I'm a designer / developer. My product is ready for beta, so my focus has to shift towards sales and marketing. My problem is that I just cannot sell. I have an irrational fear of annoying people by trying convince them to use my product.
It's hard to explain. I'm not afraid of rejection, but I'm terrified of being perceived as a scummy, pesky cold-calling sales guy.
Some customers find me through Google, but in order for my business to really take off, I need to be able to call and pitch to potential customers.
Before I set out to build my app, I mustered up a the confidence to call a few schools to gauge their interest (my target customers are high school administrators). The first call I made, I was courteous and to-the-point, but I could tell the person on the other end wanted nothing to do with this random software guy's sales pitch. The conversation wasn't a total wash -- she was polite and gave me some feedback, but when I hung up the phone I still felt like a jackass.
Has anyone had a similar road block? Short of bringing in someone else to help, what can I do to improve?
Get over it. Sorry to be so blunt -- but until you have the money to outsource sales -- it is up to you.
Do you bleieve in your product?
Do you believe that it is valuable?
Do you believe that the product will benefit the customer?
Do you believe?
Then spread the good news. There are many very good sales methods which are not coehersive. They focus on the educational sale, or the training sale. Take a training and build your skills.
But in the end it will be your own mental framework -- do you believe that you have something that your customer needs and would want if they truly knew about it? If yes -- then who care what they think of you -- frankly you are a pesky cold-calling sales guy -- so what?
Your company depends on you to be "that guy"
1) "First, provide value!" That is the mantra of Jeffrey Gitomer, a top U.S. sales trainer and the author of a slew of bestsellers about sales. The one generally considered the best is "Sales Bible, the ultimate sales resource" Be sure you are looking at the revised 2008 edition when you read the reviews of it on amazon.com.
2) FORGET cold calling. It is a demoralizing waste of time. Think about how to provide people value. Think about asking questions (survey, poll). Think of using videos on your website.
3) Jeffery Gitomer says the business owner has to be the key salesman. Nonsense! Bruce Henderson, the founder of Boston Consulting Group, BCG, today with 4,800 consultants in 41 countries, is just one of a zillion examples. He was so bad at direct, belly to belly sales, that senior partners would go white with fear when he wanted to accompany them on a sales call.
But he had some brilliant marketing ideas, executed by others.
4) The above means you focus what you are good at. If you find that learning sales skills is giving you migraine headaches, you deal the sales out.
4.1 - You find a company with an existing customer base and suggest a strategic alliance. It adds your services to its product offering.
4.2 - You find commission salesmen. Get creative here. Think outside the box for where you could find people who would enjoy helping your business grow. How about someone who is retired and bored?
4.3 - You focus on online lead generation.
4.4 - You form an advisory board of directors for your small company. You are looking for senior, experienced mentors who have connections to your marketplace. They help you arrange presentations ("first, provide value") to get you in front of prospective future buyers.
I could go on, but Jeffery Gitomer does it better. Also, Google his free weekly ezine, Sales Caffeine.
@JosephBarisonzi post is key. I'm just extending here because my comment didn't fit in the comments section.
From my own experience of being the techie who hates doing sales ... Like you Finch I don't warm to the task naturally but it is making sure you know your product, pricing, reasons for existing really well ... but while its just you, your it.
Once I worked this out, I spent a lot of time writing up the materials I was going to use. Eventually they have distilled down into:
Taking the time to talk to people about their needs To avoid being the pushy salesperson I have often just solved easy problems for people without the expectation of making a sale, just to be helpful ... this often leads to a lot more work, referals and makes me feel better because while its a sales call, I wasn't just consuming their time for my agenda.
I have a similar problem as you. I try to not think about the process as selling, but rather just talk to everyone who will listen about our product. You can hone your presentation skills and polish the words and phrases you use to talk about your product, but if what you are doing is talking about what you've built, then it doesn't feel like selling.
This approach has worked (mostly) for me.
I personally don't agree with much that has been written in this area so far... While it may work for some, it really doesn't answer the core problem. Look at it from a matter of perspective..
What do I mean by this? It's kind of difficult for me to explain, but I'll try.
Lets say someone is calling you to sell their super-duper uber-special bottles of water to you. Are you going to care? Of course not. (Well maybe you are in the market to buy bottles of water but generally people aren't actively looking to buy what you're selling).
What about if this new water had some special properties to somehow give you extra time in the day? You may be interested, I know I would be. There's never enough time in a day. But for some who have enough time in their day but their day is just too long, they're looking for the special water that makes their day go faster.... Your water that gives you extra time won't help them.
How does this all fit together?
For me, having extra time would be worth it to me to buy your product, but it isn't for the person who wants their time to go faster. It's all a matter of perspective from the customer and what is important to them... and whether it is worth MORE than the price you're charging.
Take all that and now put it aside...
Now, as a sales person, these days there is a trend to move towards working on a solution for the purchaser. (It used to be the old features and benefits, but times have changed).
The solution to your problem is to sell your product. To solve that for you, you need to find people that your product solves their problem(s). As soon as you realize that you both are a bad fit, you should politely move on to the next prospect.
While there are ways to manipulate your perspective client into feeling that they need your product, but that will take you a bunch of training.
