Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part article. Bill Warner is managing partner of Paladin and Associates.“Let’s get some good sales people. We need those hungry ones that know a lot of customers. That’s all we have to do. Right?”

These are famous beginning and last words. You are selling your product to almost everyone you meet as your business matures. And everybody in the company sells in one form or another; it’s not just the sales team’s role. You certainly have to identify and sell to potential customers. But there are many other interested parties that you have to sell to as your company evolves. The sales process begins on day one and lasts for the life of your company.

Selling in market research phase

Even before you have a product, you have to sell your ideas to contacts you make while doing your market research.

This phase is not just filled with reading and finding numbers that support your business strategy. You will have to sell your idea to industry analysts, market consultants, companies providing similar products and potential customers in your chosen markets. Seeking out the opinions of analysts and consultants makes a lot of sense. They know your markets in detail. You present your product or service idea, supported by your business rationale, looking for further insight that they can provide. In a way, you are selling by trying out what you think the value proposition is and how you will take it to market. Understanding that you may not have it quite right, they will provide you feedback that helps you to further refine your business plan.

Contacting companies that are within your market segment is also smart. If they are a potential competitor, you may have to get information from a third party, but you are essentially trying to figure out how your product fits into the market. You are prepared to sell your ideas, but also have questions like:

  • Are you complementary?
  • Will you need their help?
  • Do you add value to their products?
  • Are they a competitor?
  • How will we fit?
  • Why are they succeeding or failing?

Of course, the best piece of research is to approach a potential customer and get their feedback. You sell your product or service, but really want to know:

  • Do they really have the need you think they have?
  • Will your product solve their problem?
  • Do they see the value of your product or service?
  • How do they become aware of and buy products?
  • Are they in a position to buy?

Getting funded

Once you have a well-formed business plan, your next sales call will be on a venture firm or potential strategic partner from whom you need money to get your business started. This is a critical sales call which has to be successful. In this case you are selling a lot more than your product or service. You are selling the value of your company, and trying to create a long lasting partnership that will give the funds to launch your company and your vision. The business plan story has to:

  • Be complete,
  • Represent a compelling business idea,
  • Be attractive in a large market of needy buyers,
  • Reflect a rich financial model,
  • Have a truly competitive and differentiated product,
  • Be managed by a superior management team and
  • Provide strong financial performance

This sales call is made by the top executives of the company, who have to be very well prepared to explain all aspects of the business and create excitement with the potential partner.

Wednesday: Selling to channel partners, the media, and more.

Bill Warner is managing partner of Paladin and Associates. You can reach him via e-mail (thepaladin@paladinandassociates.com) or phone (919 570-1023).