If you’ve been around sales and marketing for more than half a day, you know that you’re supposed to sell your solution, and not let yourself get side tracked by touting the features of your product or service.
This is true, but it misses a much more important truth: First you must sell yourself and sell your company – only then can you sell your solution.
No matter what situation you’re in – whether you’re trying to sell investors on the idea of backing your startup, you’re trying to bring on a new freelance client, or you’re trying to get people to buy your widget – the “buyers” must be sold on you and your company before they will move to the final step, which is forking over money.
If you’re a freelancer or a consultant, “you” and “your company” are often the same thing. That’s fine. However, if you’re one of these solopreneurs, don’t think that “you” and “your solution” are the same thing. They are obviously related, but you need to establish a relationship between a prospect and yourself before your “solution” will be seriously considered.
Establishing the initial relationship
Selling yourself to your prospect takes a variety of forms depending on what you are selling, where you are selling it, how you are selling it and to whom you are selling it. Books could be written on all of these aspects so I will give you the overview and a few examples. With that information you’ll be able to assess your specific situation.
Entrepreneur. If you’re looking for investment capital or your first customers/clients in a startup setting, you need to connect on a personal level to build confidence in your project. Before you can generate enthusiasm for your “solution” you have to sell your personal enthusiasm in your solution. Further, your prospects will have high levels of emotional intelligence, so you have to get good marks on their personality-trust-confidence report cards.
Remember playing leapfrog as a child? In this startup setting, you’re the one who is providing a solid platform hoping to give investors and prospects the confidence to put their hands on your back, exercise their muscles to get off the ground and put their feet down exactly where you want them to land.
Internet enterprise. On the web, you are usually projecting your image and selling yourself through your website. You and your company often become the same thing to a website visitor.
You can’t take a haphazard approach to the design, look and feel of your website. Further, you need to understand the kind of people who will be coming to check you out. It’s possible to make the same kind of mistakes in web design that you make in person. You can so overload your site with extraneous details – details that may excite you – that you lose its essence.
While a savvy venture capitalist will be consciously evaluating you on a personal level, in the case of a website visitor, this evaluation will be happening on a subconscious level. Why do you think visitors “bounce” off a website within seconds? They are having an almost visceral reaction that says, “This isn’t for me.” They can even come to this conclusion if you have the product or service that is, in fact, ideal for them.
Brick-and-mortar location. If you have a physical location, customers and clients pick up all kinds of clues about you and your company just by looking at it. It’s somewhat similar to the way we judge a website, but there are a lot more elements with a physical location.
For example, it might be too dark in your office or store. It might smell odd. The doors might look imposing. It may be in a part of town or commercial center that’s not good for the kind of business you’re conducting.
Have you ever looked up a business and driven to its location, only to just keep driving once you see what it looks like? People will be judging you and your business in that way all the time. Even as a kid I remember having a favorite ice cream truck. All the trucks that came around the neighborhood sold the same stuff, yet I connected with one more than the others.
Think of your physical location as a personal extension of yourself. If it projects an image that you wouldn’t want people to apply to you personally, why would you want to have it associated with your business?
Meg Ryan was right
See if you remember this bit of dialog from “You’ve Got Mail” when Tom Hanks the big bad businessman is trying to comfort small bookshop owner Meg Ryan about her store closing:
Tom Hanks: It wasn’t…personal.
Meg Ryan: What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?
Tom Hanks: Uh, nothing.
Meg Ryan: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.
Meg Ryan is right and not only “ought” it be personal, business relationships in fact begin on the personal level.