The doorbell rings, an elderly lady opens the door and a little boy, about 7 years of age, asks her if she would like to buy a bag of fresh Japanese plums. She hands the boy three folded dollar bills.
The doorbell rings, a busy working mom answers and a boy, about 12 years old, holding a bucket and rag, asks her if she would like her car washed. The look of relief casts over her face as she hands the youth a ten dollar bill.
A phone rings; the vice president of sales answers. A young man with a shaky voice asks for 30 minutes of his time…
Let’s Talk About Selling
As an entrepreneur, collegiate sales/entrepreneurship instructor, and business consultant, entrepreneurs frequently ask me how they can make their companies thrive. My goal here is to bring it back to the basics; let’s talk about selling.
Before you close your browser, consider this. As an entrepreneur, I am sure you have heard of the following books: Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder, The Startup Owner’s Manual by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf and The Lean Startup by Eric Reiss. Each one of these books is fantastic and I highly recommend that you read them; however, I can summarize each one into one single word… sell.
So many entrepreneurs get sucked into the process of creating ideas, that is to say, ideation. I certainly did. Three separate times in three separate ventures, I had a self-declared ‘brilliant’ idea that I dumped all of my effort, a lot of my money, and a good bit of my hope into. Let’s face it; cologne called The Stank is a far cry from being the next billion-dollar ‘unicorn.’
Creating The Next Best Customer
Peter Drucker, arguably the greatest business mind of all time, said that “the purpose of a business is to create a customer.” Therefore, you must turn your focus away from creating the ‘next best thing’ and toward ‘creating the next best customer.’
What this means is that you must identify the group of people or businesses that you can easily impact and influence. If you have a customer-base, great; start there. If you don’t have a customer-base, start thinking of friends, colleagues, associates and so on.
Once you do that, get out from behind your social media and start meeting with those people, either face-to-face or over the phone. Ask good questions and listen closely to the answers. Share your aspirations with them and ask for their ideas. After multiple conversations, you will see a theme start to develop. You find yourself confronted with more and more opportunities (even though some of the opportunities may not be directly related.)
Steps to Acquiring New Customers
Let’s face it; it is extremely rare to create something completely novel. What is not so rare is creating a customer (that is not to say it is an easy feat.) Creating a customer can be a sales-driven process; so here is a suggested outline an entrepreneur can follow.
- Write down why you started your business, what your business does and who you aim to serve.
- Identify all potential customers-This includes everyone you know that could possibly have a need for your products/services, the authority to purchase them, and the budget available. Move those who have all three, to the top of the list.
- Start calling and emailing those individuals-Ask them for twenty minutes of their time to discuss their needs and goals and to determine if your business might benefit them in some way. This will take a lot of time and energy. Do not stop until you meet with at least 40 percent your list (your list should be over 100 people).
- After you spend twenty minutes catching up and talking about their needs/goals, spend the rest of the time describing what your company does and why it benefits those you serve.
- Ask them this question, “What value do you see in my company and what advice do you have for me?” Depending on their answer, you may have created a customer, a referral source for additional customers, and/or received valuable feedback that you can use to steer your business in a better direction.
Believe it or not, this five step process closely resembles the same process professional sales people use to sell their products/services. It also closely resembles the processes described in all three of the wildly popular books mentioned above.
Transactional vs. Relationship
Finally, it is important to note that successful salespeople and successful entrepreneurs need to have the proper mix of products to serve their customers well. This mix can be broken down into two basic elements: a transactional product/service and a relationship product/service.
Your transactional product/service will be a lower cost item that addresses a very common need amongst your customer base. This product/service will get you in front of people and get them interested in doing business with you.
Your relationship product/service is a higher cost item that addresses common needs, but may require a higher level of trust to exist before a deal is made. As you sell, you serve your customer base with your transactional product/service. You will then build the trust needed to then up-sell the relationship product/service.
Example : XYZ Lawn Care Company will cut your lawn for $30 (transactional). After a relationship is established, XYZ Lawn Care Company will offer to pressure wash your house (it obviously needs it) for $300.
About the Author:
Reece is an entrepreneur from Lafayette, Louisiana. He is the president and principal consultant of Lamleo, LLC – a company that provides strategic sales training and data analytic services/tools for companies of any size.
Reece also teaches sales and entrepreneurship at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where he is a key faculty member leading the creation and development of entrepreneurship curriculum.