Mark Goodson, Business Advisor at Cambridge Social Ventures, part of the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation, believes that many entrepreneurs – social enterprises included – lack a basic strategy for sealing the deal.
Prior to working in the social innovation space, Mark spent nearly 30 years in technology sales, and he shared his insights at a recent Social Venture Weekend at Cambridge Judge Business School.
1. Get over your preconceptions
Many entrepreneurs are happy talking about the development of their product and how they hope to raise money, but are less eager to talk about selling to customers. This may reflect previous bad experiences with pushy salespeople, or common stereotypes surrounding the sales profession. Yet everyone makes their living by selling something – be it their expertise or knowledge. Even in the case of a software startup whose product is sold through an app store, the entrepreneur needs to sell investors on their company and to sell talented recruits on why they should climb onboard.
2. Find people who have power to further your cause
Using online tools such as LinkedIn, it’s never been easier to learn about people and their organisations before you meet them – but the key is finding the right people. Particularly when dealing with large firms, it’s easy to waste your time talking to someone who lacks authority to advance your project. It’s comforting to find someone who loves your idea, but you need to know they can really help or you’re simply spinning your wheels. This may be particularly true in many social enterprises given their limited resources and staffing.
3. Customers want benefits, not “features”
Entrepreneurs are understandably proud of the cool “features” they have developed for their products through lots of hard work. But customers are interested not in features, but rather on the advantages your product provides them. If you’re not sure what benefits your customer will get, cast a sceptical eye on your wonderful features and keep asking the question “so what?” A good answer to that question is what’s really cool.
4. Ask questions
How can you find out what benefits your prospect will get from using your product or service? Ask them. Only when you truly understand the problems they have to solve can you explain how you can help them. Guessing a customer’s needs is like picking a lottery number: you may be right once in a while, but the odds are stacked against you.
5. Propose a way ahead and ask for a commitment
Entrepreneurs often report back after meeting a potential customer that the session was positive and that “hopefully” the prospect will get back to them. That’s hardly a giant stride forward. Instead, after asking all your great questions, outline to them exactly how you can provide their desired benefits. Having done that, ask for a commitment to move ahead in some way – what we in sales call an “advancement”. In some cases, this may be an order, but the key thing is to move decisively to some sort of next stage rather than leaving things in limbo.