I spent decades developing and selling presentation software to giant companies. Yes, we were making sales and competing with Microsoft PowerPoint. Crazy, right? We even had competitors!
Our customers were the sales and marketing teams of HBO, Western Union, Comcast, Dell, Sony, the NFL, American Express, Redken, and a ton of other recognizable names. It was awesome! And a ton of work!
But before all of that I had to make my first sale (which involved my co-founder and I cutting out business cards in the parking lot of Cablevision’s HQ, but that’s a story for another day).
Want to know how I did it?
It’s easier than you think and you can get started right now. Some people think sales is hard, some people think it’s a dark art, and some people think it’s annoying. The truth is that selling is both easy and necessary. All you have to do is:
- Come up with an offer
- Tell everyone what you’re doing
- Tune up your LinkedIn profile (you don’t need a website to close your first few deals)
- Print business cards
- Follow up
- Always add value
- Do at least three things related to sales every day
“Sales” is really just having conversations with people. It involves a lot of listening, and a little bit of explaining who you are and what you do. I shoot for about 30% talking and 70% listening. Used car salesmen, on the other hand, do 95% of the talking.
Once you become good at sales you have a superpower: you can control your own destiny.
This is true regardless of what industry you’re in. Let’s take a minute to let this quote about SaaS software sink in:
“With my latest product…I used only customer interviews, HTML, and…mock-ups to understand the problem, define the solution, and sign up 100 paying customers before I started building the minimum viable product.”
— Ash Maurya, Running Lean
No, really…let it sink in.
Maybe you don’t need to finish developing that app before you get paid. This guy made money BEFORE he build his MVP—I love it!
Here are some straightforward steps to get started:
1. Come up with an offer. Figure out what your product is and what it costs. Start by looking at what your competitors are charging. Don’t have competitors? Fine, then look at what people are currently paying to handle the problem you’re solving.
Practice looking people in the eye and smoothly describing your offer and what it costs. If I don’t practice then I usually get cold feet and screw it up when I’m face-to-face with a potential customer. There’s no telling what will come out of my mouth if I don’t practice.
2. Tell everyone what you’re doing. I mean every single person you speak with: friends, family, the barista at Starbucks, etc. Don’t try to sell them anything. Simply tell them what you’re doing. You can start today!
This is good for a few reasons. First, it forces you to refine your elevator pitch because you’ll immediately be able to see what’s working and what’s not. Second, people will say things like, “Oh, I have a friend who does that. Let me introduce you.” Or even better, “Oh, I have a friend who’s looking for someone who does that. Let me introduce you.” Accept the introduction and meet for coffee. Repeat this enough times and you’ll start finding customers.
3. Tune up your LinkedIn profile. Like it or not, LinkedIn is the place everyone checks first to find out who they’re dealing with.
As soon as I know your name I want to see who you are, where you work, what you’ve done, where you went to school, and who you know. So make sure your profile is telling the same story that’s coming out of your mouth.
Send everyone you meet an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. The more connections you have, the easier it is to find people. And the more natural it is to send someone an email out of the blue because you have a connection in common.
4. Print business cards. Yes we all still use business cards in 2016. Have yours ready to hand out. Include your name, email, phone number, company name, website if you have one (but skip it if you don’t), and a brief blurb about what you do. I usually order business cards 100 or 200 at a time. I challenge myself to hand them all out as quickly as possible. Then I tweak my next batch of cards based on feedback.
For extra credit make your card stand out. I use a square card with a fun color—hey, I live in Miami—and people usually comment on it. I hope that means they remember me when they get back to their office.
5. Follow up. This is where most people drop the ball, which gives you an opportunity to stand out. Take other people’s business cards and connect with them on LinkedIn once you’re back at your desk. Include a short note following up on something you discussed, making that intro you promised, or linking to something they’ll find useful.
The rule of thumb is to follow up within 24 hours of meeting them.
6. Always add value. My worst fails as a sales guy are always when I send an email that essentially says, “Are you ready to buy from me yet?” It’s much better to find a way to help that person every few weeks. Send them an article they’ll find interesting, invite them to something cool, email them a discount code to something they use often, or teach them something that helps them do their job better.
Become a person they want to talk to because they always benefit. The classic salesperson solves this problem with food and drink, but I encourage you to dig deeper and learn how to deliver real value to people during business hours.
7. Do at least three things related to sales every day. Someone very wise taught me this, and it’s always worked. No need to stress yourself out, just keep moving the ball down the field and good things will happen. Here are some examples:
- Tell three people what you do, hand them your business card, and connect with them on LinkedIn.
- Have coffee with someone in your industry.
- Send an email asking someone for advice.
- Go to a networking event. Even better, go to an event where you know that someone you want to meet is speaking and come prepared to tell them something interesting.
- Organize a meetup.
Notice that I didn’t say build a website. That takes time and resources! The nice thing about this list is that you can do everything on your own starting right now. No website development required. You can get your first sales simply by following the steps above.
My favorite companies are the ones that make money from day one. You can be the entrepreneur who makes that happen.
Written by Mike Lingle — Read more practical suggestions for startups at mikelingle.com.