An amazing salesperson will always beat an amazing product. You may only have the third-best product on the market, yet you can still beat out the competition and close deals with clients, simply because you're a better salesperson than your competitors. You may have an inferior technology, yet you can close a round of venture funding, simply because investors believe in you more than they do the competition. A good company buys into the salesperson first. The product? That comes second.
One of my startups, RewardMe, is a customer loyalty platform for restaurants and retail stores. I closed my first big deal with one of the largest franchises in the U.S. I was introduced via email to the manager through a mutual acquaintance. Here's how you can do the same:
- Ask crucial preliminary questions. I scheduled a phone call to learn more about the manager's goals, and the big vision for her project. Before you schedule such a phone call, create a list of questions to help understand the client's pain points and needs, and position the pitch to win the deal. I always ask questions like: "If money and time were not obstacles, what is your grand vision for the project? What are your greatest challenges right now? What are your other options besides us? What is the time frame for this project?" At the end of the call, I scheduled a coffee meetup with the manager for the following week.
- Position your product to match the client. As a large franchise, my potential client had a very large in-house design team, but no tech team. Therefore, I positioned my company as a "technology-centric firm with experience in working alongside in-house design teams to create engaging social apps." During our call, I also found out that she was trying to create a report for her team about creative social applications that other large U.S. franchises had launched in the past six months. Knowing this, I had my team put together a 10-page report detailing 10 different creative campaigns. I handed a hard copy to the manager during our meeting, and let her know that another copy had been sent to her inbox.
- Measure yourself against the competition. Over coffee, I learned that my company was in the running against three other agencies in the loyalty space. The competing agencies were no scrubs; they had big-name client case studies and had the official "Facebook preferred partner" title that is so hard to get. Find other ways to distinguish yourselves from the others, such as a difference in product offering, a customization option, or even a more convenient team location. I decided to bring our lead engineer to the meeting with me to show them the importance of having a local team.
- Prepare your pitch and presentation. I recommend limiting your presentation to 30 minutes -- a 20-minute pitch plus 10 minutes for Q&A. Make this length clear from the beginning; everyone in the room will feel more comfortable knowing it won't last for hours. Be ready to distribute visually pleasing handouts (in full color -- don't be cheap!) at the end of the presentation; if you pass it out at the beginning, your audience will read through the presentation instead of listening to you. After following these steps -- and rehearsing at least 10 times over two days -- my lead engineer and I showed up to the client's office 15 minutes early with our game faces on.
- Deliver key phrases with the right mentality. I walked into the meeting with the mentality, "I don't care if I get this client or not; we already have too many clients to work with, and our pipeline is full. If we don't get this client, we'll surely get another very soon." This mindset prevents you from appearing desperate and potentially ruining your chances of closing the deal. During the pitch, I emphasized key phrases, like, "We only work with companies that are creative and that strive to work on unique, never-before-seen projects. Does that accurately describe your company?" and, "We don't work on one-and-done deals; we work with companies that partner with us for the long term. Are you looking for an agency to build you one project, or are you looking for a partner for long-term success?"
- Set a deadline to decide. The longer it takes for a company to make a decision, the less likely it is that they'll choose you. Therefore, get the potential client to make a decision as soon as possible. I set a deadline by saying, "Our client flow is stacked this summer -- we have X and Y set to launch their projects and we just closed a deal with Z. I would love to give you several weeks to make a decision, but we need to know by Friday if you'd like to move forward with us. This will allow us to plan our project milestones accordingly for the next three months." It may seem scary to say something like this, but if you say it with confidence and conviction, the potential client will take your demands seriously and get it done.
Within two days, I received an email from the potential client, letting me know that they wanted to move forward by signing an agreement -- and we locked in a one-year deal that we used as a case study to close deals with more and more big clients.
Jun Loayza is an entrepreneur that has sold two Internet companies, raised over $1 million in funding and lead social media technology campaigns for Sephora, Whole Foods Market, Levi's, LG and Activision. His latest project is the Fashion Blogger Network.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.