Because having an effective sales army means we can do anything.
Sales. Many people hate it. Many more avoid it like a deadly plague.
One of my ex-colleagues froze like a turkey in cold storage when he was tasked to sell the idea of a software pilot to the marketing team. I swear he was motionless for 5 minutes. No kidding.
We can choose not to sell in the corporate world. But that is not an option in the startup universe. We have to sell. That is the only way to secure our investor funding, client accounts, and business partnership agreements.
Having a sales army can advance our interests on all fronts.
When you need help, reach out.
That is how I think about sales in a startup environment. We are still selling, fundamentally. What is different, however, is this. We are not always selling a product and service.
Note. Not always.
This is because salesmanship goes beyond the act of establishing a monetary transaction. It is about our ability to relate, negotiate, persuade others to do something we want them to.
I did plenty of investor funding work in one of my startups (I sold my stake many years ago). Known to the guys as the Chief Pitching Officer (CPO), my work was to pitch and secure funding. It was no different from a sales job, except that I speak to angels, early-stage venture capitalists, or family offices instead of customers.
I thought I was pitching, but honestly, I was selling. I was attempting to cash in on the future prospect of the startup selling a growth story and our ideal path to profitability. The transactions are measured in X% of equity for $Y.
To solidify the equity-cash exchange, I needed to create a consensus with my investor prospects within 20, 45, and 60 minutes of my pitch. No matter the time duration, it is almost always equally stressful to take someone from 0 to 1 and then get them to part with their cash.
I got my fair share of successes and rejections. It depends on my ability to transfer certainty through salesmanship.
When others understand what we say, and fast, then we have a shot at getting what we want. And this is not just about the investor funding pitch.
I say everyone because the early-stage startup has limited pairs of hands (or mouths).
Too many startups spend too much time worrying about their product. I agree that half-baked products rarely sell. However, even the best products need a salesman push. And that last-mile push can come in many formats, such as securing product demonstrations, webinars, immersion workshops, and pilot initiatives.
Our salesmanship must be flexible and creative enough to connect with people from all walks of life and in any form of environment setup. My product tech guy can execute a product demonstration in 10 minutes and 60, with a storyline covering all feature highlights. My branding girl can present our needs for a business alliance to partners in 30, 45, 60, and 90 minutes.
As I said, everyone is selling.
So, how did we get here?
We knew we had a lot to do right from the start. We created a list, went through it, circled our priorities, and trashed the rest.
We had our eyes on these 4 points.
- Investor pitching — To secure funding for the next 4–5 years.
- Business partnership alliance — To tap into the networks and leads of our partners.
- Product (Software) informercial — Everything from webinars, product showcases, competitions, proof-of-concept, time-based demonstrations.
- Customer sales — Securing short-term contracts, long-term contracts, upselling, discounting.
In the beginning, we had one of us covering one bullet point. But life does intervene. One of my partners had to bail out from an investor pitch because his mum was severely ill. I took over. Then, I realized the importance of having a reserve player for all categories.
Months later, I made the adjustment to have everyone cover 2 categories. It was definitely stretching the edge of competence of my product tech guy as he speaks Python, Java instead of human languages. But we pressed on.
Over time, we started becoming less rigid in our salesmanship. We no longer follow the same storyline. We took our story and distilled it to the time demands of our audience. And we also worked to identify how we wanted to tell our story to different ideal client profiles, such as the Chief Information Officer and the Chief Operating Officer.
And we realized that use cases and proof-of-concept were Greek to Chief Financial Officers. We went back to the drawing board and figured out ways to connect with them. We had to use the language of financial literacy to guide our pitch and product demonstrations.
It was a never-ending, continuous improvement exercise.