Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

Envision It!

“Envisioning the end is enough to put the means in motion.” Dorthea Brande

You call up the 4th prospect on your list and rattle off the perfectly rehearsed pitch you have been using for the last few months, day after day. All of a sudden, the prospect starts to show interest in what you are saying….you seem to have hit a chord somewhere and the best part is, you can sense it. The phone call ends on a positive note and more information is requested via email. An hour after you have the sent the mail the client, the large multinational, says they would like to speak with you in greater detail. Its an eerie feeling, the realization that you may actually have hit home and the butterflies let loose.

You arrive at the customers office, adrenaline is rushing through your body, however, you are willing yourself to be calm and confident as you have given this pitch many a time. You meet the team you are presenting to and straight off the bat you can feel the chemistry. The presentation goes well and all the verbal and non verbal cues confirm your initial vibes. During the question and answer session you face the standard questions, you have the answers, backed by much hard work and research. You close the meeting, with the client asking for time to make their decision. For a split second you think, will this end up like all the other dead ends, or was it truly different. You then make  a conscious decision to stay positive on this one.

The next morning you have an email waiting for you from the client requesting a quotation. Negotiations move quickly through the course of the day and you feel like you are on cloud nine. All those days where you were frustrated, angry and even demotivated, are already a distant memory. By the day’s end, you get the email you have been waiting for….a confirmation to move forward and a signed agreement. Sitting there , looking at the computer screen you are in a momentary daze that seems to last forever. A million thoughts are firing off in your mind relating to steps for moving forward, the realization that you have done it and a euphoric sense of happiness. You let go and for the first time in months there is a feeling of…..freedom.

Congratulations, you have cleared one of the steepest hurdles in your initial journey as an entrepreneur. This is the beginning of many more and now you know a bit more on how to get there. For those of you who have not reached this milestone yet and are working towards it, stop whatever you are doing right now. Close your eyes and envision closing your first sale in detail, start from the beginning and go through the entire sales process. Identify all the emotions, the verbal and non verbal cues, once the image is clear, hold it, you now have a roadmap to get to where you want to be ! Best of luck in your journey!

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The Elusive First Sale

“Remember, you only have to succeed the last time.” Brian Tracy

Having been in the position of pushing myself to close that elusive first deal as also managing people who are striving to hit that landmark milestone, I have developed this strange love hate relationship with this stage in a startups life. When I look back to my first startup where we were a selling designing and printing service, I realise what a great learning experience it was for all of us. We were a bunch of 21 year old students with no background, no experience and no past clientele. We had to figure out very quickly what aspect we could compete with our competitors on, it turned out to be customer service. Our entire business model worked because being university based we could cater to the large design and print requirements of the university in a more personalized manner.

It took us around 4 months to close our first ‘real’ deal. We were constantly pushed around, looked down upon, our calls were not returned and most importantly we were constantly pressured to reduce our prices because we were ‘students’. So given all of that, you are probably wondering what the ‘love’ aspect for this stage in a startup is. It came from the fact that for the first time in our lives we had to prove to ourselves that we could do something on our own. Call it ego, inner strength or a magical drive, there was a voice inside you which kept on saying “You Can Do This”. That is the voice which has helped me stay the course as an entrepreneur.

Over the course of this week, I am going to outline some basic but fundamental concepts which need to be kept in mind when you are in the position of pushing yourself or your team to close that first deal. This is a time in entrepreneurial life where will, determination and drive are tested to the limit. This is  a defining and testing time to check whether you have it in you or not, this is the stage where many discover that this path was not meant for them. Use this stage in your startup life to identify within yourself  what drives you, how you face adversity and what your threshold levels actually are. Most importantly enjoy this time, discover if you can learn to love what you do. In the end, that is all that matters. When you do something you love doing, you will never have to work another day in your life. Best of luck!

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Exceeding Expectations

“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” Roger Staubach

My first company had the tag line “Exceeding your every expectation”. It was printed on everyone of our name cards and it pushed us to go the extra mile many a time. It is only after some years that I have realized, it does not take much to exceed customer expectation. They do not need elaborate gestures to make them feel special, all they need is to be treated honestly and fairly, to be provided with significant value for their purchase and to have all this done in a convenient and efficient manner.

