There are hundreds, if not thousands, of essays, books, videos and coaching sessions out there about how you can become an entrepreneur. Most have merits but none of them come close to the ultimate “boot camp” for would-be entrepreneurs: a sales job!
Starting a business is about selling. All the time.
You have an idea for a great product. You start developing it and are close to producing an MVP. You assemble a team of co-founders. Then, you attract investment to complete your product and start commercialization. Your journey is not over, however, because you still need to: sell your product; recruit the best possible team; raise money to scale up; and convince a Board of Directors that the direction you want to take the company is the best possible option.
Each and every one of these steps requires a great deal of salesmanship!
Since each of these steps is existential in nature, your ability to “sell” may determine success or failure.
Selling is hard but can be mastered.
I am the son of an “old school” professional salesman. Back in the days, people did not have the internet, customer relationship management tools, cell phones and all the technological marvels that we now take for granted. People, like my father, went door to door to sell their products. It meant facing rejection very personally. As a salesperson, his income depended directly on his ability to convince prospects to buy what he had to sell. I learned, at a very young age, that selling is a difficult job but also an essential one that requires a lot of skills.
As it turns out, all of these skills are very meaningful to someone who wants to start a new business:
The art of convincing: As an entrepreneur, you will spend a great deal of time trying to convince others that your idea is good, that it should get funded and that people should join your venture. That is what a salesperson does day in and day out.
Resilience: Good sales people understand that you will get one “yes” per nine “no”. Despite setbacks, you need to continue working hard and quickly forget the negatives to focus your energy on the next sales call.
Negotiation: Salesmanship is often a matter of give and take. The salesperson must be an “honest broker” between the interests of the customer and the company, convincing both parties that the deal she/he advocates is the best possible outcome.
Teamwork: Salespeople intimately understand that they cannot effectively do their job without a focused support infrastructure. They need to convey that focus to the customers and be the customer’s advocate to the company, harnessing internal resources to ensure prospects become buyers and buyers become happy customers.
Diplomacy: You cannot close a deal and keep a customer happy without diplomacy. With diplomacy, you can help customers acknowledge their sometimes unreasonable demands. You can also make the company realize that it’s not treating customers right.
People skills: People buy from people. How true! People buy from people they trust. Establishing trust requires a great deal of introspection, self-confidence, humility and empathy.
Learning to never take “no” for an answer: As I said, a salesperson receives more negative answers before getting a “yes”. A great salesperson will never be content with the first “no”. She/he will persevere until believing that more effort would just be a waste of her/his time and the company’s money.
There is no better way to acquire and hone these skills than through a sales job. So as you contemplate launching a business and ask yourself what can prepare you for this venture, I would suggest getting a sales job for a while (which, by the way, would require selling yourself first). Go sell someone else’s product for a while. Then, when it comes to starting your own business, you will have learned so many skills that will serve you on a daily basis.
What selling tips do you have? What has, or has not, worked for you and your business?