Entrepreneurs by nature are great with startup ideas, often less so with startup sales. After all, designing and producing a fantastic new product or service is more exciting than making cold-calls, knocking on prospective customers' doors, etc. So it's not unusual for many fledgling businesses to struggle when it comes to actively selling what they've worked so hard to create.
What can you do to enhance your sales skills or to equip your sales team to do a better job with customers? Try these seven tips to boost your startup sales record:
1. Know your customers' buying habits
The ways in which your target customers make their purchasing decisions should directly influence the way you sell to them. For example, says business writer Jane Porter, "if you're selling a high-priced item, you'll observe that customers often take longer to make a decision. That means you should plan to spend more time closing the deal."
2. Sell solutions, not features
You're justifiably proud of your product's "bells and whistles," but remember, the buyer's first concern is, What's in it for me? Your target audience has a challenge or problem that needs solving, or they wouldn't consider purchasing your product in the first place.
When you focus on selling a solution, rather than just the product (also known as "consultative selling"), you start the process of demonstrating genuine value and building a trusting customer relationship — efforts that can lead to loyalty and repeat sales in the future.
3. Don't be afraid of cold-calling
This approach doesn't guarantee sales and may at times be enormously frustrating. But there's a definite upside to this tried-and-true sales practice. Cold-calling helps you and your team refine your sales pitch (again, focusing on benefits, rather than features) and in the process learn how to overcome customer objections.
4. Nurture leads and utilize lead scoring
Sales cycles, in general, take a great deal of time and therefore, it's important to stay connected with warm leads. Fortunately, there are lead-nurturing programs by which you can schedule personalized, automated email messages throughout the cycle and send appropriate messages when prospects take the next step in the sales funnel. Also, use of lead scoring — automatically scoring and grading your leads to ascertain the hottest prospects — enables you to focus your time and energy where they're most likely to result in actual sales.
5. Don't assume you know what the customer wants
Part of the sales process involves uncovering your customers' needs and challenges. You may think you have all the answers, but by asking a series of probing questions (as opposed to questions that require only a "yes" or "no" answer), you'll gain a deeper understanding of how customers make the decision to purchase, which in turn will help you hone your pitch for other, similar prospects.
6. Always be prepared
Never go into a presentation or sales conference with the intention of "winging it." The stakes are too high for you to hope that improvising your presentation will win the day. Instead, get all your materials in order and be prepared to answer all the likely questions. If you use PowerPoint, never just read the text on the slide. Expand on the basic information and be hyper-conscious of the "vibe" in the room. By demonstrating your knowledge of the customer's business, you'll come across as much more genuine and appealing.
7. Follow up every time
Should a prospect contact you with a question or comment, do everything in your power to respond promptly. A quick answer by email, text, LinkedIn, etc., makes a great impression and helps build your brand's reputation for customer service. "The consequences of not following up quickly with a hot lead can be treacherous and they can lose interest," notes Drew Beechler at Salesforce. "You can use marketing automation to enable quick follow-ups on small items, but also make sure to follow up personally when your prospect is interest, engaged, and wanting to talk."
Prospects respond most favorably to entrepreneurs who display passion for their product or service, and who can clearly articulate how it meets their own needs. Design a sales strategy around these basic elements and you'll likely make great strides in future revenue growth.