As an Entrepreneur You're Dead if You Can't Sell

December 6, 2010

Over the last couple weeks I had at least three different conversations with successful entrepreneurs who have started and sold a company, people who have just started their business, or read articles that talk about the “one thing that successful entrepreneurs do differently“. There’s a lot of things that every successful entrepreneur does, but, there is one thing that stands out. It’s the entrepreneur’s ability to get paying customers and have those customers create more customers.

What’s the biggest challenge?

I often am asked what’s the biggest surprise that you’ve faced since starting thinkspace. I’m pretty sure every time I’m asked that question I answer the same way. I started out this business with experience in technology, database skills, customer demographic analysis, project management skills, startup experience, Fortune 500 corporate experience, analyzing personal financial statements, real estate development experience, but, the one thing that I spend most of my time on is actually marketing and sales.

The difference between marketing & sales

I used to think that marketing is the thing you do if you want people to buy something from you. Since then I would say my thoughts on marketing have shifted dramatically. Marketing is not getting someone to buy things from you, but, rather the act of making sure that your target audience is aware that you exist. It’s about awareness. However, awareness is meaningless if you don’t have people actually buying from you. A few weeks ago, I had “coffee” & a conversation with two amazing entrepreneurs, Nicole Donnelly (Founder of Salty Waffle) and Joe Heitzeberg (Founder of Media Piston), and we were talking about driving traffic to our companies website. Nicole stated it beautifully, “traffic is vanity, conversion is sanity”. I’ve heard from marketing people in the past that would say things like I can drive tons of traffic to your website, but, who cares if people show up and there’s no way to turn those visitors into paying customers.  Awareness without sales is the same thing.

What if you don’t like sales?

I’d have to say that if you don’t like sales, don’t become an entrepreneur.  Whether you’re constructing a building, creating a technology product or service, you only spend a fraction of the time actually creating it.  Most of your time is actually spent marketing and selling it.  I asked Anthony Stevens (Founder of Crowdify) how important is it to be able to sell if you’re the founder?  Anthony said “It’s essential.  If you can’t sell your idea – to customers, to potential co-founders, to early employees, to investors – you’re dead”.  Shane Mac (Entrepreneur; as well as Marketing brain behind Gist) says “So, yes, the founder better be able to sell “it” no matter what “it” is. I believe sales is a word that has a tainted perception tho… Sales is really about the power of persuasion which isn’t selling at all, rather believing”.  Shauna Causey, (Co-founder of Tech Mavens and Social Business Strategist at Ants Eye View), says “If the founder isn’t good at selling his own idea, there needs to be somebody else… who can sell it.”.  I personally think that if the founder can’t sell it then it better be the co-founder.

startup-weekend-logoStartup Weekend

This coming week, there is going to be Redmond Startup Weekend, December 10-11, 2010.  From people like Anthony, Shane, and Shauna, it sounds like Startup Weekend is excellent. Shane says “It is about entrepreneurship and creating a team that can functionally work together”.  While I recognize that two days is a very short time to come up with a product, create it, and demo it, we (both Joe and I)  think it would be pretty cool if there was a component to this where you could see which team could also sell the most.  B-School can teach you theory and you can learn from case studies, but, why isn’t there more emphasis on the art of actually selling?  Perhaps it’s time to come up with something where there was a focus on that.  The birth of something else like “Hustle Camp”.
As an entrepreneur you launch your startup and you suddenly wake up and now you’re a marketer.  Sadly, you might not be as good at marketing and sales as you were with your original profession.  The good thing is that every great leader and entrepreneur also has an insatiable thirst for learning, so keep on learning.
Photo Cred: Jason Reed