Reaching Decision Makers: Four biggest sales challenges Internet startups and entrepreneurs face

With the continued high unemployment rate, many professionals have been and are considering hanging out their own (often virtual) shingle and starting a business, website, or non-profit. Hey, that’s one way to get a job. Create your own company and hire yourself.

But from my personal experience, the difficulty in having your own business is not in doing what you do well, it’s all those other things that you normally don’t need to handle when working for someone else. In my case, I love writing and have no challenges there. But sales…

I personally think content marketing works great for this. Word of mouse can open more doors for you than a skeleton key. But, occasionally, everyone needs to pick up the phone and make a sales call to sell a product, service, or even just an idea.

So to help the next Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, or Craig Newmark learn to sell to potential customers, donors, and venture capitalists, I corralled Jason Croyle and asked him about the four biggest sales challenges I’ve seen most startups face.

Jason is a Lead Generation Specialist at InTouch, one of our sister companies. In just over one year he’s created $3.3 million for a data integration tools company (and that’s just for one of his five clients), and he was kind enough to share his sales insights to help you start flooding your own pipeline…

forsaleWhat preparation should I take for a sales call?

Jason Croyle: Let me start with the most basic step to making any call – get the digits. If you don’t have a direct line phone number, you can call a general “Contact Us” number which is widely available.

But keep in mind, that operators often won’t let you through without a name. If C-level executives are listed on their website in the “About Us” or “Investor Information” sections (in large corporations), the operators are also likely trained to screen you to a vendor hotline, website, or e-mail address.

So I use an information aggregator like InsideView to provide me a break down of contacts from directors all the way up to the Board of Directors. Often I can find a direct dial phone number, at least for lower-level management. But even when I can’t, that name and title often help me get past the operator.

Not every company is listed on this site, so you can go back to your prospect’s site or to LinkedIn for further discovery.

Before I dial, I make it a point to know my clients’ solutions to the best of my ability so that I can act as a trusted advisor on the phone and not just a pitching machine. Pitching machines more often strike out than hit home runs. If I can act as a coach, I’ll retain control of the call through my consultative approach.

So I sit back and think about how my solution specifically fits their needs. What have I seen about this company’s challenges online or in the news? Do I have any connections in this company? LinkedIn helps here as well.

From this research, you can create some main talking points. It’s important to put yourself in the shoes of your buyers. After all, who wants to receive another “sales call?” Business decision makers are bombarded with similar calls throughout the day from your competitors and other services. So try to put their challenges and concerns first.

Once you have these talking points, envision a dry run of the call in your head. Many athletes visualize themselves hitting a home run, sinking a jump shot, or nailing the perfect drive before they ever physically go through the motions.

Of course, once you actually get on the phone, your main talking points will only get you so far. Improvisational skills are crucial. For some people, it comes naturally. If you don’t feel like you have those skills, perhaps join a local improv group to help you get better at thinking on your feet.

OK, so let’s say I have that valuable direct line phone number. How do I get decision makers on the phone?

JC: As I stated in the previous answer, companies have mechanisms to keep you out. More so when you’re calling to sell technology.

So use the resources I discussed (InsideView, LinkedIn, prospect websites, your own network, and even a simple Google search) to seek out high-level end users in departments that benefit from your solution. Ask for these people or even ask for their assistant. Have a brief overview ready for the assistant so that she understands in layman terms and can redirect you lower/higher if needed. Often if you are not pushy and come across as an information resource and thought leader on the subject, you’ll get through the “screener” and to the right person.

OK, so I’ve got them on the phone. Now what? Quick! I’ve only got 30 seconds of their attention…29…28…

JC: Again, it comes down to helping the person on the other end meet their goals, because no one cares about what you have to sell, they only care about solving their own problems. You have to make sure that what you have to sell, whether it’s an idea, a product, or an investment opportunity, meets that criteria.

Let me show you what I mean. I normally make sales calls for our clients, but I’ll put myself in the shoes of an entrepreneur and try to sell myself for a moment…

Hello (Decision Maker Name), my name is Jason Croyle and I’m calling from MECLABS. We help companies increase marketing conversion via web tactics, educational resources and phone centricity. Clients such as X, Y, and Z have realized significant results ranging from 80% to 3,000% and have generated $x,xxx,xxx in new revenue. I wanted to share with you how we do and don’t work with our clients as well as more details on specific customer situations as examples.

In this statement I’ve said I want to collaborate with you – not sell you something. I’ve told you what we can and can’t do and stated that I’ll let you know if we can’t help you. I’ve addressed you as a person who’s busy but may need help right now or in the future.

People seem interested, but I just keep getting strung along. How do I actually close the deal?

JC: Ask. Ask. Ask. Lead your way in from front to back with very open-ended questions to discover what it will take to earn their trust and business. Assure them that you’re going to be a partner and advisor and not just another vendor. Don’t leave them feeling like you just want to close the deal. Give them the impression that you’re going to help them now and into the future. As Flint McGlaughlin, the Director of MECLABS Group, says, “Tell me what you can’t do, and I might believe you when you tell me what you can do.”

Related Resources

Becoming An Entrepreneur: Factors to consider when launching an Internet-based startup business

Marketing Optimization: How your peers overcome leaks in their sales and lead generation funnels

Evidence-based Marketing: Why you need more than just numbers to truly drive ROI

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Lo importante es el camino que recorremos, las metas son apenas el resultado de ese recorrido. Llegar generalmente significa, volver a empezar!

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Gabriel Catalano

agosto 2010
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