I hate selling. I’ve always hated selling. I’m terrible at selling. For me, selling is like begging. Unfortunately (to me), a lot of things we do in life are really selling. It’s particularly true in the professional/business world. As anybody who has ever had a job knows, job interview is really about selling yourself (and, vice versa). Business in general is about selling. A company cannot exist without selling. Good CEOs are generally good salesmen. I think many of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies have background in sales or marketing.
Now, can people like me, who does not know how to sell and who hates selling, still start a company?
I believe that sales is something you can learn, something you can learn to like.
There was one story I would like to share. Several years ago, I ran into a founder of an “online survey” startup. There were, and still are, tons of startups in this field (Web-based market research, broadly speaking), and I believe that this space is still widely open. In any case, this founder had just launched a Web site, and he was in a selling mode. At the time I had one idea and wanted to get some feedback as well. But, although I was “in the market”, I wasn’t really convinced by his pitch. I expressed some concerns about his product. After the first meeting, we exchanged a few emails, and he offered me a premium service at no cost to me (as a “case study” for his company). But, he didn’t address any of the concerns I expressed. Even though I was on the fence, I ultimately said no.
This is an interesting lesson for me. He could not even sell his product for free.
I think there are three kinds of people/buyers when it comes to selling your products. (Again, as I mentioned in the beginning, I know nothing about sales, and I’m just making this up. I’m a “theorist”.) There are people who would never buy your products no matter what. They are just not your market. Then there is another category of people who would buy your products no matter what (as long as you can make them aware of the existence of your products). These are easy cases. The third category of people (with respect to your products) are more difficult. They might or might not buy your products. I think selling is an art to convert these “on-the-fence” people into buyers. In the above episode, I was one of those people, and this founder failed to convert me into a buyer.
In this particular example, he gave me a reason to say “no”. This is a rather general pattern, I believe. You go to a grocery store, or electronics store, or clothing store, etc., and you find tons of products. You sometimes buy products which you feel are “must haves”. But, in many cases, you buy products (e.g., among similar products) which have the least “downsides”. This is somewhat similar to “reasoning by elimination”. If your product is competing against many similar products in the market, you should give consumers the least number of reasons for elimination.
(BTW, “free” is never free. There is a concept called “opportunity cost”. In cases like when your product’s value proposition is not entirely obvious at first look, you may have to “pay” the customers to try your product.)
Anyways, time for bed now. :)
Note: I just saw an interesting article by James Altucher, The 10 Keys To Selling Anything, published today while I was sleeping. Check it out. It’s as if his post was inspired by this article of mine. ;)