Oh S&/t! — ​W​hy Selling is Easy.

A startup is a roller coaster and not your common backyard slide. We’re talking the Intimidator 305.

A roller coaster is also unfortunately the way most startups’ sales processes look like in terms of activity.

If a startup actually does start selling there tends to be a long pause as everyone tries to figure out what they are selling. The first sales person is generally the CEO only because no one else is crazy, passionate or desperate enough to go out and cold call. (Unfortunately many startup companies never start selling and turn into shut downs.)

CEOs actually generally get a good go at selling because potential customers generally like dealing with the person in charge.

Once the dam breaks and some sales start rolling in, the very next thing that generally happens is that all selling activity comes to a grinding halt. They say that sales fixes everything, and while that is true enough, sales most definitely does not fix itself.

So we end up with the most common of roller coasters in a startup’s fluctuating sales cycle. It looks a bit like this:

Oh S&/t! — We are running out of money, we need to get selling.
 Oh S&/t! — Now we need to build those orders.
 Oh S&/t! — The product does not work and we need to fix it.
 Oh S&/t! — Now we have to deliver Version 2.
 Oh S&/t! — We are running out of money, we need to get selling.

Rinse, repeat…..

Now at this point many companies start talking about needing to raise more money in order to scale. They somehow don’t realise or don’t care that, no matter how big the valuation, capital raising is diluting their shareholding. If they raise more cash by selling more product instead they will be accreting their value rather than diluting it.

They think fundraising is easier than selling because, “Hey, they raised their last round just fine.”

The ugly truth though is that the only easy round is the last round…. Without the additional traction sales brings, there will be no easy capital raising a second time, as investors are not generally patient people when it comes to patchy revenue growth.

It generally turns out that selling is easy in comparison to fundraising, which is a different type of selling altogether.

So here are some simple practical tips to selling:

In a startup, everyone should be taught the simple basics of selling, and EVERYONE should have a sales target whether they are the lead scientist or the guy who empties the bins (yes you Ms. CEO). If they are full time, then they are also full on, and that means some selling — if they are selling, they should know how, so do at least a half day of sales training every quarter for everyone to be selling.

I personally love Streak — CRM in your Inbox. I also strongly recommend that startups use Gmail and SaneBox — Email Management for Any Inbox. I know how easy it is to use a spreadsheet and then stop it! Get everyone using the CRM — you will thank me. Also this is critical to making point 4 (below) work. And also see point 1 again — get some training on how to use the CRM, even if it just watching some videos together about how it works. You need to figure it out together, not alone.

No matter how distracted you are, make sure everyone makes time to sell. Not being able to keep up with demand is not a problem in comparison to any gap in demand whatsoever, and if something breaks you will get more customer love from fixing it speedily that if it never broke in the first place. Set sales targets and work toward them no matter how much deal flow you are getting. Go after more, and while you can back off a little to deliver, always be accelerating. Once you are delivering accelerate more!

It never ceases to amaze me that people still try to sell by themselves. Why? Where is the law that says that a lone salesperson is going to do better? Sales is a team sport, so go hunting in packs like wolves. The only reason a cheetah is successful as a hunter is because it needs to spend most of the day sleeping to conserve calories. Buddy up and make sure that you do sales in pairs or small teams, and make sure that everyone gets into it. Have some fun with it — do some competitions, have some prizes, and don’t ever do it alone.

Hiring sales people is fraught with peril. Instead you should hire more engineers, developers and other useful people, and train them how to sell and make them all put some effort into selling in an organized cooperative way. Customers don’t want to spend time listening to some vacuous sales patter — they want to deal with smart people who do stuff and who care. It has never been a problem for me to find ways to get engineers and scientists to sell (they are smart, highly trained and skilled people). The skill of actually selling is down to one thing really: listening (everyone buy a copy of Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone). Learn to deal with the fact that everyone has the wrong idea about what selling actually is. Selling is actually mainly listening out for what customers want and then answering their wants and needs.

We all sell every time we need something from someone — it’s natural to get people to buy in, and wholly beneficial if done ethically. Stop the roller coaster and the s&/t!, and go out and sell sell sell. Now now now. It’s easier than going broke!

Bill Liao is Managing Director at RebelBio and General Partner at SOSV.


Originally published at sosv.com on June 25, 2016.

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