by Mike Anderson
Sales. That innocent looking little word is likely to twist the gut of any seasoned entrepreneur. Sales isn't easy, and steady sales is even harder; if it weren't, every company would be large and growing faster.
Think of sales as a roller coaster—for some it’s a horrifying and dizzying experience while others can have the time of their lives. In the end, it all comes down to expectations. Over the last three years we grew our start up agency from nothing to 16 team members and a growing number of great clients. Here are a few things I've learned as I've developed a stronger stomach for the ups, downs and loop de loops of sales and ideas that may help you learn to enjoy the ride as well.
When we started Belief Agency in 2012, we had landed enough work in the weeks prior to quitting our jobs to make it until the end of the year. We felt great we had three months to get our feet under us and ship some great work. We figured it would take three or four months for the Coca-Cola's and Nike's of the world to notice and come knock on our doors. This startup thing was going to be easy.
Meanwhile, back in reality, we waited and no one called with seven-figure project budgets or massive RFPs.
We were hustlers and took on any project that came our way—whether it was building a highly interactive site for the new GI Joe movie for next to no money (it will be good for our resume, we wrongly believed) to building a half dozen websites for small churches.
If we’d had any idea how difficult it would be to form relationships, complete impossibly hard projects on insanely low budgets and earn trust, we likely wouldn't have started.
In the last year, we've turned a huge corner and won an arm-full of awards for the work we've done with our clients. If we weren't stupid at the beginning we probably would have never started.
You're not going to keep control
I spent a lot of my youth riding mountain bikes very fast off cliffs and on dangerously narrow trails. When you're doing a sport like this you begin to realize that you're not actually in control, but you're confident in your ability to quickly respond to anything that gets thrown at you.
It’s like that with sales – if you’re moving slowly enough that you feel in control, you’re probably not moving fast enough. There’s always the chance you’ll take that bike off a cliff and crash hard, but if you slow down, there’s a 100 percent chance you’ll lose.
To keep your sales steady, you need to be meeting new people, buying coffee, and following up with everyone you've met in your whole life. People need to know you, trust you, and like you—each of these things requires hustle.
I can’t count the number of times I scrolled through my LinkedIn account and emailed everyone I respected in business. I made coffee and lunch appointments and asked those people who else I should meet. To this day the majority of our new clients come from someone we have made a personal relationship with.
You NEED a sales funnel
There are very few businesses that have customers consistently lining up to buy. We've had seasons with so much work we had no idea how to get it all done, and then just a few months later we looked up from our computers after months of hard work to see that we neglected to keep new prospects coming into our sales funnel.
You NEED to have a well defined sales funnel that you keep in a CRM that you are constantly looking at. You need to keep the flow of new projects coming in.
It's important to know things like:
- What is our ratio of leads to new projects?
- How long does it take on average from first touch to contract signed?
- What types of projects are we best at landing?
- What are the areas of our sales funnel that have the most friction?
The station is coming
The good news is that if you have a great product and if you deliver on your promises the up and down craziness of the sales roller coaster will begin to feel more manageable and you'll begin to feel the drops well before they come.
Some sales roller coasters last for a year and others last decades, but the important thing is that if you really believe in the business you're starting that every up and down you go through is one hump closer to the station.
My closing advice is to hold on, do the best you can, and don't give up too soon—the station may be just around the next bend.
Mike is a founding partner at the Belief Agency where he works closely with world-class brands, such as to build strategic marketing campaigns and programs. You can find more of his writings on his personal blog at mikeyanderson.com.