A lot of people call themselves entrepreneurs—but in reality, they’re not. They’re idea machines, or “wantrepreneurs.”
They want to make something of themselves, but they don’t have the skills or the hustle to make things happen. Without that, a wantrepreneur’s ideas aren’t worth anything.
If you really want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you need to start learning the ins and outs of business. You need to put your nose to the grindstone and build your skills. Need a place to start? Look somewhere you might not have considered: the sales department.
Cutting your teeth in sales
In HubSpot’s 2018 State of Inbound report, which surveyed more than 6,200 companies in 99 countries, 75 percent of respondents said their top priority was closing more deals. It isn’t enough to sell the idea of your company and get people to invest in it. Entrepreneurship means turning those first deals into a sustainable and scalable process.
Can you consistently generate more sales each month without overspending? Can you add awesome new employees to the roster? Can you train them at minimal cost and in minimal time? Can you predict your sales conversion rates, revenue, and overhead every month? If you can answer “yes” to those questions, congratulations! Your model is scalable.
Finding that perfect formula isn’t easy, though. No salesperson jumps into her first sale fully prepared for the unknown, and no entrepreneur gets a business off the ground knowing all there is to know about success. It takes time and experimentation, and the sales field is a testing ground to build the patience you need for both.
That’s especially true for business-to-business deals, which take much longer to cultivate than business-to-consumer sales. Of course, selling to consumers takes patience, too, but the cycle can take minutes to close. Closing a deal with another business can take weeks or even months.
If your small business or startup operates in the B2B space, then you’ll need the skills—and patience—to spend months working toward a deal without giving up. And you’ll need to be able to pick yourself up and keep going when some sales inevitably fizzle out.
Building sales—and entrepreneurial—skills
For a sustainable and scalable sales/business model to work, it has to be repeatable. Otherwise, you won’t be able to recreate whatever success launched your business in the first place.
Like any great salesperson, great entrepreneurs repeat their successes by mastering these five skills:
1. Communicating (selling) your vision
Here’s a tip from sales 101: You don’t just sell a thing—you sell a vision.
Paint specific details about how the product or service will improve the customer’s life, and that vision drives the sale. As a small business or startup founder, you’re also selling the idea of your business to those whose help you’ll need.
Before you paint that picture for customers, you’ll have to cast the vision of a prosperous company to investors. And employees need to envision a future with an employer who cares about their own personal success. Loved ones who support you also need to see the comfortable, more enjoyable life you picture for them as they spend nights and weekends without you.
Whether you’re pitching to angel investors and venture capitalists, or you just need to share your vision and roadmap with employees and others in your network, put together a pitch deck based on your Lean Business Plan. You’ll benefit from having spent the time to put all your thoughts on paper, and you’ll have something tangible to share with others.
2. Finding answers under rocks
“If you build it, they will come.” Right? Well, it’s possible, but it doesn’t actually hold true for the vast majority of entrepreneurs.
Success often means disruption; no one flocks to a new business for no reason. Incubators want to see a discovery process, which takes asking questions to find out what market gap your product or service can fill.
Salespeople constantly fight the negative image consumers often have of sales, and listening is their most powerful weapon. They ask questions and gather answers before pitching a product so they can tailor their approach. Entrepreneurs have to fight market forces that could drown out their ideas, and their most powerful weapon is finding a market’s weakness with the right questions.
3. Solving other people’s problems
The right questions can help you find out what consumers want to see in certain markets, but it’s another skill entirely to convince anyone that your brand is the answer. Competition is always tough, so use your vision-casting skills to emphasize how your product or service solves their problems in ways your competitors can’t.
Good salespeople take a consultative approach when customers get finicky about buying on the spot. They find out more about customers’ lives to identify places where their product or service can shine most. Entrepreneurs do the same to promote their brands in a way that paints them as the solution that every consumer needs.
If you’re not entirely sure how your product or service stacks up against the competition, get started on some competitive research—putting together a basic competitive matrix can help.
4. Getting over the fear of asking
Entrepreneurs, especially those just starting out, can get nervous. But nervousness is different from fear, and no successful businessperson is fearful. Even with sweaty palms and shaky knees, you still need to hold a solid smile, make eye contact, and project confidence during your sales.
Entrepreneurs have to have the same resolve when it comes to the ask. Whether pitching to investors or promoting the company to everyday consumers, an entrepreneur can’t be timid. Fear never closes a sale. Remember that you’re not just asking for something; you’re living up to your end of a deal, and receiving what’s yours is necessary to close it.
If you’re not confident in your public speaking or pitching skills, check out your local Toastmasters chapter and start practicing those skills.
5. Managing time when you don’t want to
Last but not least: time management.
This might be the single most important lesson that sales and entrepreneurship share. And I don’t just mean writing down tasks in a calendar; I mean forcing yourself to do those things you’ve put in your calendar, regardless of the way you feel in the moment. In sales and startup culture alike, no matter how tired you are, you have to grind out those sales calls or emails during the next hour if you want to eat.
Skip enough tasks and you won’t eat for the next month, either. As a salesperson, you’d lose your value to the company. As an entrepreneur, you’d lose your company. The real winners are the entrepreneurs who pursue their passion every chance they get. Their weekends and vacations from day jobs are spent building up their own companies instead of relaxing.
Sales is a grueling field, and those who come out on top do so with a wealth of skills that translate into success nearly anywhere else. For entrepreneurs who haven’t tested their mettle in the field yet, these five sales skills are the most important to develop and cultivate.