Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

Call to Action

“Ask yourself, ”If I had only sixty seconds on the stage, what would I absolutely have to say to get my message across.” Jeff Dewar 

A couple of years ago I struggled with my customer presentations. The content was great, I spent a lot of time on the theme and design, yet, I was unable to close the sale. If you have been in this spot, you know how frustrating it can be, specially when it happens repeatedly. I took a presentation to my mentors for feedback, to see if they could spot where I was going wrong. I did a demo presentation, I remember the response, it was “so what?”. Wow. The feedback I got was, I was not being aggressive enough in asking for the sale with my presentation. The end of the presentation was not packing in sufficient build up, to convince the prospect to make a decision about whether or not they would like to sign up for the service. I was going straight to the Q & A section after I spoke about pricing, and I lost customers during that transition.

After that day, I make sure that before I make a presentation, I visualize the desired outcome. This could be many things, ranging from closing a deal, securing funding, or convincing the team to go with a particular marketing strategy. The key is that there must be a call to action, otherwise it is a waste of time for you and the audience. Once I started incorporating this into my presentations, the results were truly astonishing. I started closing more sales and the audience was more involved and pro-active. Initially I thought the audience may find this direct approach too frank or abrasive, however the results were quite the contrary. The audience actually appreciated the upfront attitude, understood the main objective and more importantly, the chances of getting a definitive reply increased sharply.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when devising your call to action:

1. Subtle Buildup: The last thing your customer wants to see is a slide out of nowhere, asking them to purchase the product/service. Make sure your story is consistent, it should outline the product/service, show its benefits, how it would aid a specific customer and any other data to support your pitch for why they should purchase from you.

2. Specific: There should be no vague statements relating to what you want to achieve at the end of the presentation. Be absolutely clear about what you would like them to do. If necessary, provide them with all necessary details if they have questions relating to the transaction.

3. Closing Tools: If the presentation is geared towards closing the deal with the customer right after the presentation, make sure you have all the necessary items to ensure the sale goes through. This could be contract agreements, a form on your website or even a mobile signing device. Be prepared with all the necessary tools required to ensure a successful outcome.

This has been an invaluable lesson for me and has greatly increased the effectiveness of my presentations. The next time you are giving a presentation, make sure you have a clear call to action which is supported by the rest of the presentation. Remember, if we do not ask for the sale, we are rarely going to be able to close it.

Sample Presentation:

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Not Another Presentation

“No one ever complains about a speech being too short!” Ira Hayes 

Presentations are a critical communication medium entrepreneurs need to be adept at. Good presentation techniques make it easier to get your point across to your team, investors and customers. However, to be able to present like Steve Jobs, requires a lot of hard work, creativity and passion. Without these three components, not only will your presentations suffer, lack of these qualities impact the overall quality of life. We have all been at presentations where we have seriously wanted to shoot the presenter, unfortunately sometimes this may have been us. I have a personal example when I was presenting the constitution of our entrepreneurship society to a new chapter we were inaugurating in China. I am pretty sure that within 5 minutes I had everyone in the room asleep. Looking back at that experience, I blamed the material, however, it really was my fault for not putting the material across in a manner that would have engaged the audience more. 

As entrepreneurs most of the time our presentations will revolve around pitching to investors, introducing a new product/service to a customer, or giving a quarterly sales report to the rest of our team. Most of these presentations have huge amounts of data that needs to be presented in graph forms, charts and numbers. What often happens is we tend to get lost in the detail and forget the overall message we want to leave the audience with. Other times, we just read off the slide, word for word, and that can be a most painful experience for the audience. The worst case  scenario is when the presenter is visibly unenthusiastic about what he/she is presenting. Unfortunately, many of us fall into these common pitfalls and that can have a detrimental impact on our ability to convince a team, get funding or close a sale. 

Over the course of the coming week I will talk about some key elements your presentation should comprise of. These should provide your presentations with that extra level of oomph which should excite, motivate or inspire your audience, whichever of these is your objective. However, to begin the process, we first have to break away from traditional “rules” we follow regarding how a presentation is supposed to be structured. We have to begin thinking creatively, with two objectives in mind, these are, what is the audience expecting of us and, what message do we want to leave them with. I hope this series will be of some help, I wish you all the very best in your future presentations.

Sample Presentation:


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Who is your customer?

