There reason so many startups fail has nothing to do with the quality or marketability of their idea.
The more common reason that entrepreneurial venture fail is that entrepreneurs are confused about what it takes to scale a business.
They believe that it takes money; money from outside investors. If that were true, no startup with a significant investment would ever fail.
The variable for success as a startup is client acquisition (or customer acquisition, if you are a B2C play). There is no greater imperative for a startup than switching its focus from “burn rate” to “cash flow,” when cash flow means living on the profit you make from clients. That starts with reaching out to your prospective clients to ask them for the commitment of time. Getting in front of the people your product, service or solution is designed to help is how you share your vision of why they must change, and what they lose by sticking with the status quo (like revenue, profit, market share, first mover advantage, etc.).
The commitment for time is where you develop commercial relationships. It is the starting point for acquiring clients or customers. If you want the best proof of concept ever, ask your prospective clients for time, and then ask for the other commitments that lead to sales. There is no better proof of concept than a growing list of clients. When you have this, then pour in the outside money and scale like the devil.
The following is excerpted from “The Lost Art of Closing: Winning The Ten Commitments That Drive Sales” by Anthony Iannarino with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Anthony Iannarino, 2017.
There are six steps you can take to ensure that you get the time you need to see a client, discuss their needs and offer something of value. These steps should be taken in order and none of them should be skipped.
Step 1: Ask early and only for time
Most likely, you will reach out to a prospective client the first time via the phone. And when you do, you must introduce yourself, mention your company and ask the prospect for the Commitment for Time. Do this as early in the conversation as possible. For example, you might say, “I am calling today to ask you for a twenty minute meeting to share with you four big ideas that you are going to have to deal with over the next 18 months. What do you look like Thursday for a 20 minute briefing?”
Don’t try to do a lot of value creating before you ask for the appointment. Your dream client hasn’t yet agreed to engage in that conversation with you. That value is going to be created during the meeting, as you promised in your request. Similarly, don’t try to do discovery work during a call to request a commitment for time. After all, when you start asking questions to uncover your dream client’s “pain,” you increase the likelihood that they’ll disengage with you. The only outcome you should seek during this first interaction is a commitment for time.
Related: 5 Tips for Closing a Sales Deal
Step 2: Expect and prepare for a no
No matter what you say during your first interaction with a prospective client, when you ask for the Commitment for Time, you can expect them to say no. Don’t be thrown off. The no is reflexive and has nothing to do with you or your request. As I explained earlier, it may be because your prospective client is already happy with their current provider. Or they’ve had bad experiences with other salespeople. Or they’re so pressed for time they can’t keep up with their workload, let alone carve out time to see a salesperson who is unlikely to create value for them.
So consider the first no to your request for the Commitment for Time as a freebie: Every salesperson gets that no. You’ll have to earn the next couple of nos by resolving their concerns and asking again. And you’ll most certainly have to earn a yes.
Here’s an insider’s tip: There are only a handful of reasons a prospective client can use to reject your request. And once you know them, you can develop the ability to resolve these concerns, moving you that much closer to a yes.
Step 3: Promise value without a pitch
One of the keys to obtaining a meeting now is to offer value to the prospective client with no further obligation, including not having to listen to you pitch your company and your solution. Perhaps you can offer some new insight into their business that will help them produce better results. Or you may have knowledge that your prospective client will find useful, making you the kind of person worth knowing. Remember, one of your long term goals is to become a trusted advisor. And that means you must be able to dispense advice. Demonstrate to your prospective client, right up front, that you have insight into their problems and are willing to offer valuable advice, whether or not they decide to take the next step with you.
It’s this combination of the promise of value without that pitch that makes it easier for your dream client to agree to a meeting. It will also differentiate you from your competitors, many of whom are still promising nothing more than “introducing themselves and their company.”
Step 4: Ask again
You already know that no matter how terrific your ask for the Commitment for Time may be, you are going to be rejected the first time around, and probably the second as well. But don’t be dejected. Remember, it’s your prospective client’s duty to protect their time. If they say yes to every salesperson who requests an appointment, they won’t have time to do anything else. They have to be discerning and try to eliminate time wasters. So expect to be refused. Then continue with the next steps in the process.
A word of caution here: This isn’t a battle of wills. You are trying to develop a relationship, not alienate the person with whom you are trying to develop that relationship. If you ask more than three times, you will have crossed over from resolving concerns and asking again to being argumentative. Remember, you are playing the long game, and it is better to preserve the relationship by trying again later.
Step 5: Lower the commitment level
A major obstacle to securing the Commitment for Time is the prospective client’s fear that they won’t be able to get rid of you. They’re afraid that you’ll overstay your welcome and they’ll gain nothing from this considerable investment of time. Here’s how you overcome that fear: Lower the commitment level by asking for just a 20 minute meeting. Most people can afford to take twenty minutes out of their day, and you yourself have just agreed to the end point. Now the prospective client can relax a little bit, knowing that if you turn out to be a time waster, they have an out. In return for a very small investment of time, you deliver massive value in terms of ideas and solutions. It’s a big ROI that may prove to be irresistible: little time to gain massive value.
Step 6: Promise not to waste their time
Since you understand that your prospective client is afraid you’ll stay too long and waste their time, you’ve wisely lowered their commitment level. But you’ll also need to assure them that you will not waste their time. You might say something like, “I promise, I only need 20 minutes and I won’t waste one minute of your time.”
This is crucial. Your prospective client has probably met with scores of salespeople who were time wasters, people who lacked the necessary preparation, focus and business acumen to be true value creators. You need to demonstrate that you are different. And you can do that just by limiting the amount of time you request and promising not to waste a single minute. Do this, and you’re showing them that you understand and acknowledge the fact that their time is a valuable commodity. You’ve also named and addressed one of their most pressing concerns (even if they haven’t revealed it) and let them know that you will always respect it.
When you show up for the meeting, don’t waste that time. Remind your prospective client of your agenda, let them know what you hope the next steps will be, and begin sharing the value creating information you promised.
“The Lost Art of Closing: Winning The Ten Commitments That Drive Sales” is available now at fine booksellers and can be purchased via StartupNation.com.
Reviews of “The Lost Art of Closing”
“In the footsteps of greats like Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, Jim Rohn, and Tom Hopkins, Iannarino has delivered a masterpiece for our age and a classic that will teach generations to come to achieve greatness.”
—Jeb Blount, author of “Fanatical Prospecting and Sales EQ”
“‘The Lost Art of Closing‘ belongs on the shelf of every sales professional in every industry.”
—Daniel H. Pink, author of “To Sell Is Human” and “Drive”
“Iannarino blows apart the long-held beliefs about what it means to close by showing you that closing happens at each step of the sale. This is a book you’ll not just read but one you’ll be using to rebuild your sales process.”
—Mark Hunter, “The Sales Hunter,” author of “High-Profit Prospecting”
“This is the best content I’ve read on closing. My number one go-to sales guru Anthony Iannarino shows sellers exactly how to gain the commitments they need at each stage of the sales process… with language they can actually use to advance sales opportunities.”
—Mike Weinberg, author of “New Sales. Simplified.” and “Sales Management. Simplified.”