Why start-ups should focus on sales before everything else

Most young entrepreneurs spend too much time prototyping, or working on branding, brochures and logo design before they’ve even spoken to one customer. Here, Alex Pirouz explains why they should be more focused on sales from day one.

Most young entrepreneurs spend far too much time in the “lab” before ever getting out in the field. Tinkering too long with a prototype, working on their company branding, brochures, logo design or deliberating on patent filings before they have even spoken to one customer. This reminds me of High School, where the environment lends itself to deliberation rather than execution. After all, you’re generally rewarded for the amount of time you study and are given weeks to complete assignments rather than days.

Entrepreneurs, especially those at start-up, are so immersed in the business that they are constantly coming up with new ideas, new ways to make their product or service better and new customer markets to serve instead of getting their product/service in front of customers. I can’t tell you how many I have spoken to who believe that their new product or service is so exceptional that their customers will seek them out to acquire it, following the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson to, “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”.

With all due respect to one of the world’s greatest thinkers, that is absolutely the worst advice any entrepreneur could take on board. With the exception of a few companies, it’s hard to imagine that “build it and they will come” is a successful go to market strategy, regardless of what industry you are in, who you are selling to, what contacts you may have and so on.

So the question is, how much time should start-ups spend selling? Without question: 100 per cent. I ‘ve seen so many entrepreneurs fail or lose momentum because they are spending their time in the back end of the business. My personal motto is, “Sell first, build later”. There is no such thing as a perfect product, just a complete one, which is why I’m such a big advocate of Eric Ries’ The Lean Startup. Build a product that you can show a customer that works and that he/she will pay for and get started. You need to be out the front in the thick of it selling. Period! Instead of selling, entrepreneurs turn their energies to every other aspect of running their new companies.

When you have a business with sales, you can then talk about what you need to do to monetise more sales. Once you have a business model that actually works because you have customers actually buying, you can then focus on optimising the back end. You start to move out of the dream space and into reality because you have the revenue to do so.

To gain deeper insight into why sales is so important for business success I recently spoke with Con Georgiou, co-founder of Velteo, a company that deploys innovative platforms for sales improvement that included culture, process and technology integration for some of the largest organisations in Australia. Below he shares the steps any start-up can take in order for them to build a strong sales system from the ground up: 

  1. Invest in a Customer Relationship Management tool to manage contacts, the right sales activity and provide reporting on your sales pipeline.
  2. Create a prospective customer council who will advise on what they want to buy and how they want to buy it. This keeps you agile and relevant and should lead them to becoming your first customers, if you strike the right co-development deal.
  3. Always be pitching, even to non-obvious customers and investors. This helps you get different views on how you can improve your messaging.
  4. Build a top 10 target contact list and get their mind share through continuous contact and content. Build trust by being inclusive and contributing value, especially though leadership.
  5. Change your mindset to sales. Without revenue, you don’t have a business. Selling is not about closing – it’s about sharing, meeting needs and seeking enrolment. And remember, while you’re not, selling somebody else is.

Alex Pirouz is an entrepreneur, author and business mentor.

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