From personal experience I know that there are many service providers I go to even though they may not be the cheapest, biggest or more convenient in the market. For example, all my computer needs and requirements are dealt with at a small shop I have been visiting for years. You may well ask why anyone would do this, in this day and  age of online ordering and convenience ? It comes down to the relationship I have with the owners of the store. It is good to walk into a store where everyone knows you by name and where you know you will always get that extra attention and exemplary customer service, whenever you walk in and need it.

As part of a startup , you need to identify areas where you can add greater value to your clients. You need to show them that you care about their success as much as they do. These are some of the ways I have used to go that extra mile :

1. Remember your customer’s birthdays and make sure you send out either an ecard or an actual card to show that they matter to your business.

2. Gather as much personal data regarding the customer as possible, such as hobbies, interests, family and  other information that may help you with future conversations as well as personalizing services.

3. Remember to thank the customer at the point of purchase and to follow it up with a note via email or mail, thanking them for their business.

4. Leave extra room for you to exceed their expectations. If you promised 5 days delivery time and deliver in three days, that goes a long way. Remember to leave yourself some wiggle room.

5. Put yourself in the customers shoes and ask yourself what you can do, to make the entire process more personable and enjoyable? Treat your customers the way you would like to be treated.

Going the extra mile is a defining and differentiating factor between good and great companies. Building such a culture from the start will provide you with clear competitive advantages. 

Do you have a special story of how you were wowed by a particular vendor?

Related Posts:

Sales and Relationships

 

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Sales and relationships

“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ”Make me feel important.” Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.” Mary Kay Ash

A couple of days ago on my way to a meeting I was stopped at a traffic light junction when a disabled man came to my car window, he was selling car cleaners . I didn’t need any, so he passed me by after asking. Moments later another disabled man who was selling the same came up to me. This was a man who has been selling similar merchandise at this traffic junction for the last 15 years and over the course of time he has sold many members of my family who pass this traffic crossing daily. He came up to my window,greeted me and condoled my grandmother’s passing away 2 months ago. The fact that he knew caught me totally off guard. He followed with casual chit chat regarding the health of the rest of my family and never once during this 5 minute exchange once mentioned whether I wanted to buy anything. You have to realize that we were at a traffic light crossing and were in a time sensitive situation. However, at the last moment, he casually asked whether I needed anything, I obliged and bought a fair share. Later on during my drive to the clients I began to think about what had just happened.

Sales is a very personal process, you are always more comfortable buying from or through individuals whom you trust or have a relationship with. Here was this man who had spent a large part of his life building a meaningful relationship with passer byes at traffic light junction . This continuous interaction on a relatively regular but short time frame basis had enabled him to build a relationship through which he could sell irrespective of whether you needed it or not. It wasn’t solely because he was handicapped otherwise I would have bought from the other vendors who attempted to sell me the same. It was only because of our relationship.

If you are running your own company or working at one where sales falls in your job scope I do believe the key to success is relationship building. I know it may sound somewhat cliched but just how many of your clients do you really know well. Truthfully, I need to do a lot more work in this area and this minor incident just showed me how strong a proposition you can build once you develop a meaningful relationship with your clients.

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5 Steps to better sales pitches

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” Dale Carnegie

I firmly believe that every pitch you make to a customer has to be customized to the customer’s current needs. Going in and giving the same pitch to every customer is not an effective strategy. Customers are becoming more sophisticated and have a larger pool of vendors to choose from, hence, you have to do more and be different. This week I have set down some primers on sales pitches. Below are a list of important factors you should look into when preparing and delivering your sales pitch .

1. Industry Identification: Two factors need to be decided upon before you set out to get your prospect list sorted out. The first factor is identifying the industry that will have the greatest utility for your product/service. The second factor is identifying which industry you have the greatest links to through your personal network. Balance these two factors to arrive at an industry where you have the highest % chance of closing a deal. To read more please click here.

