Until I helped build Socialcast, I had never sold anything in my life. We’re talking no retail experience, no hawking shoes at Nordstrom, no up-selling a bigger smoothie at the local juice shop.
Actually, I did once sell 350 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in one year, but I mean, come on, those things sell themselves, especially when they’re being peddled by a chatty, bubbly, earnest kid missing a couple of front baby teeth and sporting hot pink jelly sandals.
When I think about it, selling social software at Socialcast has actually been a lot like my one phenomenal year of selling Girl Scout cookies. In the beginning of my career as our sole salesperson and customer advocate, “selling” was more like “making friends” with the people to whom I wanted to sell. When excited potential customers would call or email, we’d have an honest, friendly discussion about their needs and hopes and dreams for enterprise social – never once did I try to “sell” them our product on that first call. Instead, I’d listen intently, get to know their pain points, and get excited about solutions and opportunities. These conversations were fun, engaging and interactive, especially with the early adopters and dreamers who had a vision for a corporate social network well before the world caught on to the inevitable dominance of social software in the workplace. I’d search the web for content and ideas that they could share with their stakeholders, and we’d connect on LinkedIn and Skype and, in a few cases, Facebook, to keep in touch.
I really felt like I was making friends with these early clients. In reality, what I was doing was building trust.
Selling social software has and always will be like selling Girl Scout cookies. She who sells a great product or service and also shares her personality, experience, ideas, and knowledge, and gets just as excited as the customer that is making a purchase, ensures that both buyer and seller become equally invested in the success of the relationship. In the case of Socialcast, my total lack of sales experience was a plus; I was forced to rely upon my people skills and trust in the product to get my company in the door with these big customers. Had I ever read The Little Red Book of Sales, I may not have been as honest, compassionate, and excited about growing our little startup one possible customer at a time. As a Girl Scout, no one taught me how to sell, and I did it pretty well. Selling really great enterprise social software isn’t terribly different.
My point is – trust your product. If you’re going to sell it, know that it’s good. It will stand on its own in the market. Who’s going to buy a cheap imitation of a Thin Mint? Nobody. Because the real thing is THAT GOOD. Make sure the product you sell is THAT GOOD too. Then, you can focus on being a real, collaborative, friendly and honest partner to your potential customers – a trusted resource that won’t let them down. Sales experience or not, this is how you’ll earn those early adopters and important customers who will often become more like friends and family. Give information, share ideas, and most importantly, listen. Be their friend. It’s the best advice from a Girl-Scout-Charmer-Turned-Software-Sales-Maven you’ll ever get.