Combine the two together. You're looking for customers who can benefit from your product, sometimes you need to educate them that they need it and show them the value of your product is greater than the cost you are asking.
What you can do to improve? Try going to Amazon and picking up some "Sales training" books or audio books. While an expensive option, I personally found going to some sales training seminars was the best option. The problem is it can take years to get good at sales if it doesn't come naturally to you. The good news: Almost every semi-intelligent person can learn to sell.
I have been in a similar situation.
One of my first jobs required me to actually pick up the phone and cold call people in different countries to sell my products. The first time I did it I felt just like you said.
But then something happened. I learned more about the product, and about the competition, and I actually started believing that we had something good. However that wasn't enough to get me excited about cold calling and reaching out to potential clients who were hundreds and thousands of miles away. Then I also realized that there is nothing wrong with trying to sell your product. Selling is as honorable as any other profession and there is no shame in it. But at the same time I also felt bad about interrupting people, however I also thought that they could always say no. And that train of thought worked more or less. The more I did it, the more comfortable I felt. Now I could cold call anyone in the world with total confidence.
However, selling your product doesn't necessarily involve cold calling. As a matter of fact, in most cases cold calling doesn't work. It is based on interruption, like the old marketing techniques.
Since you don't provide many details about your actual product, I can't actually recommend a specific action plan, but I think you need to get yourself in settings (trade fairs, chambers of commerce) where people are actually looking for suppliers and partners to IMPROVE their businesses and organizations. Don't see yourself as a seller, see yourself as a PARTNER. Naturally, this also involves pitching and talking to people, but face to face interaction is easier than over the phone.
You have actually accomplished a lot. You have developed a product that seems to be pretty good (you said that people actually find you, not the other way around), and only for that you have my utmost respect. Now you need to push a little bit more, and spread the word about your product: use trade associations, trade fairs, blogs, and be proud of what you have.
Some of my friends are trying to sell some app that they have developed for high schools but they are not pitching the product directly to high schools. They are actually meeting with state education officials and trying to persuade them to buy the product at state level. Maybe you could also consider that route.
Finally, one last piece of advice. Show confidence. Never hesitate or doubt in front of a potential client. But don't overdo it either. Selling is like trying to find a wife, or husband, it pays to look interested, but not desperate.
I agree with Joseph's answer. As the founder and creator, you must exude excitement about your product 24/7. You created it, you strongly believe that it will solve your potential customers' problems or it will make their lives somehow better. You cannot wait to share that with the rest of them.
On a basic level, not only should your enthusiasm be contagious and genuine, but you should also make sure to appeal to folks' emotions. Many will argue that logic is just not good enough most of the times.
If you yourself feel that your product isn't that good of a value to your customers (not saying it's your case, but that does happen a lot), then there's probably not much you can do to overcome your issue. Professional salesmen can do this, but as a founder you should first and foremost create something that people want, as that will make your life much simpler.
Maybe you don't need to sell, maybe you can just help people to buy.
The big buzz in marketing for the past few years has been "inbound" marketing, non-interuptive marketing.
So you identify who is going to want your stuff, what problem your stuff solves for them. Then you create good content on the web around that area:
Blog on it.
Answer questions in forums.
Have a really content rich website.
Give away stuff for free: cheat Sheets, white papers, even a mini app.
In everything you do, gather email addresses of interested parties and email them at least once a month, with news, somthing useful and links back to your web site for them to try/but your product.
There is more you can do than this, but you get the general idea. You may need "sales" if your product is enterprise level software selling for tens of $thousands, but if its not, you might want to think about whether traditional sales is somewhere you ever need to go as a business.
Buying behaviours have changed, people research, shop and buy on the internet now, as much in business as in theri personal lives. Be where your customers are and you may never need to make a cold call again.
Take a look at people like:
Conversion Rate Experts
These should all give you ideas
Two practical ideas:
Right... so prove to yourself that your not by practicing on friends and requesting and agreeing to accept their very blunt feedback. Passing muster with them makes it no problem with others. You're just telling people what you do in a modest but clear way - when it's exaggerated that's the problem area... "we do the best website and there's just no reason to choose anyone else" is horrible... use others testimonials as your claims ... "We do a very nice website, which we know from our customer feedback... folks thing are work is both strong and pleasant which is exactly the fine line we're trying to walk."but I'm terrified of being perceived as a scummy, pesky cold-calling sales guy.
Hire or work with someone who is a great sales person. When you see that person is doing something that you fear with ease. You still gain confidence and think "if he/she can do it, I can do it too".
I've hired several people doing the sales work for me which not only helped my business, also helped me to grow tremendously.
Take a part time job in a call center. Make at least 100 calls, preferably 1000. Think of the opportunity you are providing someone that they may not have otherwise been aware of, not of you trying to sell something.
Just two random pieces of advice in order to avoid feeling like a pesky second-hand car salesman. A previous boss of mine (JP) swore by these two phrases:
Think of yourself as a problem solver, not a salesman. It helps put you in the right frame of mind, and it levels the relation between the prospect and yourself (you won't feel as if you're begging for something).
One other thing: if you're calling someone, try to sell a meeting, not your product. Don't try to conduct business over the phone, it'll never work and is extremely disheartening. Just focus on getting the appointment.