Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Steps to Better Conversations

There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for. And questions are the breath of life for a conversation. James Nathan Miller

In today’s fast paced world, we may have many virtual conversations, but, we are losing the ability to sit across a person or a group of people and have a real conversation. We are pre-occupied with the myriad of things happening in our life, or are constantly being beeped by one of the many gadgets we carry. This does not bode well for our generation, because a breakdown in the ability to communicate in the real world can have disastrous repercussions. We see that today in the increase in divorces, suicides and depression related illnesses. Somewhere along this rapid technological progress, we are losing touch with the fundamental bonds which hold us all together. The art of conversation is one such bond, it has been pivotal in our development. Listed below are five steps, to assist and benchmark conversational and communication skills.

1. Knowledge: When it comes to being a good communicator, knowledge is a defining aspect. Without it, we can talk without actually saying very much. When an individual is knowledgeable, it comes across even when you talk to them about the most trivial of subjects. One must constantly keep learning and growing. With the proliferation of information today, there are so many ways we can keep ourselves abreast on current affairs as also increase our knowledge on subjects we are interested in. To learn specific tips on how to increase your knowledge base, please click here.

2. Confidence: Being confident about oneself is an integral part of being a good communicator. Without this characteristic, knowledge will not help you to communicate in an effective manner. To assess our confidence, we have to identify instances where we lack the confidence to take a stand or share an opinion. Watch the best communicators in the world and visualize yourself communicating in similar manners. We have to get rid of negative thoughts which give rise to self doubt. At the same time, we have to keep a fine balance between being confident and over confident. To learn specific tips on how to increase your level of confidence, please click here.

3. Clarity: Without clarity, the message we want to communicate can get lost somewhere in translation. This will result in both the speaker and audience getting frustrated and tune out. There needs to be substantial and adequate thought put into the organization of our ideas. At the same time, we need to make sure that the language we use is not too convoluted that it confuses rather than impresses the audience. Lastly and most importantly, pronunciation is of critical importance. These factors put together, form the basic foundation of clarity of speech. To learn about each component in greater detail, please click here.

4. Enthusiasm: No one really wants to talk to someone who is sick of life and has lost the passion for living. Individuals who attract us are those whose body language, tone and words express their zest for life. They have a certain type of energy around them which makes just about anything they say a lot more enjoyable. Since 93% of all conversation is based on non verbal cues which include your body language and tone, it is essential that we pay more attention to them to ensure that our conversations are an accurate reflection of our persona and the message we want to convey. To learn more about these three factors, which determine the enthusiasm level in your conversations, please click here.

5. Listening: The art of listening is a dying art in our world today. Conversations are constantly and rudely interrupted, or the audience distracted, either due to information overload in their minds, or one of the many gadgets on them, which keep beeping or ringing. In order to become better listeners there are three areas we should focus our attention towards. Firstly, are we actively listening to the conversations we are part of? Secondly, do we have internal filters which are impeding our listening to the entire message. Lastly, are we paying attention to the subtle clues in each conversation conveyed through tone, body language and choice of words? To learn more about each of these three areas, please click here.

As an entrepreneur we have to work towards making great first impressions to colleagues, investors and customers. Our conversational skills are a large component of the overall impression we project. We have to ensure that we are conveying the impression we wish to. The steps provided above should assist in evaluating your present conversational skills and subsequently used to benchmark how we measure up on each one . Better conversational skills and abilities will not only increase the quality of your professional relationships, it will do wonders for your personal relationships too. I wish you the best of luck in all your future endeveours.

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Are you listening?

“We were given two ears but only one mouth, because listening is twice as hard as talking.” Anonymous

The art of listening is a dying art in our world today. Conversations are constantly and rudely interrupted, or the audience distracted, either due to information overload in their minds, or one of the many gadgets on them, which keep beeping or ringing. Somehow no one seems to be listening anymore, yet, everyone seems to be talking a lot more. The fact of the matter is, listening is not the easiest of exercises. It requires large amounts of patience, a willingness to learn from the other person and most importantly, to have respect for the other person’s point of view. However, in the fast paced world we live in today, everyone seems to want to get their two bits in, and has frankly stopped caring about what the other person is saying or feeling. Conversations structured like this are the worst sort of one-way monologues one is part of. Developing skills to be a better listener takes years to master, listed below are some steps to assess one’s current level, and then work on them further.

1. Active Listening: Have you ever spoken to someone and the other person appeared to be distracted or not really there? This creates a level of frustration in the speaker, and eventually they lose interest in sharing their opinion because they are not being heard. When an individual is listening actively they are constantly either reaffirming the thoughts of the speaker with nods or the occasional “uh-huh”, when unclear they are paraphrasing what is being said and getting clarification. Taking an active interest in what is being said, helps the speaker to communicate their thoughts more actively. How active a listener are you?

2. Filters: All of us have interests and hobbies that we like to talk about and get other opinions on. We also know which subjects are not of interest to us, and chances are we will tune out when someone starts speaking about them. When put into the context of listening, this is extremely selfish behaviour, and we end up only talking and listening to people who interest us. In the real world this is difficult as we do have to listen to people who talk about their interests. We have to closely monitor these filters and do our best to eradicate as many of them as possible. Remain committed to keeping an open mind and avoid making judgments based on personal filters. Are you filtering too many conversations?