2. The Customer: If you can figure out your prospects pain points well before meeting them, you will have substantially increased the probability of closing the deal given you have a great value proposition. There should be substantial time dedicated to doing maximum background research about your prospects before you actually pitch to them. You will need to develop a value proposition which is tailored to their current requirements and addresses a need. To read more please click here.

3. The Sales Pitch: Rehearse, rehearse and then rehearse some more. You need to perfect the delivery of your pitch. Before you actually dive into your sales pitch you need to build rapport with your prospect. This is critical to breaking down the barriers that individuals put up when they are pitched to. The transition between building rapport and beginning your pitch should be a natural progression to ensure that you keep your prospect in a comfortable state during the pitch. To read more please click here.

4. Getting to “Yes”: Three factors play a major role if you are to close a deal. Firstly you need to be confident about both your pitch and your product, secondly you need listen and understand the prospects concerns and lastly your ability to summarize and make an effective closing argument will greatly affect the outcome of the pitch. To read more please click here.

5. Expert Advice: Three key pieces of advice which were shared to me by seasoned entrepreneurs have helped me close more deal than any other strategy. Staying honest, exceeding your clients expectations and providing more value than you take in payment. To read more please click here.

As entrepreneurs we are selling something everyday. It could be a vision, a product or a service. We have to do our best to make sure that we learn continuously to become better at this skill which is critical to our success. If you have had success in this area please share your experiences to help everyone reading this, so that they may benefit and in so doing become better at pitching.

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Advice on Sales

“Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman, not the attitude of the prospect.” William Clement Stone

When I was starting my first business I was given quite a few tips from a couple of very established entrepreneurs to help me out in getting the sales that I needed. Outlined below are some of the key tips which have helped me.

1. Honesty: The first thing that crosses my mind when I am getting pitched an idea or a product/service is; “Is this for real?”, “Can he/she really deliver?”. This question probably goes through all customers mind at one point or the other. It is your responsibility to make sure that when you are pitching you are honest about what it is that you can and cannot do. Honesty is always the basis of long trusted clients who continue to come back to you and refer you to their own network. Reputation is the most important aspect for any entrepreneur and honesty and integrity should be the corner stone in developing that reputation.

2. Don’t over commit: When you know you have the capability of completing additional requests by your clients but have yet to gain authority in those area’s commit less and exceed your clients expectations. My first media copyrighting business was built on this one factor. Our mantra was “exceeding your every expectation” and by focusing on exceeding our clients expectations we enjoyed tremendous amounts of success.

3. Value: Your entire sales pitch should revolve around creating more value for your client than you are taking in payment. If you continuously strive to achieve this aspect you will see your business prosper and will most likely develop a very strong bond with your clients.

Simple as they may seem these pieces of advice have provided an enormous amount of return for my colleagues and I who have incorporated them into their sales pitches. I hope they will be as beneficial to you.

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Getting to “Yes”

“No one can remember more than three points.” Philip Crosby

All the effort you put into your sales cycle boils down to the fact that you are able to convince the customer to buy your product/service. There are a many factors which have to be in place for you to get to “yes”.

1. Confidence: Throughout your pitch, the customer is going to be evaluating you continuosly through the way you speak, gesture and articulate your thoughts. All of these factors come together when you are convinced about the value of the product you are selling. If you have the slightest doubt about what you are selling the customer is going to pick up on it. So make sure you believe in whatever it is you are selling.

2. Listen: During your pitch or in the Q&A session listen intently to the concerns which are being raised by the customer. Is there any one segment which he is focusing on repeatedly? By concentrating on those you will be able to break down any internal barriers which may be stopping the customer from make the purchase. If you are selling a complicated product which requires several meetings with the customer taking down detail notes helps in preparing in advance for future negotations.

3. Summarize: After concluding your pitch you should tell the customer once again about the product and the value proposition in a very short, concise and understandable manner. This recap helps to put things into perspective as the customer has had to digest a lot of data. If you have built a solid case this is when the customer will ask you probing questions about price, delivery and implementation which often signals a green light for the contract to get signed.

I have always been a straight shooter when I pitch to clients. There are a ton of “closing strategies” which you can find in books and the internet telling you ingenious ways on how to get to “yes”. The most effective one that I have found, is to be honest, confident and concise.

