I had a mentor early in my career who was an entrepreneur and an amazing salesperson. I was in absolute awe of her ability to control a conversation as if she was driving a car. If she turned left, the audience turned with her. If she turned right, they were right there by her side. She was a master at persuasion, and understood the very particular effect certain words, phrases, and verbal devices have on the outcome of a conversation.

As entrepreneurs and even as investors, we are all actually salespeople. Our jobs are to consistently get our way…whether its fundraising, closing a deal, scoring a huge partnership, recruiting top talent, courting acquirers, or pitching a story to Forbes. No matter how you think of it, in the end it’s all really sales.

mark cuban

I still work hard to know my business. I’m continuously looking for ways to improve all my companies, and I’m always selling. Always.
– Mark Cuban

I now spend a lot of time mentoring my team on “sales” or what really is, essentially, persuasive communication. It’s not something we are taught in school, and I am utterly confused by this. Why is persuasive communication not a required course – or set of courses – in college? More to the point, why aren’t we learning how to effectively sell our ideas in the real world, where time is limited, email is drowned out, phone calls are short, and competition is everywhere? I WISH someone would have taught me how to “sell” earlier in my career because it’s been one of the most powerful skills I’ve developed, and has enabled me to build companies, close pivotal deals, develop strong networks, and – frankly – make shit happen.

The biggest thing I’ve realized about making shit happen is that true mastery lies in the details. While you may be inspired by warm & fuzzy founder quotes like this….

mark z

…it’s important to realize that “passion”, “hunger”, or “obsession” are not tactics. Those are pre-requisites. In the day-to-day reality, building a company is about constant problem solving, which requires a mix of skills including an acute understanding of persuasion.

Here in Silicon Valley’s early-stage startup community, there’s a lot of talk about engineering, product development, team building, customer acquisition, and company culture, but I’ve seen very little discussion or emphasis on the topic of persuasion…even though it’s intrinsic in all those aforementioned areas and one of the most important tools to have in your startup arsenal.

At the urging of my team, I’m on a mission to share many of the strategies & tactics I learned about closing deals. I’ll be writing a series of posts that will cover the important “steps” in sourcing, working, and closing deals, namely:

1 – Get Over Yourself: What “Selling” Really Means
2 – The Pen is Mightier Than the Code: Getting Your Way with Words
3 – If Picasso Had a Pitch Deck: Writing as a Visual Art
4 – Time Management: Avoiding Rabbit Holes and – even worse – Meetings
5 – The Color Green is Magical: Building an Action-Oriented Pipeline
6 – Your Net Worth = Your Network: Expanding Your Circle of Friends
7 – Getting In the Circle of Trust: How to Ask for Introductions & Getting Connected
8 – The Birds & the Bees: Understanding Human Nature…at Work
9 – Anatomy Class: Product Demos & Pitch Decks that WON
10 – Don’t Forget the “C” in ABC: The Process of Closing the Deal

Go to Article #2 – Get Over Yourself: What Selling Really Means

Christen O’Brien is a co-founder & Managing Partner at 500 Startups, an early-stage venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley with 800+ portfolio companies around the world. She built the Business Development group which has created much of 500’s corporate, community, marketing, and educational initiatives on a global scale. Previously, Christen founded a content company, led fundraising, sales, marketing, and business development across multiple industries, and also served as a volunteer in the Peace Corps. She lives in San Francisco with her husband Paul and their Great Dane, Virginia Woof. You can contact her via email (christenmarieob at gmail) or via LinkedIn or About.Me.


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