When I launched my first business I had a wildly mistaken view of what business actually is. First off, I thought an enterprise was about money. I thought business was about the accumulation, budgeting and the careful spending of dollars. Certainly that’s part of business. But it’s not the important part. I also mistakenly thought business was about creating a high-quality product or service that was compelling and clearly needed. Nope, not even close.
Money management skills and a substantial product are both critical to a successful business. They’re as important as air and food. But they don’t make the difference in your ability to birth a lucrative enterprise. Air and food are critical to your life, but they don’t define your life.
The necessary ingredient for a thriving business is sales. You can delegate money management. You can even outsource product development. But you can’t give someone else the responsibility for sales. The ability to sell is the very heart of a successful entrepreneur. Sales can’t be delegated is because a business owner has to sell to widely diverse collection of people. You have to convince bankers, investors, vendors, employees, affiliates and family. Especially family.
You have to sell your business idea to each and all of these constituencies, even though each group has competing needs. The requirements of your employees are vastly different than the needs of your children. Likewise with suppliers, bankers, partners. Yet if any of these groups loses faith in your ability to create and sustain a business, you have real problems.
By comparison, selling your product to a customer – someone who actually needs your product or service – is very simple. Your customer typically has a lot less to lose than family members, partners, employees or investors. Chances are, you have fortified your customer with a guarantee or some recourse. The other groups are going on faith – on their belief in you, your intentions, your integrity, your credibility, your honesty, your word. All your customer wants is a product that works halfway as well as you said it would.
A business is a social entity. You can’t do it alone. You need the support and faith of all these groups of people, from supplier and banker to employee and family member. If you can’t keep these people rooting for you – or at least leaving you to your own devices – you don’t get to have a business. If one of these groups turns one you, you’re in deep trouble.
What kind of sales does it take to grab and hold the faith of these people? Your ability to persuade is important. But you can’t do it with spin. Most people can smell spin. They don’t even need to fully understand that you’re spinning. Sit down with a close family member tonight and try to persuade them to do something they don’t want to do by using spin.
When you launch a business, you have to convince scores of people to do something they don’t really want to do, whether it’s convincing an employee to try harder or swaying your spouse to risk every nickel of the family retirement savings. You need the big guns of sales: authenticity, credibility, integrity, honesty, enthusiasm and the ability to find and articulate a shared interest. This is why it’s so important to find a business you are truly passionate about. You can’t deliver the heavy artillery of sales without being a true believer yourself. You also have to convince others that you’re not delusional – that you’re lucid and seeing reality clearly.
Lastly, you have to do this selling without leaving the impression that you feel so strongly about the business that you’re staking everything on its prospects. You don’t control the world. People will feel queasy if they get the sense that you have no idea what you’re going to do if you fail. Your community of support will gather behind you if they believe you’re going to give your enterprise a healthy and genuine shot. They’ll back away if they get the whiff that your entrepreneurial effort is desperate.