Let’s consider the example of an entrepreneurial inventor attempting to market his newest creation: a portable hydrostatic body fat test appliance. Design is complete, testing is finished and results exceeded initial assumptions, several working prototypes have been built, UL Approval is in hand, patents filed and a business plan has been customized. The wellness aspects of the unit make it timely and potentially very lucrative if handled properly.

Most entrepreneurs would consider the status of the above-described project to be advanced and well positioned. Only one problem, a very big problem: the inventor is a brilliant engineer and conceptualist, but is phobic about standing up and presenting himself, his product and his profit opportunity. As a result, he will struggle to find investment capital, a license deal or a strategic alliance. To successfully commercialize this new wellness appliance, and any other new product opportunity, the inventor must be able to sell all aspects of the features, benefits and income generation to be derived from the novel device.

The example cited here is true. It is one of the saddest spectacles we see in the consulting world when poor basic sales skills stand between a great opportunity and success. The creator has identified a need. He has addressed the need. In the run up to presenting the product he has taken every correct step in the development process. Now, finally at the cusp of success, the inability to sell the idea is a major roadblock.

This is silly. The most important task confronting any new business or product opportunity is the ability to sell the project. The only affirmation to a products value occurs when the item is sold, and for how much. The inability to sell confirms in the eyes of buyers and investors that there is a lack of need, commitment, confidence, and passion for the product.

Selling is simply asking a person for a preferred outcome and obtaining their agreement to buy. The seller conveys a product (or service, technology, patent, trade secret, etc.) and receives consideration (money, goods, property, etc.) from the buyer. Each side in a sales transaction should receive a fair perceived value.

For many people the fear of finding themselves in a sales presentation or meeting format is truly enervating. They love their project and know it cold. However, they cannot overcome a dread of failure, rejection. They take failure personally. I have seen capable people break out in sweat, nervousness, become confused and flighty before a sales presentation that could dramatically change and improve their life. This real effect of the dread of selling themselves, and their opportunity, can be overcome and must be if entrepreneurial success is to be achieved.

Short the option of hiring professional sales talent, or sales consultants, an entrepreneur will always need to be the sales face of his product and business. He has so much to gain and so little to lose. Gaining a customer from a confident, successful sales presentation is crucial to a new enterprise. Losing a sale because of a stumbling performance can be crushing (and a lost sale is gone for good).

Here are a few points that an inexperienced entrepreneur, with limited sales skills can utilize to improve in this essential area.

Prepare, Prepare, Then Prepare Some More!

Before any sales presentation you must do everything possible to learn about the prospect, their industry, needs, competition, current pricing models, promotions and industry trends. The more knowledge you have, the more confident you will be that you have answers for probable questions and objections. This preparation can go a long way to assuaging fear of the selling process. Confidence results in a conveyance of strength, and strength is always admirable in selling.

Seek Out a Mentor!

Somewhere in your life’s experience, you have made contact with a person with experience in business at some level. Family, friend, a neighbor, a cousins brother-in-law, they are out there and closer than you think. Ask for help. I mentor at a university and consider it one of the most fulfilling parts of my busy schedule. I get back a lot more than I give, and I give a lot. Mentoring is rewarding. Contact small business incubators, SCORE and local university business schools for information on available mentor programs.

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Have you ever played a sport? The first time you swing at a golf ball I will bet that you did not hit a 300-yard linear rocket. You practiced. The more you practice the better you become at hitting a golf ball. Don’t read theoretical books on developing the golf swing, or watch training tapes. You learn, really learn, by doing something repetitively and critiquing performance results.

It is no different in achieving sales success. The more you put yourself and your product in the sales arena the more comfortable you will become. With comfort, comes confidence. Confidence is contagious and with more faith in your abilities sales will begin to happen and then cascade.

Give Value First-and Then Close!

Actually asking for the purchase-order, or an investment (the closing), is the greatest persistent hurdle many struggling sales people can not overcome. They either can’t ask for a preferred, needed outcome, or cannot properly time the attempt. Timing in sales is crucial. The buyer has many options for consideration. Why is your offering of better value, performance, durability and novelty? Confirming the value of your product for the buyer is the foundation of the sale.

