Diary of a start-up: Generating sales as a new business

Having celebrated his business' biggest revenue month to date, Andrew Needham discusses sales approach and why it's ok to "ask for business"...

Andrew Needham, founder and CEO of creative meeting and venue space booking platform HeadBox, is our regular Diary of a start-up blogger. In his most recent blog, the start-up entrepreneur discusses his experience of pitching to high-net worth investors. Here, Needham talks about how he and his team have tackled sales strategy…

At this month’s board meeting, our investor Martin McCourt, former CEO of Dyson, summarised running a business into two broad areas: driving the top line and control. There are a number of areas I focus on every month under these two sweeping headings and January has been good in terms of generating sales, a core component to driving the top line.

Spending time with customers, understanding their needs, what they think of your proposition and building relationships is the life-blood of any business. It’s why I have been working closely with my host relations team to teach them as much as possible about the sales process and how to drive sustainable revenue streams for HeadBox by building long lasting customer relationships.

In fact, January 2016 has been HeadBox’s biggest revenue month to date!

One of the hardest things my team has had to learn this month is that it’s ok to ask for business. We have spent a lot of time with our hosts in recent months, listening to their needs and what they want from us; how we can drive more inquiries and bookings for them. We work through our product offer and marketing initiatives and how this will benefit them, so it seems natural to “ask for their business” even though I am always surprised how often people don’t.

Often when you have followed the steps below and combine them with a great product the answer you get is “yes”…

Listen, listen and listen again

I remember when I was setting up my first company Student Pages in the 1990s and I was taught an important lesson. You have two ears and only one mouth so use them in that order. Understanding what your customers want by actively listening to their needs rather than talking at them is critical to ensuring how best your proposition can help them.

Listening to your customers also helps you to innovate and come up with new ideas that you had not previously considered as well as find new solutions. These conversations always ensure that your business is moving in the right direction.

Sell the sizzle and not the fat

Once you understand what it is that your customers want, you need to be able to match your proposition to their needs. So it’s worth spending time working through in detail your product offer; not just what it is and who it is aimed at but also why it is different and how it is going to benefit your customers. I break this  down into FABs – features, advantages and benefits.

All too often we obsess about our product features when all our customers want to know is what are the advantages and the benefits of those features to them. I have found that being able to articulate these succinctly and clearly is key.

Customer objections are good

When our customers tell us they don’t like something about our offer we like to tell ourselves that they are wrong or they haven’t understood properly. Customers will never buy something from you if they have concerns that are left unanswered.

These can cover all sorts of areas from the audience and the product to how you are promoting what you’re doing to the value and price. And sometimes it is not clear at the outset what the real objection is so you have to ask “Why? Why? Why? until you do. Understanding why your customers are not sure is key to helping you adapt so that your product offer fits what they need.

People love to buy not to be sold to

We all know the sales structure; pre-approach, introduction, hook, bridge, body, demo, close, but ultimately people buy because they like you as much as they like what you have to offer.

The old adage that people buy people first is true so building relationships with your customers by getting to know them and spending time with them is something we have been doing a lot of this month. It’s often when you’re not in a business environment that you are able to learn the most about your customers and what they want.

To follow HeadBox’s journey (and for content from previous diary bloggers), check out our Diary of a Start-up channel.

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