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What an accountant learned about sales

When I started Quick Consols with a hope and a dream four years ago I’d just finished off a big corporate role with an equally big paycheque with a big “Chief” in front of my title. Starting a tech company should be easy, right? Wrong

The first day on the job in our new offices was filled with excitement and a belief that customers would stream through the front door, jam the phone lines and clog the email servers wanting to buy our product. After all, we’d written the best reporting software known to mankind. Isn’t that how it works? No

All everyone ever reads about are the Googles, the Ubers and the Apples of the world. In charge of their own money printing machines, charging customers who queue outside for days what they want.

For every Google, there are thousands of smaller tech companies grinding it out looking for a piece of that enormous juicy pie. A good friend of mine once told me “without a sale you don’t have a business”. How true those words rang on that first day. We didn’t even know how to find our customers, let alone sell to them.

It took all of about 3 days for the sales director and myself to go through the contacts in our phones and call every poor soul we’d ever met that was willing to hear our story about this life-altering software. Turns out people aren’t really that interested. We felt like Noah trying to warn people about the coming flood…on a bright and sunny day….in the middle of a drought.

Turns out the skills that make for a great CFO are pretty useless in helping you peddle your wares in the market. Most accountants sitting in the finance department really don’t fully appreciate the role that the lowly sales rep plays in the organisation. Without that order from the customer literally, nothing happens.

We used to balk at the commission we had to process every month for the sales reps on a monthly basis. For “doing nothing”. Or so we thought. I would have gladly cut off some vital appendages to pay commission in those early days. It would have meant we’d actually sold something.

What we eventually learned in those first five months of drought were astonishing.

Firstly, lead generation and sales are two completely different disciplines. Finding your customers (lead generation) and sales (closing the deal) are actually two completely different functions in a business. Those that are good at lead gen are generally not good at sales and vice versa.

Secondly, you need to offer the whole product to the customer. Don’t try and sell your customer a car without air conditioning, or without windows, or without cup holders. It's 2021 and that’s just not gonna happen! If you’re not solving your customer’s whole problem you’re not selling. Customers are extremely sophisticated and well versed in what they’re trying to buy.

Third, you’re not selling a drill, you’re selling a hole in the wall. We don’t sell software, we sell time. Make sure you know what it is you’re actually selling. Features are not always benefits!

Fourth, street cred matters. People don’t like the unknown and don’t want to be your guinea pig. Make sure there’s someone out there that can vouch for your service and your product. If you come across an early adopter grab them with both hands and blow them away! They will help you refine your product and eventually grow your business.

Fifth, don’t sell stuff you can’t deliver. Be truthful with your potential customer in terms of what you can deliver and what you can’t. They’ll appreciate your honesty and that will stand you in good stead in the long run.

And lastly, customers don’t call you to discuss the weather. Under promise and overdeliver. Always. If your customer phones, pick up. If they text, write back. If they email, reply. They’re not calling you to discuss the weather. They need something from you and they’re contacting you because you’re part of solving their problem. The reason they’re calling you and not your competitor is because they believe you’re the best person that can help them solve a problem.

And if you treat that customer right, you may just get a referral. You see where this is going?

Rinse and repeat

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