Your Pitch is Just the Beginning: How to Develop Relationships Like a Sales Pro

By: Elizabeth Usovicz, General Manager of Transaction Commons, as part of a series she writes for ACA aimed at entrepreneurs, "Your Pitch is Just the Beginning."

Asked to explain his investment philosophy to a group of entrepreneurs, the founding partner of an investment fund put it this way: “There are only two things I care about: Can you make product, and can you sell product?”  If you’re the founder of a startup, you know first-hand that sales drive revenue, and revenue drives both investment and growth. How good are your sales skills?

All sales are the result of creating a connection with the buyer, and the best salespeople are adept at developing meaningful business relationships with their prospects. Here are some essentials to developing relationships like a sales pro.

Learn to Ask Questions

Start by asking yourself a few key questions before you interact with your prospect, such as:

  • How will this prospect benefit from my product/service or from doing business with my company?
  • How do I know this?
  • How can I quantify this benefit?

When you interact with your prospect, have a few prepared questions ready. For an in-person meeting with a company executive, some starter inquiries might be:

  • How do you currently manage ____?
  • How has the process changed over time?
  • What are your perspectives on the current process?
  • What types of resources do you use to manage the process?

Recognize Opportunities to Listen

If a prospect says, “Tell me about your company/product/service,” it’s not an invitation to launch into your pitch.  It’s an opportunity, in disguise, to ask questions. Remember, job one in sales is creating opportunities to listen and to understand your prospect’s point of view. Engage your prospect with additional questions, and keep your comments about your product/service brief, relevant and focused on your prospect’s interests.

Don’t Spill Your Candy on the Lobby Floor

It’s a common sales gaffe and there’s an expression that every salesperson knows: Don’t spill your candy on the lobby floor. Your candy is your technical knowledge of your product/service, and most founders love talking about their candy.

In a relationship-building sales context, spilling your candy can kill momentum. Prospects don’t want a technical monologue on your product/service, and don’t need to know all the details in one meeting or interaction. If you’re not certain how much information to provide to your prospect, ask questions such as: “What would be most helpful for you to know about our product/service/company?” or “Would it be helpful to know ___ about our product/service?”

Even if you have a sales team in place, sales is a critical part of the founder’s skill set. You can and should be part of the process, because a sale is not just a sale. It’s a customer relationship that builds revenue and company growth.