For lots of entrepreneurs, including startup leaders and other kinds of business owners, sales and marketing can be a tough nut to crack.
One of the reasons for this is that sales is not a technical business process — it deals with people, and people are notoriously unpredictable. In other words, while you can make a machine churn out a product, or make contracts with workers to provide services, you can’t make people buy something.
With this in mind, a lot of business creators are out there searching for the answers about sales and marketing, just like those questing spirits among us search for the big answers about the meaning of life.
Many of the best and brightest entrepreneurs want to understand sales and marketing better – it’s one of those big unanswered questions about their business, and they want to see what other people think, what others have done before, and what has potential.
Here are some of the things that these proactive bootstrappers can keep in mind as they work tirelessly to grow a business.
Know Thy Customer
Even in the old days before new technological resources and the modern bookshelf full of statistically-driven sales strategies, the old traveling salesmen of yesterday knew that part of successfully selling products and services is to know who you’re selling to.
There are two ideas at work here — the first one is that a deeper knowledge of human psychology, in general, allows sales professionals to convert customers. The second is that having a better idea of your target audience is going to help you to improve your success rate (all else being equal).
One of the entrepreneur’s earliest opportunities to learn about customers is in the stages where they’re developing and introducing products and services. Getting feedback is important — it’s also important to craft the business in a way that reaches out to the core customer demographic.
You can’t be all things to all people, and that’s why the best product or service rollouts are always paying attention to who’s responding, who’s answering, who’s demanding, and who is filling that critical void, the role of the customer. This resource from Entrepreneur.com provides a list of “10 Question to Ask” before putting together a final business plan, questions that will help you to understand who your customers really are.
Later on in the business processes, entrepreneurs can get more types of customer information from modern customer relationship management or CRM tools. These high-tech dashboards help you to continue to know your customer as you do business with them, to understand where they’re coming from, what they have bought before, and how you can walk with them to keep those relationships, and organically grow and expand your business.
Try Everything – But Follow Through
Another big tip for entrepreneurs is to ‘go very multichannel’ with advertising. Restricting advertising to a single medium or strategy is often going to limit the responses that a business gets.
On a very basic level, a new business can use the Internet to market itself, or it can use good old traditional telephone marketing. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t throw out cold calling as a potential option, but they should recognize that the Internet and social media are big new playgrounds for ways of getting customers that are often less painful and annoying than cold calling (this Forbes article goes into a little more detail on this idea).
Totally aside from those conventional options, business leaders can also promote their businesses at public events. Anything that happens in the public realm, from a county fair or farmer’s market to a conference at the library or a lecture on an industry or field, offers a new business the ability to get itself in front of more sets of eyes. Pop-up retail works, too — and this is one of the best-kept secrets of entrepreneurialism in any field. Businesses that get out there with an a truck, trailer, or even a pushcart are dramatically expanding their potential customer base, just by ‘being there’ and trying new ways of marketing.
Diversifying your sales strategies doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t follow through. One common mistake that business leaders make is to underinvest in, say, a web site that doesn’t elicit feedback, or a weak cold calling strategy that gives up early. Companies will benefit from sustained efforts to cultivate each of the channels that entrepreneurs are using to get in contact with customers, and stay in contact with them. Again, CRM tools can help measure each of these channels and provide statistical information about which ones are effective, and which need change.
Be Realistic About Your Business
There’s also a very fine line that entrepreneurs have to walk in terms of their approach to their business.
Simply put, your business is your baby, and it’s often tough to be objective.
It’s natural for people to the passionate about their businesses and what they sell. In fact, on a very basic level, you have to be positive about your business, or you won’t have the drive to promote it. However, it’s also important to avoid being so overenthusiastic that you don’t see the flaws that your customers see.
The reality of this essential business law is neatly demonstrated in an episode of the hit HBO TV show Silicon Valley, where the main character Richard Hendriks, played expertly by Thomas Middleditch, encounters an ebullient retail worker who’s sure that his new mobile app will make him a millionaire, if stubborn venture capitalists will fund him. Hendriks’ dubious reply: “why don’t you just write it down?” is the tell here, the very important feedback that the fresh-faced entrepreneur ignores with complete obliviousness as he subsequently quits his job, gets venture capital funding from his mom, and sets off, Partzival-esque, to conquer the realm. (In this case, the knight-errant’s balloon is ultimately popped when he finds out that Hendriks, touted as a tech billionaire, is actually broke himself, even though his company’s evolving product has a lot more potential.)
The takeaway, and it’s a real one, is that you can’t afford to have blinders on when it comes to your business. Celebrate its strengths, but explore its weaknesses — and ideally, fix them.
You Have Options
Another big step for entrepreneurs, when it comes to sales and marketing, involves the many game-changers that have occurred in sales over just the last 20 years.
Today’s sales world really is “Sales 2.0” — salespeople are going into the field armed with powerful new technologies that give them ‘the strength of ten men’ or otherwise enhance their ability to get more done for their employers.
In key ways, new tech tools like mobile devices and CRM dashboards are making foot soldiers into cavalry — salespeople are finding out more about every interaction that they have with a client. They’re conducting their sales campaigns in a technology-rich environment that shows them, for example, what leads are doing, what strategies have worked and what hasn’t, who’s been working on a project, how far along the deal is, and, even more important, what’s at stake. New CRM tools help teams to triage accounts, to capitalize on big data sets, and to generally convert more customers and keep better relationships with them, with a lot less work. Anybody who’s been in sales for more than a couple of decades remembers the old days of landline telephones, notebooks full of customer information, a lot of walking, a lot of talking and a lot of writing — wearing out a lot of pens and pencils along the way.
At Stride, we understand the ways that today’s sales environment is different. We’ve created a cutting-edge dashboard that will help today’s professionals to jump on the Sales 2.0 bandwagon, to have the kinds of resources that help them work smarter, not harder as they conquer their territories. From clear, intuitive controls to precision-designed visual screens showing the right kinds of deal information, we make getting up to speed as easy as a few clicks of a mouse or gestures on your touchscreen. We allow salespeople to see the whole picture from wherever they happen to be, whether it’s in the office, at home or out in the field.