Another Startup Snippet

Marketing, Sales, Development. Friends, Foes, and I am my own worst enemy.

Top of mind this week as a few new friends “get going” and try to figure out the “how to.”

Starting a company is hard no matter what you are selling but when you are selling common services, it adds an additional layer of difficulty. Usually someone refers a person to give me a call to talk through what they are trying to sell or help them by making a connection. I am always curious as to what motivated someone to start a company and I initially normally ask more about the person vs the service.

There are a variety of reasons people want to start something but most of the people that I speak with want to “give back” and they can take some risk. Retired military, senior leaders from companies or consultants who’ve been there and done that.

I have also seen how one person in the right position in an organization can make many small companies remarkably successful. (I’ll get to this later)

For today, I’d like to talk about the challenges associated with getting in front of someone and pitching services. As a corporate leader, I have wasted so many people’s times allowing them to pitch me services that I wouldn’t buy with any immediacy. Why? Because when I told them I’d be wasting their time, they still wanted to pitch me for whatever reasons they had. If I could connect them with someone else or help them in some way, I always made an effort but if we look at a pitch to buy ratio of someone selling me something directly from a cold call, it was less than 1%.

When I started my business, I started researching all the ways that people successfully sold work. I looked back at my experience with salespeople I knew, and I read a lot about it. If anyone is interested in all the materials I covered, let me know and I’ll share.

I learned that if I wasn’t selling a “thing” or something that could effectively sell itself that it would be a lot harder to sell my services. To date, I have never written a pitch deck or sales material that stood on its own to sell my services.

I did come to the realization that if I couldn’t sell services to myself, it would be difficult to sell someone else. I recently shared this with a friend who is leading a startup and I’ll share this with you.

I was writing a lot of decks and trying to emulate others that I thought were really good. I am saying they had good visuals and were pretty cool to read. Very few if any ever got me to buy anything. In fact, at the time of this writing, I can’t think of one.

That said, I wanted to do something like this and so I looked for a bunch of different formats and tried to copy them and make them my own. It was pretty bad, I spent a lot of time on it and when I used them, it didn’t help my case out.

I started to create materials as if I were selling myself. I would write it out, wait a while, send it to myself and open it with fresh eyes. I was distracted by so many other things at work that when I opened my own slides, they did feel like someone else wrote them. I read them with a critical eye and made recommendations to the guy who wrote them for updates. I re-worked them until I felt comfortable to send them to a friend. I asked them for feedback as they stood on their own and incorporated the feedback if it made sense into them.

As I mentioned, nothing ever sold work on its own but when someone asks for slides or a slick sheet or something about your company, they can have them as part of your conversation with them. This process also helped me refine my voice track.

What I found and this is part of the theme in all my writing is that everything is dependent on relationships. My company was started through a relationship with a person who had authority to buy services in a large company. It was a relationship that got me the work. Once that happened, they asked for supporting materials, which we could provide. I do think our materials just ended up in a mailbox somewhere but later on when we started selling to people through relationships, they came in handy.

The second piece of work that came our way was from the first relationship we built and delivered and the third piece of work that came our way came from one of our employees who had a relationship with another company previously.

Just for the sake of closing the loop, our first sold and funded efforts came from a person who we knew, and they had the ability to execute. They didn’t refer us to someone in their company or send us to someone else to see if there was work. They bought it. If that person didn’t exist, our company wouldn’t have taken off the way it did. Once we could prove out the work there, we had qualifiers for other companies and this helped us get into the other places. The slides were needed and the marketing materials were required but there was never a hard sell because people had a need, the timing was there and someone trusted us to get in and do what was required.

The lesson here for me was through all the years I thought about starting a company, the truth about how to get work was always right in front of me. It was through a trusted relationship and then through a trust token passed along through another person. The other lesson here is that if we have to chase someone for a promise they made to us concerning work, it is highly unlikely that we will actually get that work. Move on..

Hope this helps.. Happy Sunday..

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