In today’s high-tech age, many entrepreneurs and start-ups do not think sales skills are particularly important. The idea is that a product or service should be good enough to sell itself, and if it isn’t – if you need to invest in ‘sales skills’ – then you should probably go back to the drawing board or try something else.
But this is fantasy! In the words of PayPal founder Peter Thiel, “Everybody has a product to sell – no matter whether you’re an employee, a founder, or an investor. It’s true even if it’s just you and your computer. Look around. If you don’t see any salespeople, you’re the salesperson.” (Zero to One: Notes on Start Ups, or How to Build the Future)
Sales Skills Matter!
Businesses depend for their survival on their ability to sell products and services to consumers. However, many small business owners lack an awareness of the importance of basic sales skills. Instead much of the focus goes into great marketing – producing a great story, as well as an ability to tell that story across media outlets and in face to face situations.
But sales skills are not the same as marketing skills. And entrepreneurs and start-ups that lack necessary selling skills may organize lots of meetings, make lots of presentations, and write lots of proposals – but end up educating their clients rather than selling to them.
The true skill is to educate and sell. What exactly is the difference here?
Consultative-Partner Selling Skills
According to research by the sales performance and measurement consultancy Chally Group, 39% of B2B buyers select a vendor according to the skills of the salesperson rather than price, quality or service features:
“Competitors can and will quickly match each other’s products, services, and price. This makes the quality of sales and service contact the only differentiation.”
For Chally Group, the following three sales skills are the ones that really matter:
- Personally managing the total customer relationship
- Understanding the customer’s business
- Acting as a customer advocate to correct any and all problems
Notice that each of these skills is related to the importance of investing in the client relationship, and putting the client’s interest first (understanding their business, acting as their advocate, managing the total interaction..). Because sales is not about bludgeoning prospects with an aggressive persona. It is about building and navigating relationships in a constructive and collaborative way. It is about consultative-partnering.
In the twenty-first century sales is about being in business with a customer, not doing business with them. To paraphrase Patricia Fripp: if you want to build a long-term, successful enterprise you don’t close a sale, you open a relationship.
Essential Sales Training for Entrepreneurs and Start-ups
Sales is a profession in its own right, with its own set of skills to be learned. And once you have the right ‘consultative-partner’ paradigm in mind, you may be ready to start cultivating essential sales skills in your start-up or entrepreneurial business practice. A recent article on LinkedIn for example, titled “3 Reasons Why Start-Ups Fail“, recommended the following:
- Structuring your sales cycle around a more clearly defined customer decision journey.
- Re-evaluating your approach to sales meetings. Ask yourself: are you there to sell a product, or to solve the customer’s problems?
- Deepening the collaboration between sales and marketing to work out a combined plan.
These are all great points, but sales is fundamentally about relationships, and the key for anyone involved in sales is to know how to structure a conversation with a potential buyer. In the words of Daniel Priestley, founder of Entrevo – a company which works with over 500 entrepreneurs every year to help develop their businesses:
“Many small business owners secretly have a negative association to selling, and wish they could simply do extra marketing, extra servicing or extra networking rather than having to have the sales conversation.
But this is fantasy. Omega, Ferrari, Google, HSBC and Apple all invest in sales training so their staff know how to have a structured sales conversation with a prospective buyer. If the world’s biggest brands, with the world’s hottest products, need to have sales conversations then so does every small business.” (Entrepreneur Revolution)
Our upcoming Close That Sale! 2016 seminar is a perfect place to start. Not only does it unpack the fundamentals of consultative-partner selling, but it also uniquely looks at the structure of the sale from the buyer’s perspective – through the RACERNI® buying sequence. This allows the salesperson to tailor their questions and messages accordingly.
Learn more about LDL Sales Training Courses
Of course if you are interested in learning more, there are plenty more resources available on the LDL website. Why not download the LACPOMAC® selling structure – a 21 page PDF, or else have a look at some of our free videos such as “Why You Must Sell at Level 4“.