“You should always be selling—not strategizing about selling. Don’t test, test, test—that’s a game for big companies. Don’t worry about being embarrassed. Don’t wait to develop the perfect product or service. Good enough is good enough. There will be plenty of time for refinement later. It’s not how great you start—it’s how great you end up.” – Guy Kawasaki, Art of the Start
As the founder of your company you are expected to sell at all times. The primary objective of any business is sales. You begin by selling to yourself, then you sell your co-founders. Later, you’ll sell your first client and you’ll continue until you retire. The job of any founder is sales.
First, Sell Yourself
The most effective sales technique out there is conviction and true belief. Nothing is more powerful than a person who has more confidence in their vision for the future than anyone else in the room. As a startup founder, you must convince yourself of new ideas and a future vision. Current circumstances and the degree of difficulty it will take to make your idea a reality must not get in the way of selling yourself. The bottom line is, if you can’t sell yourself on your vision, you won’t be able to sell anyone else.
Learn to sell yourself first before going out to sell others.
Then, Sell Your Co-Founders
There’s no way around it; startups are difficult. Starting a business require long hours, tight budgets, short deadlines and it can produce a lot of stress. Your chances of success are better if you find people who balance your weaknesses and help you build your company from day one. Even if you decide to find a co-founder, you will probably have to sell them on your idea. For the most part, this is a two-step process.
Step 1: Sell them on your vision.
Step 2: Manage all of their objections.
If you’ve already sold yourself on your vision, you probably have enough energy to sell them too. The more challenging task is overcoming objections. You need to answer their questions eloquently and intelligently so a potential co-founder will seriously consider the venture. Spend some time thinking up answers to all the questions that will come up. Here’s a short list to get you started:
- What about competitors?
- Is it worth leaving my current job, school, etc.?
- How will we pay for this (e.g., bootstrap, savings, loans, investors)?
- Who is going to sell it?
- How will we divide up ownership?
- How long will it take before we start getting paid?
This is just the beginning of, what should be, a long list of startup questions. Keep thinking about the challenges you are going to face and have quality answers ready.
As you begin to minimize objections, it can be helpful to propose a smaller or short-term commitment. This allows you to gain experience working together before committing to co-founding a company. The key point is to make smaller steps until your potential co-founders have enough confidence to commit 100 percent.
Sell to Your First Customers
One of the key sales skills every founder needs is the ability to close crucial deals. In the early days of a startup, this means closing your first 10 or 100 customers. Later, as the company grows, this means closing key accounts and helping your sales team with the toughest prospects. You must be willing to go out there and pitch your product, ask for the sale, and bring in money from early customers.
It doesn’t matter if your product is not yet fully ready. Ask for money as early as possible and see real reactions to get a sense for the market. Chase deals and don’t be afraid to fail. People who only like to work on things that will make them look good are bad startup material.
Keep Selling and Sell Some More
You’ll never get it all done and that’s okay. If you read this and think, “This seems like a lot of work, but surely once we make it, I’ll be able to stop selling and just lean back and enjoy life,” you’re wrong. As long as you’re the founder of a company, one of your key jobs will involve sales. If you don’t like it … work for someone else and build their dream.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Steli Efti is the co-founder and CEO of Close.io, a sales communication platform that helps sales people close more deals. Efti is also an advisor to several startups and entrepreneurs. Connect with @steli on Twitter.
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