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June 01, 2005

Morph of a Nerd CEO – Yuk, Selling

You gotta do it.  Selling isn’t quite as hard as managing people but it doesn’t come naturally to most of us nerds.  Secretly, we know it shouldn’t be necessary: the world should beat a path to our doors when we build better mouse-catching robots.  In an imperfect world, technology needs BOTH marketing and sales in order to succeed.  And, if you’re going to be a nerd CEO, that imperfect world is the only one you’ve got to host your company.

Don’t confuse marketing and sales.  Marketing, which I’ll blog about later, creates awareness and demand, generates leads, aids the sales efforts, makes customers glad they bought and all sorts of other good things.  Sales is distinguished by always including the close.  Sales may start somewhere near the line with marketing but it ain’t sales if it doesn’t end with a close.  The close is the hard part.  And, in the end, it’s all that counts.

Selling isn’t always to customers.  You may think you don’t have to do any personal selling if your company’s product is a viral-spreading  web-based service; but you’re wrong.  Even in this case you need to sell to investors; you need to sell to prospective employees; you need to sell to the strategic partners without which your business will languish unlinked to in cyberspace.

Somewhere on the line between sales and marketing is prospecting, generating the leads you will actually sell to.  Marketeers have to think of broad groups as a target audience.  Often marketing delivers a subset of that target market – perhaps self-identified – to sales as leads.  Sometimes salespeople comb through available lists like company directories to find leads.  You may look through lists of VCs to find the right ones to pitch.  Sometimes, leads actually call or click and request a service.

When personal selling is involved, there are generally more leads than a salesforce – especially a salesforce of one which is also CEO and CTO – can possibly handle.  So qualifying leads is essential form of triage.  Some of your leads are just tirekickers; some are proxies for your competitors; some are honestly mistaken in thinking they are interested in your product; others can’t afford it (even if it’s free, it costs time); some are doing term papers for business school (a pet peeve of mine); some want to sell you something.

My fourth selling job, after peddling seeds for companies who advertise in the back of comic books, a newspaper route, and failing to sell encyclopedias, was driving a Good Humor truck.  Like all of the no-seniority summer drivers, I had a route way out in the sticks with many more trees than people.  We were paid purely on commission so time was literally money.  Problem was that all kids like to stop ice cream trucks but all kids don’t have money to buy ice cream.  You quickly learn that, if neither of a kid’s hands are clenched, he doesn’t have any coins; and you don’t stop. 

Once you do stop, you have to continue to qualify the prospect.  You extend your palm and the kid will either give you his or her money or at least open his palm to show it to you.  Sometimes there are just buttons or pennies which can’t buy anything in your truck.  Too bad, good-by kid, you’re not a prospect. 

There are forty some choices pictured on the truck and kids don’t like to give up 39 just to select one.  Once you know how much money the prospect has, you can determine whether to sell ice (cheap) or ice cream (various flavors of expensive).  Prospecting tells you what to sell as well as whom to sell to.

More on selling soon.

Previous confessions of a nerd turned CEO are:

How to tell if you’re an entrepreneur;

Starting as a sole practitioner;

The first employees;

The power of silence in negotiation.

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As someone who's interested in startups, I've really been enjoying Tom Evslin's blog, Fractals of Change. His is the rare blog that combines entertainment with deep wisdom and hard lessons learnt. His latest entry about Selling resonates well with me:... [Read More]

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