Too many sales people attempt to close too quickly because they mistakenly believe that they have fully detailed the benefits of their product. Only the buyer can confirm that the product benefits have been fully explained. The best way to confirm that no stone has been left unturned is to ask questions, and then listen carefully to the answers.

With the value proposition of the product on offer fully described, and an understanding of how the item will be of value to the buyer, you are now in position to ask closing questions.

Learn to Use Assumptive Closing Questions and Statements!

Never ask a question you do not know the answer too! There should be only one answer, not open to variables. For instance, never ask a decision-maker (you are selling a weight loss product), “Why should any kid be fat today”? What is wrong here? Possibly the buyer has an overweight child. Possibly the child has a medical condition. You do not know with absolute certainty that you have not touched a raw nerve. Theoretically kids probably should not be fat but they are, and for many reasons.

Instead, ask assumptive closing questions sprinkled throughout the meeting.
“You can certainly recognize the labor saving feature we have engineered into in the new Type 54 Platform Loader, can’t you Tom”?

“You can see that the option to utilize the multi-purpose blending/grinder blade on the new rotor is a real labor saver and advance on the old Expedient model”.

“The new unit will save 4.2% in energy and maintenance expense over our past models, and anything else currently on the market. Won’t that look nice on your departments bottom line”?

You want to plant seeds that the choice has already been made based on the value proposition you have detailed for the decider. If you receive doubts, objections or negative comments, you have not constructed the value confirmation properly.

Tell to Sell!

For many inexperienced sales people, the following will be difficult, but it is the best sales training point I ever received: “people do not like to make decisions, so you make decisions for them”. Telling is selling, while asking is buying. The opportunity to control the presentation, ask qualifying questions, set up a successful close and then receive the positive commitment you seek (and need, and deserve) is greatly enhanced if you can subtly direct the buyer to sign the order. “Mike, we need to get this contract done today, so we can have inventory in time for the catalog mailing”!

Limit Risk for the Buyer!

Buying requires action. Let’s face it, it is far easier to be inactive, stick with what you have and know, than to bring in a new product. The new item requires a lot of logistic work: creating a new vendor file, issuing a new purchase order, assigning a new warehouse area, a new in-store shelf alignment, discontinuing the product you will replace, etc. In addition, there is a history with the old item, and there is no certainty your new product will perform better, or even as well. This represents risk.

It is crucial that you leave the prospective buyer feeling that there is minimal risk involved in purchasing from you, and there is a significant potential upside. Your features, benefits and novel improvements need to be detailed in an open, transparent and comprehensive presentation that leaves no doubt that you offer a real advance over competition. No flim-flam, just the facts ma’am.

Friendship Makes Sales!

When I make a cold call I have two goals: make a friend, and make a sale. We all have experienced meeting a stranger in a social situation, bumping into them later, chatting and commencing the process of building a relationship that results in creating a friend. When you make a call, whether the first or tenth meeting, your goal should be a sincere offer of yourself as a friend to the buyer. A buyer, as a friend that evolves from a commercial stranger, knowing that you are playing in a local tennis tournament next weekend, is always more likely to purchase from you than if they know nothing about you other than what they see in a meeting. Friends ask questions that reflect their real interest in another’s needs, desires and motivations. Friends are good listeners. Make each contact an opportunity to prove that you are interested in the buyer’s wellbeing, as well as their business.

Testimonials Are the Most Important Tool for New Entrepreneurs!

A testimonial is a quote for attribution that supports the feature and benefit claims related to a business or product. The acquisition of a file of testimonials is invaluable in cementing that current users of a product are strong voices for the utility of the item. I never take a prototype or product to a presentation until I have a handful of quotes from focus groups, customers that have seen the product demonstrated or product buyers. This is more valuable than any advertising.

I have every buyer physically touch and handle the testimonial file and encourage them to contact the people that have offered the positive comments. In 35 years of selling, I have only had one buyer actually reach out and make the contact (the call resulted in a glowing review). The mere fact that they have in their hands an inventory of happy product users is a powerful closing tool.

