Friday, September 9, 2011

Stop Converting and Start Selling

Hey, you. Yeah, YOU! The hip web guru in the ironic t-shirt and thick frame glasses. I know your startup is about to be the next Facebook for Groupon-like YouTube aggregators, but somewhere along your journey to internet domination you’ll be required to get out from behind the keyboard and actually talk to someone as a champion of your company. Right now you likely view these real people simply as data-points with labels like ‘Users’ or ‘Investors’. Regardless of column headings, these living, breathing and opinionated beings will need to see authentic passion behind your brand before committing capital to its cause

Forget the metrics and buzzwords for a moment. Instead, apply more human terms like ‘Clients’ and ‘Partners’. Did this transition make you uncomfortable? If so, good. Asking for money can be unnerving for even the most grizzled sales pros. If not, sign off your avatar immediately and get some fresh air.

Despite the incessant ramblings of branding consultants whonever met a company that wasn’t in desperate need of a fresh new image, real eyes, ears, hearts and wallets only connect with real people. Consumers, investors and corporations all rely on spending to generate income, and they’d rather their money go to a sincerely smiling face than a preposterously polished logo. Companies need sales. Selling requires a problem. Problems require a solution. And as the face of your company, you had better be selling this solution if you’re going to generate income. 

The great tech titans are all phenomenal pitch men, or ‘brand ambassadors’ if you must, although not in the exuberant sense and rarely regarded for it publicly (Steve Jobs aside). Bill Gates, dweeby as he may be, nevershrunk from the spotlight as an advocate for his operating system. Mark Zuckerberg’s genuine love for connecting people shines through his social awkwardness, and had he not been technically inclined, he may well have excelled at developing just about any offline community – say, a new-age hospice center - instead of a social network. Jeff Bezos is fanatical about efficiency, and had he not plodded through countless objections convincing financiers that making purchases on this new thing called the Internet would ultimately prove more attractive than browsing physical shelves, he could not have created the best consumer purchasing platform on the web. Michael Dell certainly doesn’t mind his name in front of his product, and Jobs, well, his shtick did OK building and then re-building Apple into the world’s leading consumer technology company. GroupOn’s Andrew Mason never met a microphone he didn’t like either…although that has come back to bite him of late. Most of these legendary founders are actually quite uncomfortable socially, but they all got out there and sold their visions. 

With so few barriers to entry, starting an internet company has never been easier, and even the best ideas are rarely unique or unable to be replicated. That means the startup whose founder makes the most noise is the only one that will reach a critical mass of acceptance where he or she can stop doing so for a moment to focus on optimization. After all, you can’t optimize without initial user feedback - volunteered or observed - and the internet is a pretty crowded place for a new service to simply rely on being stumbled upon. If the founder is not willing to be the pitch man for investors or early adopters, neither will be compelled to commit.

Don’t confuse marketing with sales either. Paid or free, online or offline - marketing is simply telling. Sales is about asking. It’s the art of posing the right series of questions to get an enthusiastic Yes time and time again when the question is “Can I have your money?”

You don’t have to change outfits. Just your environment and attitude. You can’t focus on converting users until you first get out in front of clients and investors selling them on your company. And selling is all about the basics…none of which require A/B tested proprietary digital tweeting algorithms.

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