Most entrepreneurs need to be able to sell. To potential employees, to customers, investors, etc. In fact the most challenging part that most entrepreneurs realize is if they cant sell – their vision, the value proposition or the products – they dont get very far with their startup.
One of the things I always seek to understand is if the founder can sell themselves. While I believe, everyone has some ability to sell, not everyone needs to be a sales person. A sales person falls into multiple categories for me : A hustler, a process jock and a relationship master, a consultative leader or a product expert.
Most entrepreneurs who I work with are developers and more technical folks who are largely introverts. They dont enjoy “selling”, which they associate with sleazy, tactics to “con” people.
It does not have to be that way at all. The most important skill I am looking for is if the person can get other people excited and interested in what they are doing and get them to commit to their desired outcome.
Both of these aspects are required – which in sales they call “opening” an opportunity and “closing” the deal.
Some entrepreneurs struggle with “opening” opportunities. I can relate to and understand that. Opening requires you to cold call and in many cases talk to people you dont know. So, what most entrepreneurs do is talk to people they know (get referrals) or avoid it altogether.
Other entrepreneurs may be good at “opening” but have a big challenge at “closing” because they believe most of it is outside their control. They can make the initial pitch, but getting the investor to commit the funding and sign on the term sheet is a problem. Or getting the candidate to interview and be willing to join is easy, but getting them to sign and come on board is the hard part.
One of the first things I look for is how the entrepreneur got to me. If they are referred by a trusted source, I try to find out how my network got to know them. If they cold emailed me, I look and judge the pitch they made via email. Is it genuine, well researched and has a specific outcome or purpose.
Most entrepreneurs dont have the experience going from “opening” an opportunity” to “closing” the deal as well, so they end up spending a lot of time in the middle.
As with any target (potential investors, employees, customers, partners) they goals are different and I first look for clarity of thought. Do they know what they want from this person and the steps the need to get there.
Most entrepreneurs can tell you the goal, but dont understand that you can achieve that in one step. Understanding the layout of steps is critical – which we call the sales process.
Moving from one step – awareness to interest, then consideration, going to intent, and then evaluation and finally purchase, is what I am seeking to see if they have understood. It might take 2 meetings or even 10 or more, but if they know where the “target” is in this process, and how to get a target from one step to another, then you have someone who can sell, not just be a talker.