In the early stages of a company, founders and early hires must wear many hats. To simultaneously grow the business and remain on good financial footing, startups call upon employees to adopt roles and responsibilities that may be unfamiliar or not their area of expertise. Among the most important but often uncomfortable roles is being a salesperson for a startup.
As a startup founder or early hire, your passion and knowledge of the product is unparalleled, making you uniquely positioned to take on sales and communicate that knowledge and love to potential customers. But it’s not always that easy. There are many reasons sales responsibilities scare people away: Selling makes us vulnerable and invites the possibility of failure. It can be awkward. Many people are introverts. Putting yourself out there just doesn’t feel comfortable.
We spoke with James Rores, founder of The Floriss Group, about how to take on the critical duties of a startup salesperson, even if it feels unnatural. As a sales consultant, Rores has mentored dozens of companies at Rev1 Ventures, a central Ohio regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier. Rores’ approach stresses the importance of focusing on the customer and their needs rather than the product itself.
Here are some of his tips for selling your product effectively:
- Change your attitude. Sales are crucial. You can’t get around that, so it’s best to boost your understanding of the role they play in company growth. Resolve to improve your skills. Understanding the big picture can help you confront the necessity of sales and alleviate any anxieties you might have.
- Stop selling like the competition. Look at your competition and see how they’re selling their product. The simplest way to set yourself apart is to, in the most basic sense, approach things differently. Chances are, most people are focusing on how great their product is. Mix it up and approach the client differently.
- Do your homework. Know your customer, stakeholder, audience—whoever you’re selling to—inside and out. Go into the sales pitch knowledgeable about their roles, responsibilities, and objectives. Coming into the sale unprepared will leave the customer feeling as if you wasted their time and ruin any chance of success.
- Identify the customer’s need. Why should this customer buy this? Focus on their unique need for your product and demonstrate specifically how you will address it. Explaining concretely will help you stand out from almost every other salesperson that customer runs into.
“One of the easiest ways to spot a good salesperson is to ask them what they do,” said Rores. “Their answer says a lot. If they sell software and their answer is, ‘I sell software,’ they’ve got a product-oriented mindset and will probably sell the same way. If they say, ‘I help companies empower their salespeople by delivering technology that makes the sales process more efficient and effective.’ Now, I’m expressing what I do based on the impact I have on my customers.’”
- Practice makes perfect. Selling is like anything else in life: The more you do it, the better you’ll be. Understand the value of repetition and don’t be discouraged by hang ups or denials. You’ll chip away at your pitch and approach until it becomes comfortable.
- Adopt servant leadership. A servant leader puts the growth and well-being of people first, while traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power at the top of the pyramid. Do you care whether the person you’re selling to is better off buying your product? Are you improving their quality of life or business? If these things are always the focus of your sales strategy rather than a money sign, people will notice, appreciate your approach, and be more likely to buy.
“Most of us love to buy, but we hate being sold. With that in mind, I don’t tell founders to show up and sell their product. I help them show their customers the importance of buying it. It’s about being customer-oriented rather than product-oriented,” said Rores. “Help the customer understand that a problem or shortcoming exists, show them the impact solving that problem would have on their business, and then you can guide them towards buying the solution.”