Archive for November, 2009

Should the “engineer” or the “salesperson” drive the first sale?

The answer is yes.  Both need to be involved.  In a young start up you may or may not have an experienced sales professional on your team.  Your team may be comprised only of technical experts.  Even in that situation, it’s important to assign roles – at least one person needs to take on the role of the sales person and they need to make the commitment to learn what that means.

To get anyone to buy from you you need to:

  • establish rapport
  • understand the customer’s point of view
  • craft a solution that solves the customer’s entire problem

It’s obvious that the technical people need to be involved in understanding the technical aspects of the customer’s problem and in crafting a solution.  While necessary, this is not sufficient for success.

To be successful, you need to understand the customer’s point of view and convince her that your solution is superior to any of her alternatives. Most technical founders are (often rightfully) so enthusiastic about their technology, their product and their expertise that they don’t listen well.  They may have been through a couple of business plan competitions, they may have been coached to pitch their idea to investors, and they are energetic and passionate in their presentation.  But, making your first sale takes more.  It takes listening.  It takes an exceptional entrepreneur to listen with empathy and pitch passionately at the same time, especially when you are first starting on your “sales career”.  That’s why having someone on the founding team be the “designated listener” is very useful.  That person’s job is to establish an authentic connection with the customer.

Unless you are very fortunate and have an exceptional sales professional on your founding team, someone should start learning the skills.  My current favorite book on selling technical solutions to corporations and government agencies is Jeff Thull’s Exceptional Selling.


November 26, 2009 at 11:41 pm 2 comments

Anyone remember vaporware?

Someone asked me recently – “When you are working on the first sale, in the way you recommend, how do you build up the confidence to sell what is essentially vaporware?”

That was a great question because it gave me some insight into why some people are hesitant to take the First Sale First (FSF) approach.

I remember the word “vaporware” from the ’80s or ’90’s.  It had a decidedly negative connotation.  We used to apply it to products that vendors had described to the press but did not actually have.  This was a tactic often used by the larger vendors to “freeze” the market and buy time by stalling a small competitor that actually had a real product.

The FSF process is nothing like “selling” vaporware.  There is no deceit. In fact, one of the keys to the FSF process is to be honest with the customer and to manage expectations properly.

Back to the issue of confidence.  Why should you confidently pursue your first sale even before you have completed your product?  Three reasons:

First, assuming you have done your homework, what you are going to offer is a solution that delivers more value to your ideal customers than any existing solution.  So, be confident that you are doing the customer a favor by bringing your company, your solution and yourself to the customer’s attention.  Without you s/he will suffer with a solution that delivers inferior value.  Your goal is to save them from that.

Second, if you are going to be successful in a target market, you already understand the problem you are trying to solve better than anyone else on the planet.  You or someone on your team is a world-class expert!  If you have a serious medical condition, wouldn’t you want to be treated by the world-class expert on that condition?  Of course you would.  Similarly, the customers you approach will benefit from your expertise.  Their problem is that they may not know you exist or that you want to help them.  Be confident, know that your ideal customers want you to find them.

Finally, realize that an ideal customer will get more value from buying from you first than they will if they wait.  As the first customer, not only will they get the superior value that your innovative solution represents, which was my first point, but they will have the opportunity to shape the solution.  In many B2B solutions a large part of the total cost is adapting the solution to fit each customer’s situation.  Be confident because in a first sale you can eliminate most of that and make sure the initial solution fits the first customer like a glove — lower cost, faster payoff, better value!

You started your business because you understand an important problem exceptionally well and truly believe that you can deliver a much better solution to a well-defined segment of customers.  If that’s the case, the only problem is finding the ideal customer.  They need you.  That’s what FSF is all about.  That’s what you are all about!  Go with confidence!


November 1, 2009 at 12:48 pm 1 comment

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