As an entrepreneur, you know your product better than Stephen Hawking knows theoretical physics. And therein lies your fatal flaw. Here are three mistakes prodigiously informed entrepreneurs make in the sales process.
You go too deep
You can wax eloquent for hours about the tiniest nuance of your product, telling prospects with the utmost confidence why your algorithm is 41% faster or how a 37% decrease in time-to-market is a game-changer. But in a sales meeting, diving just two inches below the surface of basic product information is almost always too much.
A successful Chicago-based private equity investor characterizes the problem this way: “The person selling invariably understands the product or technology at levels of detail that should never be introduced into a sales presentation. They don’t adapt to the level of understanding of their counterpart.” Too often, this investor has seen his CEOs lose conversational momentum after diving into the weeds. Or worse: they lose the deal altogether.
A few simple questions at the beginning of each meeting can save you from the too-much-information trap. Ask prospects, “How familiar are you with this type of technology?” or “Would a very high-level description of the product be useful or redundant here?” Follow those questions with such statements as, “Please stop me if I’m being overly simplistic or going too far down into this” or “Please help me understand how deep to go into the product set.” By asking for guidance, you can calibrate your selling efforts to suit the audience.
You put “tell” before “ask”
Your instinct as entrepreneur is to educate first, ask questions later. But prospects don’t want to listen to a litany of technical details. They would rather tell you their own stories.
When you walk into your next sales meeting, don’t come armed with 11 slides on the product and its specifications. Instead, have ready five or six great questions that will help you understand a customer’s pain and how she has thought about addressing it. It’s okay if she wanders a bit off-track. As she talks through the issues you will learn what she considers important. It’s even possible that in the process she will sell herself on your product’s value.
A high-performing salesperson is a fantastic listener. He understands that before a prospect “sees” through his eyes he must first “see” through the prospect’s eyes.
You don’t have a process
Entrepreneurs often treat sales meetings like a TED talk. “I’ll lay out my message in 18 minutes and by the end you will be in love!” Such energy and enthusiasm are admirable but not necessarily contagious. They need to be better directed.
High-performing salespeople have a process. If you ask one about his three goals for a client meeting taking place in an hour, he can tell you. Not only that, but when the meeting starts he will make those goals crystal clear to the customer. He will (religiously) close the meeting with a call to action, such as “The next step is to open an account and get started. May I walk you through this for a few minutes via phone tomorrow?” And before leaving, he will check his notes to make sure he hasn’t missed anything. Nothing is left to chance.
When those 18 minutes are up, the prospect may not be in love. But at least she’ll be looking forward to the next date.