That feeling in the pit of my stomach
You know the feeling. The, "Oh boy ... I hope this works." Or, "Whoa ... we better get this contract." Or any of a thousand other variations of that same sensation. One word. Doubt. The entrepreneur's worst enemy. Heck, our economy's worst enemy. Doubt. Because, doubt is ultimately what stops us from taking risks, and what keeps our economy stagnant right now.
My company, in cooperation with our printer/partner, recently published our first catalog and started mailing it this week. We worked on it for two months including building a website that complements it in look, feel, colors, etc. There is some fear involved when you are small business and you are investing in a marketing campaign like this for the first time. But, how else do you grow?
1) If you stop marketing, you stop selling.
2) If you stop selling, you stop growing.
3) And, if you stop growing, you start dying - it is that simple.
Knowing all that, there is still doubt. Amazing, isn't it?
I've been fortunate to work for some great people over the years, people I really admire. The ones I admire the most are the ones who - in their own way - have rolled the dice. Some have been corporate types, who rolled the dice by earning promotions and accepting relocation after relocation in order to move up the ladder. In a lot of industries, that's the path people must follow to become C-level executives. Nomadic. But, for some, the benefits are reaped when retirement comes in early to mid-50's with a 7-, 8-, or even 9-figure nest egg in stock and options accumulated over a lifetime spent in airports and hotels. That takes a certain type of commitment, and plenty of opportunities for doubt. Do you move when the kids are in high school? Do you go to work for this particular manager, who has a bad reputation? Do you leave one company to move to a competitor?
That said, true doubt can only be found in entrepreneurs. The kind of doubt corporate lifers experience as described above is troubling, but pales in comparison with the doubt entrepreneurs experience. Entrepreneurs have that much doubt before breakfast. To paraphrase that old recruiting commercial, "Entrepreneurs ... we have more doubt by 6am than you have all day." Doubt about making payroll. Doubt about hiring. Doubt about the economy. Make it or break it sort of doubt.
I think back to a prior job of mine. Whenever a new real estate project was going on the market, I'd wake up shaking on the mornings that the advertising was supposed to start. Maybe a million piece postcard mailing was due to start showing up in people's homes that day. Or, a two week radio and television blitz was starting. Did I pick the right newspapers? Did we buy the right mailing list? Did we put the right phone number on the postcard? I'd be on pins and needles until I got a call from the sales manager saying, "The phone is ringing off the hook here!" The anticipation was incredible. When I think about the risks that the developers were taking when they laid out the money to pay for the land, the permits, the roads, the amenities, the marketing ... well, you've got to have cast-iron guts to be in that business.
Doubt is working against our country right now. Companies have doubts about their customers, their vendors, their banks. Bankers are leery to extend credit even to each other. People are leery to borrow, fearing for their jobs. Corruption and conflict in DC coupled with national mid-term elections that are less than 100 days away further fans the flames of doubt. Wall Street teeters and totters, bullish one month, bearish the next. It is an ugly, visceral thing, this doubt. Yet, there are signs we are shaking off this doubt. The American spirit is not easily quashed. Some of us must still love that doubt. Revel in it. New companies continue to spring up. New business relationships are formed and new technologies are designed and marketed. And, new catalogs are put in the mail ...
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Did I Just Say That Out Loud?
Every now and then, I will say something completely inappropriate out loud — and on purpose — and then follow it up with, "Did I just say that out loud? That was just supposed to be my inside-my-head voice." It gets some laughs. Maybe not. I like to think it does.
Anyhow, as a salesperson with tons of experience selling high-tech products and services, there is one situation in particular that I frequently find myself in:
"You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?"
Ever been in a meeting with someone where you are presenting an idea or a concept that you have a really good grasp of and you realize that the decision-maker you are presenting to has no idea what you are talking about? You understand the math of it, the science of it, the language of it, etc., at a high level, and he or she hasn't a clue. Maybe some of the decision-maker's minions who are in the meeting get it, but the guy or gal who will write the check is not feeling warm and fuzzy at the conceptual level, much less at the "how do we implement this" or "why should I buy this" level.
Well, what do you do about it? Do you punt and say to yourself, "This meeting is going to be a total waste. If he or she doesn't get my brilliant presentation, I'm hosed." Or, do you face up to the challenge at hand and try to make the best of the opportunity? As a small-business owner, I know that I can't miss chances with too many decision-makers. If I've worked hard to get myself that meeting, I must make the best of that situation.
What can you do? Well, for starters, don't say something like, "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?" Or, act in such a way as if to imply that is the case. Adopt the role of trusted advisor or teacher and earn your customer's trust. You've worked so hard to be in this room with this person for this meeting. A little patience can go a long way. Some things to consider:
• Don't assume that they will make even an obvious connection or draw the right conclusions on their own. Explain everything in great detail. Leave nothing to chance. Connect the dots. If you're going to succeed, you will find yourself saying variations of, "And, that's important because ..." a lot during the course of the meeting.
• Use open-ended questions to figure out the customer's personality quickly. Is he a "numbers guy"? Is she going to be sold with a "3rd party anecdotal story" approach? There are ways to communicate just about any concept with anybody. Don't give up.
• Remember that you are not expert at everything either. Begin a relationship built on mutual respect in that first meeting.
If you're like most entrepreneurs — chief, cook and bottle washer — one of your titles is "salesperson." And, if you've been selling for any number of years, you've probably encountered similar situations. Regardless of how you may have handled it in the past, in the future, recognize the situation for the opportunity that it is and take full advantage. For, truth be told — if you learn to recognize and capitalize on the less-than-optimum opportunities, too, your sales pipeline shall be full.
Let's face it. While total ignorance on the part of a potential buyer of your goods/service/concept would never be confused with an outright "buying signal," it is in fact a "how to sell to me signal" that is being shared with you. Don't miss out! Anyone can sell the lay-downs (or lay-ups, if you prefer). Great salespeople can close anyone. In this economy, if your small business is going to thrive, you need to become a great salesperson.
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