Let me start with this: I’ve never had a particular interest in or fondness for sales. It felt forced, aggressive, and at times, cheesy. The word “salesperson” would conjure images of tawdry used cars salesmen and bumptious, overly perfumed cosmetics associates. *Shudder*
This is BS (Before Startup – and yes, bullshit too). Prior to starting my company, it didn’t really hit me that we are all in sales, in a sense. We’re constantly pitching, influencing, negotiating, marketing.
As a new technology platform in an increasingly crowded space (social media shopping), I had to change my attitude towards selling, in order to give my company a chance. In a matter of months, I had successfully cold called nearly 100 brands and convinced them to try our platform.
Here's how I did it:
1. Make it count (your subject line, that is).
This might elicit a “no duh” response. But after spending significant time researching, crafting and editing, I’ve experienced “decision fatigue” when it came to settling on a subject line. In my experience, the most compelling subject lines are specific in content but have some level of uncertainty. What does this mean? Give enough information to connect with someone’s knowledge, while leaving room for curiosity.
2. There's a human being on the other end, so talk like one.
This was one of my first lessons from my stint in PR: as a recent college graduate, I was wary of sounding juvenile or unprofessional, so I’d (over) compensate with formal emails. My manager encouraged me to imagine the journalist receiving my email: skeptical, short on time, facing an unmanageable inbox. The person on the other end is a human being, so talk like one! I’ve found it’s more effective to be colloquial, and it shifts the tone of your communication from pitch to conversation.
3. So what?
Spell out exactly why the recipient of your email should give a crap. Whether you’re pitching a partner or a customer, make your value proposition clear – and louder than your ask.
4. Show AND tell.
We all remember show and tell from when we were kids. This was our earliest lesson in the importance of connecting with an audience visually. When I pitch, I include our brief video demo, to give my email context and personality. I found people could understand both our product and value more clearly if they saw it in action.
I had to change my attitude towards selling in order to give my company a chance.
5. Transparency is key.
Part of my initial anxiety stemmed from associating sales with deception. But we live in a time of innumerable reviews and ratings, from Amazon to Uber, so transparency is expected. When our app was coming out of private beta, I had many brands ask me about case studies and stats, or why we were better than the competition – and frankly, I didn’t always have a factual answer. I found the most success with being direct that our platform was in its infancy stage, rather than selling my dream of what I wanted it to be. People were more inclined to take a chance on me when I said “there are only two outcomes: it will work, or it won’t.”
If you’re looking for additional reading, I’d suggest Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human. By distilling data into actionable steps, Pink really helped turn my thinking on its head – hopefully my insight might do the same.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Virginia is the founder of Sailo, the app to buy what you 'Like' on Instagram. Prior to starting Sailo, Virginia worked in PR and Digital Marketing, helping clients such as Barneys, Target and WGSN develop content and commerce strategies.