“The road toward being successfully different usually involves one of three broad initiatives: leveraging a deeper understanding of customer needs; exploiting a deeper understanding of industry economics; or simply having the courage to challenge conventional wisdom-to overturn “the way we’ve always done it.” David Rhodes, Michael Ackland

On the surface this seems a trivial question. Everyone has a vague idea about who their customer is. Ask any business owner or entrepreneur and the answer will vary according to their respective businesses. Answers I hear often are, Small Medium Enterprises (SME), Multinational Companies (MNC), Teenagers, Baby Boomers or Technology Enthusiasts. A lot of the businesses then proceed to market and pitch to everyone in their market segment. Eventually they find themselves back at the drawing table wondering why their product/service is not selling. The fact of the matter is, many smaller and younger businesses hardly ever invest the time to research and find exactly who their customer is. Going after broad segments like SMEs or Teenagers is suicidal for most start-ups, this takes up a lot of resources and is unable to effectively cater to such a large target audience. 

When an organization is developing its Customer Value Proposition (CVP), this question needs to be talked about and researched in great deal. This will not only save time and resources, it will provide a foundation to effectively market and sell your product/service. Some key concepts to keep in mind when mapping out your target customer are:

1. Be specific: Targeting everyone, with limited resources, is a strategy with a low success rate. Evaluating your product/service needs in-depth analysis of those who will most benefit from what you have to offer. Being specific will allow you to zone into a segment, and develop a niche, in the long run this will also develop into a competitive advantage. Some key concepts to keep in mind when profiling your target segment are:

2. Understand who your target customer is: Say for example, your organization provides services related to alternative advertising. Your target customers are SMEs with a turnover of less than $2m with products targeting the 18-24 demographic. To successfully sell your services, not only will your organization have to understand the SME’s marketing patterns but will also have to understand who their target segment is. Failure to do so will create a mismatch between what you propose and what is required.

3. Understand your target customers needs: It is essential that you satisfy your target customers needs and requirements. Sometimes these needs will be lower prices, higher quality products, 24/7 customer service support, environmentally friendly products or other specific requirements. Not understanding your prospect’s needs,  will cause a gap in your selling strategy. These will in turn, result in low conversion rates and directly impact the success of your business.

4. Research your target segment: To truly understand your customer, in-depth research is vital. This research must include maximum data collection, ranging from company size, turnover, organization structure, decision makers, influencers, press releases and product/service information. I like to build customer market research files, in which we gather data on all major players in our target segment and document them on a single sheet of paper for easy reference. 

Successful profiling of your target segment is an arduous task at the start of a venture. Many questions will come to mind, such as, “Are we limiting our target segment too much?”, “Is this a profitable segment to be in?”, “Am I sure who my target segment should be?”  as well as other such questions. These questions are good, they show a conscious effort to find the answers to the questions at hand, it does take time and experience to find these answers . However, if you adopt a “see how it works” strategy, document all your feedback and findings. Once you have collected substantial data, convert it into finding the segment you should be operating in as soon as possible. 

So who is your customer? 

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The Customer

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Are customers testing your patience?

“You can’t just ask customers what they want then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.” Steve Jobs

Prospects and customers have an uncanny ability of getting under your skin, often driving you close to the verge of insanity. It all begins when you begin to identify potential prospects for your target segment. Those first couple of cold calls, emails and introductions set the wheels of the sales cycle into motion. Then it begins, the non responses, the transferring of your calls all over the company, being on hold for ages and even some rude responses. At this level you need to be somewhat thick skinned, you should then not have a problem getting through this stage with a list of higher probability prospects. It is during the next couple of stages when you have initial meetings, send proposals and quotations that your patience really begins to get tested. This stage differentiates the sales people who succeed, and those who just get by.

Over the last couple of years some tips that helped me during this period are:

1. Prospect Selection: In today’s market place, no one really cares for the generalist anymore. It is slowly becoming a market where niche specialists have a marked competitive advantage. I would therefore suggest you tailor your sales strategy to focus on a particular market segment and cover it extensively. If your prospect list selection covers any and everybody the number of mild leads will drive you insane. Be selective and choose your segment wisely. Next build a prospect list specific to that segment and start to make inroads.

2. CRM Software: If you are not using one for your sales development and pipeline monitoring, I would strongly suggest you look into one for your organization. If you haven’t used CRM software before, start by using simple systems such as the ones available at 37signals.com. These help tremendously in making correspondence with prospects structured, efficient and professional. It also allows you to get a dashboard view of what is moving in your pipeline and what is not.

3. Disqualification: Customers who are not interested or ready for your product/service at the present moment should be disqualified from your list. These are clients who gather information from you, and then become dormant. I suggest you develop certain time quotas, after which, if the prospect does not respond they should be disqualified from your qualification process. If this step is not done it will drain a lot of your time without necessary results. 

