“So, I hear you’ve started your own business… how’s that going?” How you answer this cocktail party question probably depends on where you are in your entrepreneurial journey, and how sharp your sales skills are. First starting out? Your excitement and enthusiasm will most likely bubble over, carrying the conversation as you bob and weave through explaining your big idea. Have a few months under your belt with too little revenue on the ol’ P&L? If the sales aren’t coming, that’s when things get tough –– and the hard questions start. Questions you’ll be asking yourself as you try to right your ship. Why don’t people ‘get it’? Why can’t I make that sale? Is it my product? Is it ME?
For the past twenty years, I’ve worked with the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business Executive MBA and Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship programs. I’ve also authored two custom training programs used by 7,000 sales personnel on three continents. Working with so many entrepreneurs and sales professionals over the years has helped me diagnose nine specific symptoms that clearly shed light on poor sales results.
So, what are the symptoms?
- Every product or service you sell requires a custom configuration; no two implementations are the same.
- No two customers are similar. Your customers are all from different industries, different sizes, you are selling to different departments and different types of decision-makers; there is no commonality.
- Only YOU, the entrepreneur, is having any luck selling your product/service. You have hired professional sales people and they have all failed to generate meaningful revenue and customers.
- You are competing primarily on price concessions to win business.
- You can’t articulate what your company does, how it does it, and the primary benefits your customers receive from your products in under two minutes . . . and when you do manage to get the words out people still have no idea what you are talking about.
- When you approach new prospects, they have NO idea of who you are.
- Competing against larger, or more established completion is almost impossible.
- You have few, if any, marquee customers, and few, if any, customers anxious to act as references for your business.
- You really can’t describe in qualitative detail what an ideal customer for your business looks like.
Sound like you? If so, don’t despair. Sales skills (and product design, product packaging, marketing messages, and more) can be honed. In fact, as an entrepreneur, it’s your job to do so. Take a good look at the symptoms above and you’ll see hints of a pathway to improvement developing. And once you better understand the underlying issues, both on the product side and the selling side, you can begin to make the changes you need to move forward with selling your big idea.