My Price is Fair and Firm!

Price is the Achilles Heel for 95% of all sales people, and 100% of the unsuccessful sales people. Do not sell price. Somebody will always sell cheaper.

20 years ago the Japanese were the low cost producers of our imports. The Korean’s then replaced the Japanese as the low cost producer in the Orient. Today the Malaysians, Indonesians and Central America all provide lower prices than Korea. The next wave of nano-priced labor will be from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Somebody will always be ready, willing and able to produce for less.

Sell the quality and benefits of your product. “My price is firm and fair, this product lasts twice as long as my competitors, and this makes the price differential negligible”. Be proud to detail the reasons your product is priced as it is.

Negative Selling is Not Negative!

Every product has a negative in one area or another. These negatives are the sales points that competitors hang their hat on when seeking advantage. Negative selling is not an attack on the competition. Negative selling is when you are up-front about a perceived deficiency in your product and turn that feature into a positive.

Mercedes Benz automobiles are expensive (relative to Lexus, a direct competitor), costly to maintain, and fuel. Mercedes knows this. They have perfected a negative selling technique to turn these perceived flaws into strengths. Mercedes position is that safety and superior performance requires advanced engineering, strength in materials and thus, added weight (resulting in heavy fuel consumption) but this is overcome by a real safety advantage. “Would you want to put your family at risk in anything less than the best engineered car on the road”?

In one of my early ventures I had a direct competitor. His product was 100% natural. My product was synthetic. There is a real belief in many people that natural is always better. It is not. There are reasons that we live longer, better, healthier, more active lives than prior generations and yet consume copious amounts of products artificially enhanced with chemicals, preservatives and supplements. Nevertheless, his tout that his all-natural product was superior to mine had resonance with retailers and consumers.

Here is how I developed a negative sales strategy to overcome the synthetic vs. all-natural argument. “ Brand X is an excellent product. It is 100% natural. I looked at making a totally natural product for my Company. I decided, after a great deal of research and clinical testing, to make my product using a blend of herbs, vitamins and preservatives. The preservatives are absolutely essential in stabilizing the product, extending the shelf life of the product and safe usage by your customers. I would never compromise safety in order to obtain an edge.”

In this case, the negative selling proposition that I proposed also had the wonderful advantage of being true. My competitor was eventually withdrawn from the market because consumers experienced bacterial infection around the eyes. The FDA ordered the product removal. The preservatives I used (thus making my product synthetic) protected against microorganisms that caused infections.

I love to sell. All successful entrepreneurs either are, or must become, strong advocates for their opportunity. This advocacy is most fully confirmed by sales success. Nothing happens in any enterprise until somebody sells something. Every other facet of business depends on the crucial trigger mechanism of a buyer deciding to purchase a good or service from a seller.

Selling is fundamental to all commercial life. It is an elemental form of competition. The drive to try, to achieve, to overcome odds is inherent in all entrepreneurs. Sales success is the utmost confirmation of this desire to test oneself in the marketplace.

Author's Bio: 

Geoff Ficke has been a serial entrepreneur for almost 50 years. As a small boy, earning his spending money doing odd jobs in the neighborhood, he learned the value of selling himself, offering service and value for money.

After putting himself through the University of Kentucky (B.A. Broadcast Journalism, 1969) and serving in the United States Marine Corp, Mr. Ficke commenced a career in the cosmetic industry. After rising to National Sales Manager for Vidal Sassoon Hair Care at age 28, he then launched a number of ventures, including Rubigo Cosmetics, Parfums Pierre Wulff Paris, Le Bain Couture and Fashion Fragrance.

Geoff Ficke and his consulting firm, Duquesa Marketing, Inc. (www.duquesamarketing.com) has assisted businesses large and small, domestic and international, entrepreneurs, inventors and students in new product development, capital formation, licensing, marketing, sales and business plans and successful implementation of his customized strategies. He is a Senior Fellow at the Page Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Business School, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.