4. Contracts: Once you have signed up a customer for your product/service, make sure you sign comprehensive contracts with them, these must cover exactly what you will be delivering to them. Failure to do this will result in some customers asking for more than promised and you will find yourself in a difficult position. There are few things more irritating than a customer who continues to ask for changes, reviews and modifications during the delivery process. 

I don’t completely agree with the statement that “the customer is always right”. There are some situations when you will have to draw the line. Difficult customers end up costing the organization a great deal. They increase the level of frustration within the team and decrease morale. Constantly review your prospect and customer list, I use a rating system in some of the companies I work with. This lets the entire team know which customers get priority over others. Focus your energy on those leads and customers where you have the greatest ability to cross sell and develop deep relationships with.

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Why isn’t anyone buying?

“Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.” Lou Holtz

This statement may color and trouble your thoughts, be it in a team discussion or over a cup of coffee with your significant other, and can be a significant driver of frustration on your startup journey. It troubled me greatly at the start of my journey. We would get everything ready, ranging from basic operational procedures to our sales and marketing strategies, however, when we put ourselves out there, no one was biting. Put yourself in the shoes of individuals who have dedicated 6-8 months straight in developing a product/service and get nothing but “maybe’s” during their sales cycle. This is fairly major frustration. This happened to me a couple of times in my earlier ventures and really got to me. It affected both my performance at work as well as my personal life. 

What happens at this point is, we begin to play the blame game. The market is lousy, we don’t have adequate resources, our competition is too strong or we are too inexperienced. This attitude permeates into other areas of life, you are more tense, short tempered and life loses its flavor. All that energy which had you jumping off the walls six months ago seems a distant  memory. What often happens at this point is,  you begin to lose hope and if left unchecked, eventually call it quits. This is a familiar scenario as it has happened to me in the past. Today, I work with a different perspective, slowly realizing that doing business is one thing and doing it successfully requires a completely different level of patience, persistence and belief.

Instead of blaming your circumstances and other factors, there are several more constructive questions and pointers you can look into, to find out the reason your product/service is not hitting your level of expectation:

1. Product/Service: Were your initial market demand estimates overly optimistic? Is the market for your product not as developed as expected? Take all this feedback and put it to use by adjusting your product/service to the market requirement . If the market is completely undeveloped, look for ways you can carve out a niche, if it is cost feasible. Remember to pay attention to both your product, as well as market requirements.

2. Positioning: A lot of the time, due to lack of experience, or market knowledge, we position our product/services towards a wrong segment of the market. If you experience sub par performance, evaluate your current target market to determine if the right one had been selected. Positioning your product towards different segments of the market is also a strategy you can look into. 

3. Pricing: Have you overpriced your product/service? Does the market understand the value that they get for paying a premium price? Getting answers to these questions, from prospects, could help you develop products/services which cater towards their needs as well as an acceptable price level . Have a strategy for the reason you price your product/service a certain way and make sure that it fits into the bigger picture.

4. Promotion: Have you put yourself out there? How are you marketing and promoting your product/service? What strategies have you used and what sort of return have you got on them? What are new strategies you can use to promote your product/service to your target segment. A lot of the time, we forget the fundamentals, promotion must be incorporated into your strategy if you want to drive sales. 

There is no doubt in my mind that you will get frustrated when your sales pipeline is not moving. When this happens, remind yourself, that to achieve great things in life you need to give it your best too. It works hand in hand, a half hearted attempt or lack of belief in the product/service will result in average results which leave you in a state of limbo. Trust me the younger you start on the journey the better, take advantage of fewer responsibilities. Keep in mind, most of the time we quit when we are really close to breaking the barrier holding us back. Do not make that mistake!

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5 Steps to Closing your First Deal

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5 Steps to Close Your First Sale

“Victory is sweetest when you’ve known defeat.” Malcom Forbes

Closing your first sale is one of the greatest highs you experience in your journey as an entrepreneur. It is a validation of your skills, passion and commitment to achieving something more than just the ordinary in life. There is no doubt that the journey to this milestone is a challenging one, it will test to the max and you will be able to gauge whether you have it in you to actually persevere and reach your goal. Having been through this exercise, I am now part of other teams on this leg of their journey I have put together a list of five concepts which have helped me .

1. Envision it: Before starting this journey, clearly identify where you want to go, how you want to get there and by when. Establish a picture of the entire process to enable you to visualize how you want everything to work. Once you have this image deeply embedded in your subconscious, you are ready to begin your journey. To read more about envisioning the sales process please click here.

