Approaching Sales as an Engineer

One key aspect many engineers-turned-CEOs often overlook is the need to sell your product. It is very easy to have the “if we build it, they will buy it” mentality, but the truth of the matter is that it is just not that simple. Without sales, your company has no customers and therefore no purpose. Many founders think they can hire a good salesman to take care of it, but before you can convince someone to join your team or invest in your company you will need to land some clients yourself.

So, how do you, an engineer, become a salesman and get those first few clients? Personally, I’d recommend getting a hold of Startup Selling–it’s a great resource and a quick read to get you started on the basics of the sales process.

As a personal reflection, I’ve listed below a few of the key things I have found to be most important. While these points are focused on enterprise sales, they can be applied anywhere (i.e. customer development for a consumer app).

Approach sales a science

Many people have the incorrect view that sales is a matter of talking well and persuading your target customer. While this is partially true, there is a lot more to sales than just smooth talking. Large sales with enterprise clients is a delicate dance which requires focus and follows a very defined process.

You can use the general structure of this process to your advantage–treat sales as a science. Focus on the numbers and see how many prospects (potential customers) you are converting into paying clients. Build a funnel and try and analyze where drop off is occurring and why. If you approach sales systematically, not only will you improve your process but (if you’re like me) you’ll get a kick out of crunching some numbers too.

Sales is about listening, not talking

Another common misconception is that a good salesman is able to talk without end at anytime. Once again, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Enterprise sales is all about educating and adding value–if you’re spending all your time talking, you will never be able to do this correctly.

In order for you to effectively convince your prospect, you will need to understand their situation and why they are interested in your product in the first place. Think of sales as solutions consulting–you’re there not to sell a product but to help formulate a solution for problems they face.

Research your prospects thoroughly

Keeping with the metaphor of being a solutions consultant, you need to make sure that you fully understand your customer and how your product would benefit them. Simply cold calling companies out of a business directory will get you nowhere–you need to spend time researching each company thoroughly so that you can engage your prospect in a meaningful conversation. This is also important when figuring out who you should reach out to–find the person who most directly would be benefitted by your product and use him/her as you key contact.

Lastly, there’s no replacement for hustle when it comes to anything startup-related. You’re going to face many more rejections than successes, but as long as you keep your head straight and ambition strong the process will move a lot faster.

Happy Selling! :)