Sales is arguably the most important part of any budding business.
For years, I met with software companies and it would amaze me how they would work through every detail of the user experience but forget to think about sales.
I would tease them that even if they developed the product to be “perfect” they couldn’t just cut a hole in the wall of their building and hope people would drive up to purchase like at McDonald’s. Actually, quite the opposite, good product development begins with sales by integrating customer feedback early in the process.
So, this past weekend I sat down to prepare a training course on sales for entrepreneurs and outlined critical points about introductory emails, follow-up calls, scripts, quotas, ice-breakers, contact goals, information management, etc.
I went outside to check on the kids and noticed, somewhat to my chagrin, that our bushes appear to be growing soccer balls.
My sister has a blueberry bush in her yard, and along our favorite bluff walk there are blackberry bushes. So why is it that the only thing growing in bushes near my house are soccer balls?
At first, this annoyed me; then, while reflecting on the sales training course topic, I began seeing some valuable lessons in these soccer balls.
The first lesson came back when I was selling real estate for a living and had a Russian client. The client was bringing his whole family and asked if I could bring along my children as well, though he failed to mention that his kids spoke no English.
While negotiating with my son to wear nice shorts and a collared shirt, I relinquished that he could, in trade, bring his soccer ball. It was the soccer ball that broke the ice and saved the day, serving as the only point of communication amongst five children.
More recently, I was attending a reunion at the Harvard Business School. It is an incredibly active environment, yet welcoming to families, so I had my kids in tow.
My two sons were kicking a soccer ball on the lawn so I took a break from the sessions and sat off to the side. They need only desire and a ball to make a game. If goals are not provided and existing bushes and trees are not appropriately spaced, they will humbly take off their shoes to mark the edges of the goals and play on.
Soon, one by one, onlookers became teammates. Later my son reported, “Each person at first thought we all knew each other so they were intimidated to join in. But when I explained we are all just here, they felt comfortable to join in.”
Ah, perspective is so powerful.
I begin to realize that sales is so difficult to teach because of “heart,” not “head” issues.
Sure, the “bulldog on a bone” mentality may occasionally succeed in sales, but that’s due in large part to sheer determination and repetition. However, in my experience, successful salespeople operate from a different perspective: they have a strong desire to humbly connect with others.
I wonder about the world we could create if we could all humbly invite strangers into common ground.
My kids’ soccer entertainment at the reunion served as an icebreaker for me as well. As the other parents paused to watch, I learned that these were the children of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and one was the grandson of the founder of the MIT Entrepreneurship Lab. Now, that is good networking for anyone interested in entrepreneurship.
As you approach your week and need to sell ideas, products and visions, I hope this story reminds you to begin with common ground. And invitation. And humility. And maybe even soccer.