3. Clues: As mentioned in the last post, non verbal communication constitutes a large part of overall conversation. We have to train ourselves, not only to listen to the words the speaker is using, but also take note of the tone of voice and body language. We have to know when to empathize and when to give constructive feedback. Chances are, if we have not really been listening to the conversation as a whole, we would have missed these cues, which result in miscommunication. There will be times when  speakers get frustrated that the individual is not listening to what they are saying, and the listener is clueless about why the person is so angry (Happens a lot between men and women). Are you paying attention to all the clues?

I have a mentor who does a great job at listening. I can sit in front of him for hours, and somehow thoughts come easier and communication is a lot more fluid. Even though there is minimal input on his part I ‘know’ he is listening. Imagine if you could have such conversations with your colleagues, investors and customers. As an entrepreneur, we have to keep our ears peeled all the time to ensure that we are staying on top of the game. If you are listening, the probability of success is a lot higher.

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How Enthusiastic are you?

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

We have all had that one professor or lecturer in school or college, who put everyone to sleep. His/her monotonous delivery, made it impossible to pay attention to the material being taught. There are also many individuals who have a strained manner of speaking. They have either lost interest in life, or have sunk into a routine which impacts their passion for life negatively. When we come into contact with such individuals, they tend to drain our energy too.  Were an entrepreneur to ever get stuck in such a rut, the impact for his/her business could be disastrous. I mention passion repeatedly in most of my series, as being critical for success in any aspect for life. We have to avoid getting bogged down when difficult situations arise, to keep our chin up is essential. Keeping a positive outlook is vital to keep enthusiasm levels high. Some factors by which we can measure levels of enthusiasm in a conversation are:

1. Body Language: If you pay attention to great communicators such as Steve Jobs,  notice their gestures and overall body language when they are communicating. It is a known fact, that using gestures when speaking helps the brain connect thoughts faster. Our overall body posture is an integral part of the total message we want to deliver. For example, if one were to stand with drooping shoulders and speak in a non expressive manner when pitching to a VC,  we will send a  wrong subliminal message. Pay attention to your body language when speaking, it is a major component of your overall communication delivery.

2. Tonality: I did a NLP (Neuro Linguisitic Programming) course a couple of years ago where a large chunk was dedicated to the importance of tonality. A variety of tones can be used to communicate the same message, in many different ways. If you have ever heard or watched Anthony Robbins, notice how he uses tonality to communicate with the audience at different levels. Sometimes, his pitch is fast and highly charged to get the audience fired up to his level,  other times, he drops the level of his voice to communicate at a different level when he wants to appeal to your subconscious. Pay attention to your tone when you next communicate with someone. Are you mixing it up enough?

3. Words: Extraordinary, Amazing, Revolutionary these are just some of the words that Steve Jobs uses in his keynote addresses when he introduces new products. With the correct choice of words, one is able to flavor communication in a manner that helps the audience relate to what you are saying. Imagine John F. Kennedy saying “Do good things for your country,” instead of “Ask not what your
country can do for you, but what you can do for your country!” The choice of words and how they are put together in a sentence, impact greatly on the intensity and meaning of what you are saying.

When I was with toastmasters we were taught the 55% 38% 7% rule. The rule simply says that 55% of communication is through body language, 38% through our tone and 7% through the words we use. Unfortunately we pay too much attention to the 7% and forget about the importance of the 93%. To become a great communicator, we have ensure that we pay attention to the entire 100% and deliver it with enthusiasm and passion.

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What did you say?

mad“Take advantage of every opportunity to practice your communication skills so that when important occasions arise, you will have the gift, the style, the sharpness, the clarity, and the emotions to affect other people. Jim Rohn

Ever been in a conversation where you have no idea what the other person is saying? I am sure many of us have been part of such conversations. These are the conversation where the speaker goes on and on about a particular topic, without any purpose or direction whatsoever, or when the speaker loses the audience on account of the banal tonality and language. In business, when such a person addresses a customer, investor or even his/her own team, chances are he creates a negative impression about his/her capabilities. Such an individual will find it difficult to be taken seriously, or be in a position of leadership. Unfortunately, not too many individuals focus on improving the level of clarity in their communication abilities. Listed below are three areas I believe a conscious effort should be made to monitor.

1. Thought Organization: I had a business partner who was very knowledgeable and confident. Yet, whenever he would start talking the entire group would just tune out. He would essentially start rambling, and regularly drifted away from the topic being discussed. This became a huge distraction for the team and it was also incredibly frustrating. During evaluations the point was brought up, and he made a conscious effort to pay greater attention to organizing his thoughts. It is important that one has a clear purpose when they share an opinion. It doesn’t need to be perfect, however it should highlight ones point of view clearly and concisely.

2. Language: Fancy terms and words should be used sparingly in one’s conversation. These are often used to display the breadth of ones vocabulary, and often instead of impressing the audience it confuses them. When using technical or industry specific terms, make sure that they are presented to an audience which understands them. A conscious effort must be made not only to keep the language simple, but to also remember to keep your sentences short. This makes the overall delivery of your communication clearer as well as much easier to understand.

3. Diction: The tone of your voice when communicating is very important. An individual could be speaking about something very interesting, however if it is delivered in too high or too low a pitch which is too high or too low it will lose its impact and the audience. Sometimes we get very excited or habitually start speaking faster and lose the clarity in our delivery. These instances need to be identified and worked upon to improve our overall communication abilities. As practice evaluate yourself on three factors, volume, pitch variation and pace.

Clarity in communication is critical. Without it, getting or holding the attention of an audience is very difficult. A concentrated effort must be made to make sure that when communicating, our thoughts are thought out and delivered in the same manner. This will not only help get your message across much faster it could be the difference between closing and losing a customer.

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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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