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The Sales Pitch

“It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time.” Wayne Burgraff

We have all,over time, been pitched something or the other. Some pitches have been good, others could have been better, and some had you looking for the nearest exit. The sales pitch is the amalgamation of your collected information and value proposition in less than 60 minutes. First impressions are critical and in most cases, the deal closers or breakers. Think of the times when you were pitched something, be it a business idea, a product or a service. What were the factors which influenced you into making the decision to buy?

Two steps need to be taken to get to that buying decision. The first is a pre-demonstration pitch, this is where you break the ice with the customer and build rapport. This is a technique all great closers use as it lowers the internal barriers we put up when someone is pitching to us. Building rapport is an art which is learned over time and is a skill which you continuosly need to hone. Once you get good at it, you will be able to shift the customers mindset to a more accepting one, to a point where you are more likely to close the deal.

The second step is when you actually begin the sales pitch. This is when you show the customer what it is that you are actually selling and how it is going to help them. All the information you gathered about the industry and the client must be reflected in your pitch. An attention to detail will help create a much closer connection with your prospect. This allows both of you to look at the concept from the same wavelength.

This is when you arrive at a point when the customer is faced with a buying decision. If you have showcased your product/service confidently and have clearly shown how it is going to add value, closing will be much easier. Whichever method you use, whether it be a power-point presentation, a story board or a simple discussion, remember, keep your pitch simple and to the point.

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The Customer

“A professional salesperson’s most valuable asset is reputation.” Zig Ziglar

Once you have identified an industry and collected as much macro information about it as possible, you begin the process of focusing in on specific companies. To funnel down to this stage, it is helpful to identify those companies with whom you have existing links or can gain easy access to through your professional network. Many entrepreneurs and sales individuals get stuck at this stage. This is primarily due to the fact that we do not focus on continuously building our professional network. This topic will be discussed about in much detail in the coming weeks. If you lack a wide professional network you will have to work on developing leads through traditional lead generation methods, these require a lot more  time and effort.

Once you have a primary list of companies, you must study them intently through their press releases, websites, annual reports, new products and any advertising they may be involved in. This will help you get a pulse on how the company is positioning itself in the market, who their target customers are and what products/services they are focusing on. It will also help you gauge who their competitors are and how they differentiate themselves from them. This will provide you critical insight on how to position your product/service to the prospect.

You will have to show how your product will add greater value to their company, whether it be through greater efficiency, increased ROI, wider exposure, customer acquisition or brand awareness etc. You must do your best to outline measurable results that will be produced through your product/service. If developed correctly you will surprise the customer with your in-depth knowledge of the industry, local market place, their current strategy and their current pain points. Along with an attractive NABC value proposition you will have developed a very convincing argument.

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Industry Identification

“We miss 100 percent of the sales we don’t ask for.” Zig Ziglar

Having a product or service to cater to a host of industries is always a good thing. It gives you the ability to scale your business across several industries in the future. However, where do you start a web development company where just about anyone could be your client? What has worked for me has been to firstly identify an industry to which I have the strongest links and relationship and then do some in depth research about this industry. This process helps bring focus to your business and allows you to become an expert in a particular domain, in which you could then leverage to reach out to other domains in the future.

Think about it, if you are a web developer and Toyota saw that you had created web identities for 3-5 major automobile brands successfully, they would be a lot happier working with you rather than another developer who had created all sorts of websites. By becoming an authority in a particular area, allows you to expand your business in a more structured manner which is essential for early stage companies. Focus is a key aspect for any company whether you are a single person entity or a multinational company. You will be able to create sustainable competitive advantages which will help you fend off new entrants in your space and help expand your business at a much faster pace.

When I am looking at a particular industry I look for any data I can find on the trends taking place in it. This involves a lot of research and reading to bring yourself up to speed with who the major players are and the strategies they are employing, as well as give you an idea of how the smaller players are positioning themselves. When you have sufficient data on the industry as a whole you can successfully zoom onto the companies where you can leverage on your network and build stronger value propositions for them.

The next time you are deciding whom to market your product/service to, look to your personal network first and do your homework on the industry where you are the strongest and have a higher probability of closing the deal.

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