2. Be Proactive: To be able to reach any goal in life you have to take action. Without it you will not be able to gather the momentum that is required to close that first deal and then successive deals after that. There is a need to be continuously proactive if you want to have success in any part of your life. If you want to achieve your goals and close that sale, you need to start taking responsibility for your success and action, today. To read tips on becoming more proactive please click here.

3. Ask: If you have hit a point where you are meeting a lot of people, pitching your idea and getting some interest but no sales then you are not asking for the sale correctly. Subconsciously we do not want to be the pushy salesperson . We begin to let this thought influence the sales pitch process and what happens is that the prospect is never really posed the question to buy. You need to start asking for the sale much more proactively to start closing deals. To read more about asking for the sale please click here.

4. Patience: There will be times during this journey where you will get frustrated, irritated and sometimes quite angry because you are unable to hit your targets and goals. This impacts detrimentally on the entire sales process as it decreases productivity, efficiency and your positivity. Having patience during this journey will be critical in your progress, remember, research shows that we usually quit just before we are about to hit something really big. To read more about this critical success factor please click here.

5. Learn from Failures: There is no failure only feedback. When times are tough, patience is low and we face setbacks, an entrepreneur starts to question everything. We begin to start blaming external factors, our team, our product or the economy. However this stance will not change the outcome or increase the probability of your closing the sale. You need to take the failures that you face and convert them into feedback to help you succeed. To read about strategies to convert failures into feedback please click here.

I sincerely believe that by following these steps coupled with hard work, determination and belief in your capabilities you will achieve your goals. We have to stop making excuses for ourselves and playing the blame game. If we truly want to succeed we have to do whatever it takes. Believe in yourself, your product/service and the your ability to successfully sell. No hurdle will be too high and when you finally get there, embrace the moment. Be thankful that you have been given the opportunity to prove yourself because, believe me, the journey is just starting, and it doesn’t become any easier!

I wish all of you the best of luck!

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There is no Failure only Feedback

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” Dale Carnegie

If there are 6 words which have truly helped me in my journey as an entrepreneur to date, they are, “There is no Failure only Feedback”. They have allowed me to flip just about any situation when things are not doing well and I begin to doubt myself. The process of doubt starts with losing a sale when you were relatively close to finalising it.  The world seems to come crashing down at this point . You start to wonder about your future as an entrepreneur or in sales, next, you start to doubt the viability of what you are selling. You begin to blame all sorts of external circumstances for the situation you are in and, motivation, productivity and optimism take a nose dive.

During my second start company which was in the Import/Export business I experienced this situation at the beginning. Disillusioned at this, because of the success of my prior company I began to wonder what was happening and I started blaming everyone apart from myself. At this point a close friend who has done very well for himself in the same line of work, gave me some much needed advice. When I explained the situation to him, he reaffirmed my share of bad luck but helped me understand that my attitude towards failure was the real culprit. I had begun to take it too personally and it began to blur everything around me to a point where I was unable to put myself in a position to close that sale. He left me with the advice to use each one of my failures as feedback to refine my approach in the future.

At first it was confusing, I was not being given any apparent reason when I missed an opportunity. How was I supposed to get feedback? That is when the lightbulb went off in my head. I started asking myself the right questions which then led us to develop customer feedback forms on marketing material, presentations, quality, price and overall satisfaction. I started to listen to what my customers wanted and how we could position ourselves to fulfilling these requests. That was a turnaround for me in my journey and now, when I speak to, listen or read about successful entrepreneurs there is a common thread “Failures are pillars to your success”, we have to respond to them in the correct manner to make sure that we learn, adapt and provide what the market truly wants.

If you haven’t had success in closing your first deal yet, break down your current sales process from start to the finish. Get feedback, talk to individuals who have had success in that area, survey your target segment and figure out ‘Why your customers are not buying from you ?’. Then, use that information to adjust your sales process to get the results you want!

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The Key to Success

“Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience.” Anonymous

During the tizzy of making a prospect list, calling potential clients and fanatically focusing on closing that first deal we forget a fundamental concept which will in turn be a fundamental component in your final sale,  that is, “Patience”. Earlier on, we established the need to set SMART deadlines to reach our goal. Setting that goal does not mean however that you immediately make a dash for it in a 400m race. If you do, by mid race you will run out of steam, and that will drastically impact the probability of closing a deal within your specified time frame.

From the word ‘go’ roadblocks will be encountered along the way, unless these are faced with patience it will be difficult to reach your goal. It is definitely not fun when you make 4 calls without generating any interest, I know the feeling . However it is usually a later call where you actually hit something. If we lose patience, it directly impacts our ability to move forward effectively and in a positive and persistent manner.

