Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
As an entrepreneur with a Wall Street and business school background, I can assure you that no matter your experience, credentials or business-centric education, successful sales is a skill rarely taught, conveyed or developed in first-time and early-stage founders. In fact, some entrepreneurs pay their lack of salesmanship away, outsource all marketing and client-facing tasks to experienced professionals and shield themselves from the fact that when it comes to sales, they kind of suck.
While paying your shortcomings away is one solution, it might be more helpful in the long run (and more cost-effective) to identify the root of why you’re repelling customers, despite having the greatest product or service since sliced bread. If your prospect close rate is abysmal (or even just lower than you’d like), I’d urge you to consider whether you’ve been plagued by these three prospect-repelling habits:
Related: What Makes For A Good Sales Pitch?
1. The tragic power imbalance (fighting the wrong war)
In the early days of starting and growing your company, rejection is inevitable, and it’s easy to let the lack of positive reinforcement shake your confidence as a founder. Nonetheless, if your early-stage or pre-revenue status leads you to approach sales with an inherent power imbalance in mind, you’re likely dooming yourself to failure. Simply put, if you believe you need the sale far more than your prospect needs your product or service and thus come off desperate to convince them to buy, you’re creating an inherently lopsided situation and a power struggle that may prove difficult to win.
Truth be told, sales should not feel like a power struggle at all, and you shouldn’t be at war with your prospect, attempting to claim victory over them by pressuring (or begging) them into purchasing. Instead, your prospect should feel like you and your company are on their side, and a win for one of you should be a win for both. Sales shouldn’t be a sum-zero game in which only one party can come out on top, and if you make it such, you shouldn’t be surprised if you wind up on the losing end.
2. Prioritizing the wrong F-word
As a largely black-and-white, fact-focused person, I’ll be the first to admit that my natural instincts have made me guilty of this F-word mix-up. I also know, having worked with thousands of other bright and accomplished entrepreneurs over the years, that even the most competent founders often succumb to this mistake. You see, many founders are product- or service-focused since we’ve built our business around the product or service we’re offering. Therefore, it’s only natural that we want to proudly rattle off the facts and features our offering includes, assuming those are the aspects that would convince a prospect to purchase.
For some products, services and feature-focused prospects, this may be the case. However, for the vast majority of people and prospects across the board, they actually care more about how an exchange makes them feel than the information they receive. This is the very reason some ultra-charismatic figures have been able to successfully make boatloads of money selling products or services that may appear inherently subpar to the competition; their audiences may not care, since they’re buying into the way that figure made them feel, rather than the offering they’re peddling.
If, historically, you have been more focused on facts and features over feelings and developing a client-centric rapport with prospects before asking for the sale, you may benefit from some charisma-focused training, a deep dive into consumer behavioral psychology and a repositioning of your sales pitch. Down to the brass tacks: If you make your customers feel uneasy, under pressure, on edge or otherwise sub-ecstatic and pumped up to use your product or service, it should be no surprise when they’re hesitant to buy. Apparently, feelings matter. Who would have thunk it?
3. The dangerous race to the bottom
If curiosity killed the cat, freebies foiled the founder — or at least called into question the value of their product, service or offering. I’m not suggesting that freebies and lead magnets have no place in a successful marketing strategy; they can definitely be an effective tool for lead generation and expedite breaking through the trust barrier to cultivate sales. Nonetheless, a surplus of freebies, discounts and bonuses piled on to lure the on-the-fence (or straight-up resistant) prospect into a purchase may actually backfire, to many entrepreneurs’ surprise.
With each discount, bonus and freebie you offer, you undercut the paid value of your offering. In short, you make customers wonder why you’re willing to give away so much for cheap, free or discounted and thus re-anchor their perception of your product’s value at a number far below the retail price. At the end of the day, piling on spontaneous desperation-fueled perks and Hail-Mary bonuses can convince your prospect your primary product wasn’t ever worth what you were initially charging. This is a dangerous race to the bottom and can swiftly derail your prospect’s trust in your product’s efficacy, as you devalue your offering with every additional discount and freebie you layer on.
Sometimes the best strategy for a hyper-resistant client is to let them walk away before you hand over the kitchen sink for $0.10. Prospects who don’t value your product pre-purchase are unlikely to suddenly change their minds and reposition their perspectives post-purchase, and they may not deserve all the value you’re serving up.
Sneaky psychology strikes again
So much of successful marketing and sales is simply mastering consumer psychology, which doesn’t often come naturally to founders, nor overnight. Before calling your product a dud or paying an outsourced marketing or sales team 5+ figures per month, I’d implore any sales-starved entrepreneurs to read a book on successful sales tactics, study consumer psychology and start observing the sales and marketing tactics that have worked successfully on them and their peers. Once you start digging into what makes customers tick, you might be surprised at how many golden nuggets you find.