Sales process

For most of us entrepreneurs, selling is rewarding but hard. We grimace just thinking about it. Thinking about trying to convince someone to pay us money for our service or product. We fear this awkward moment when we'll have to announce the price. We dread the negotiation and having follow-up to close the deal.

When I cofounded my first company, the struggle to sell was real. Bootstrappers, we provided IT services to fund the development of our product.

In the morning, I would cold call companies from a list, and try to reach the decision makers to convince them to meet. The afternoons were dedicated to physical meetings with the few who, probably on a misunderstanding, accepted.

During a meeting, if I felt a possibility for us (the wording is important here) to work with a company, I would then write and send a complete business offer.

Then I'd wait and hope for the best.

As you can imagine, the closing rate back in the day was really low. Today I definitely understand why! Call that the experience..

The whole "process" was pretty painful for me and probably for the companies I was trying to sell to.

So what has changed now?

I now approach selling from a completely different angle.

I don't hustle without thinking, like I used to.

Instead, I focus on creating relationships, helping people as much as a I can, often for free. I take my time to "work my leads". I'm patient.

I'm patient.

When we are in a rush to sell, we make mistakes relationship-wise. We work to convince the prospect to buy what you have to sell, instead of trying to understand what they really need.

In some cases this work: occasionally we get lucky and build a sale on a weak, unstable relationship.

But this is infrequent and where a strong relationship can be the source of regular new contracts, unstable relationships often lead to one-time contracts.

So, I'm patient and I accept that building a relationship takes time: you have to provide value first and you often have to do it several times.

On the sales process, you can see that I've indicated email to be the deliverable for this step of the process.

Here is why.

I have noticed that writing a short email to summarize a phone call or a meeting during which I give advice makes it appear more valuable. People tend to consider oral advice as cheap but a written piece is valuable. Even when the content is exactly the same.

Only when I know for sure that I've provided enough value can I, if the time is right, switch to a business mode and enter the second phase of my sales process: business discovery.

I focus on understanding the problem of the prospect. What do they need to fix or improve? How can we help?

If I'm sure I understood the problem and the solution my company can provide, I send the prospect an informal offer. This is just a friendly email, matching the tone of our previous conversations. This email includes a description of the problem, the scope of the solution we could offer and a pricing (or an estimate).

The way out of this step of the process is to get an agreement of the client regarding the informal offer. At this stage, a simple verbal commitment on the phone or by email is enough.

I then send the formal offer. Not much to say about it.
If the offer is complex, I actually write a complete business offer. If it's not, I go for a simple purchase order.

Since this offer has been pre-approved thanks to our informal offer step, it shouldn't take too long to get it signed. Of course, accidents can still happen and the offer can be blocked by someone from another department. But signing the definitive offer in this process usually is a formality.

Don't forget to follow-up if you don't get it signed quickly. A good follow-up call or email has a unique purpose: understanding where and why the contract is stuck. So focus on that.

Repeat this last step as many times as needed and obviously don't hesitate to adjust the offer if necessary.

That's about it. Changing my point of view about selling, turning it into a process focusing on providing value first, made it more enjoyable for me.

The consequence is a higher closing rate and less stress: when in doubt, I simply refer to this process.