During the next couple of stages in the sales process whether it is pitching, negotiating or managing a client as sales individuals or entrepreneurs, patience is definitive for productivity. Rushing in and giving too many discounts, negotiating too quickly or getting fed up with a clients constant complaining will lead to leaving money on the table and not building the sort of relationships which will be based on an equal footing in the future.

Sales is a challenging process and securing that first deal seems almost impossible at times. You need to remember to pace yourself during the process, pay attention to details without rushing through the process. This will not only be a more satisfying process, I have found it provides you with a level of inner peace and calmness which helps you focus and eventually get that sale a lot more efficiently, effectively and often at a quicker pace. If you want to succeed at anything in life remember,  “Patience” is going to be a critical success factor. Best of luck!

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Ask and you shall receive

“To solve any problem, here are three questions to ask yourself: First, what could I do? Second, what could I read? And third, who could I ask?” Jim Rohn

You have got a sales appointment to meet the decision maker. The initiatives which you took in the last step are paying dividends. The sales pitch goes off well, there is excitement in the room and after a few words at the end of the meeting you are told they will be in touch. Feeling good about the pitch and thinking that the probability of securing the client is high, you are disappointed when there is no follow up from the client and after a while, the lead goes dead. This happened several times at the start of my journey and I always wondered what went wrong. I was really happy when I learned the answer to this conundrum.

An experienced entrepreneur I spoke to asked me whether I had been “Asking for the sale?”. Initially the question was confusing, but when I started to put the pieces together it made a lot more sense. I realised that whenever I was pitching to clients and enthusiasm was generated, I did not focus on closing the deal. I never asked the client for the sale! Psychologically I was avoiding being the pushy salesman, afraid the client would say the dreaded word ‘NO’. As a result I was repeatedly leaving money on the table by not asking the right questions.

Armed with this advice I went back to my script and practiced closing strategies for sales pitches. There are many interesting articles and training courses out there on closing strategies. I have taken the Neuro Linguistic Programming which has helped me tremendously. I have since formulated a way to subtly and politely ask the client for their business at the end of the presentation. Initially it felt strange and I was not  confident about asking, however, over time I have honed my skills. Now ,it has become second nature for me to go into a presentation and confidently, politely and subtly ask the client for their business.

The next time you are making a client presentation, make sure you formulate a strategy to ask the client to give you their business. You will not always win the business, however, through this process you will learn what you could be doing differently and then go back and ask for it again which should win you the contract!

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Be Proactive

 

“You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action.” Anthony Robbins

You have developed your product/service, have your pitch ready, and are ready to go. Unfortunately, customers don’t usually start banging on your door as soon as you announce your product/service to the world. If you are serious about getting that first sale, and more importantly getting it soon, you need to put yourself out there. Take the initiative to set a target, get a list together and start making those calls and visits to prospects. This is the only way you are going to see momentum in your business. Don’t worry about refining it to perfection, you need to go out there and see what the market thinks about it. Writing story boards and doing research from the comfort of your office is important, but you need to start taking action if you are want to see results. Listed below are a couple of pointers to get you started:

1. Set SMART targets: To get to any destination, you first need to know where you are going, what route to follow and an approximate lenght of time to get there. Charting the course of your first sale works pretty much in the same manner. Set yourself aggressive goals which are time bound. Specific targets keep you more focused and create a greater urgency to get things accomplished within stipulated time frames.

2. Put a list together: Do an industry analysis and select an industry in which you believe your product/service will have the greatest uptake. This will lead naturally to the next step, which is creating a list of prospective companies you can visit in this industry. After the completion of this list of companies, chart out references or friends you may leverage on to approach these companies. This step creates a greater degree of focus and increases the likelihood of closing a deal at a faster pace.

3. Start making those calls: Pick up the phone and start making calls to references, friends or directly to the company to get appointments or even sales. At this stage, you really kick it up a gear as you are now in direct contact with target customers. The impressions you make at this stage will be critical, especially if you are a new company. Have a scripted pitch which should not sound too rehearsed, be very polite and execute it all with the utmost professionalism. Follow each call with standardized follow up emails and start  building connections to get closer to closing that first deal.

4. Network Endlessly: If you are not selling, you should be networking. Use tools such as linkedin to help expand your current professional network. This expansion helps you get more qualified leads, greater access to a much wider net of companies and the opportunity to get your product/service known in the market without spending too much on advertising. The next time you get an invitation to mixers or industry specific conferences, use these opportunities to go out there and get known in the market place.

Use this list to get started. This is not the time to procrastinate. If you want success, you need to be willing to go out there are start looking for it. There is no better time than now to start your sales campaign!

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SMART Goal Setting

Industry Identification

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