people you have a relationship with. Not everyone will have that, and that’s ok. But it does mean it might take a bit longer or you have to work a bit harder. Cold sales happen all the time, but trust is why we buy what we buy. We buy brand name products because we know what we’ll get. McDonald’s fries taste the same at every McDonalds. You’re more likely to trust that contractor referral from your brother-in-law. If you don’t have it already, build credibility with your knowledge of the space and the product. Prove yourself to the prospect. And don’t blow it by missing a deadline or making claims you can’t deliver on. It might work for the first sale, but it will end up costing you much more.
Surprised there are no easy answers? But guess what, it’s not rocket science either. So practice your pitch, make some calls, be willing to be creative and negotiate on the first few deals, and then build some trust. The dollars will come!
About Josh Melick: Josh has founded three companies, two of which he has built from the ground up, raising capital, getting those first few sales, and then scaling up the team and business. The third is still in progress!