The Pen is Mightier than the Code: Getting your Way…with Words!

One of the most important things I learned as an entrepreneur is that, surprisingly, a large part of my job was to be a salesperson. And selling – whether you are fundraising, pitching, or actually trying to find buyers for your product – is really about language. There is a great deal of meaning in the words we use, the way our words are phrased, and the various verbal constructs (intonation, cadence, tone, etc.) surrounding the message. The importance of language in the sales process is often sorely underestimated, leading to a general misunderstanding of your pitch, their needs, and ultimately – why they actually said “no”.

Remember this – Getting to the “close” is about paying attention to “prose”. (I’m sorry…that was horrible…I just couldn’t help myself)

Before we dive into tactics, a quick primer – one of the product leads for Airbnb once told me that an internal mantra for their engineering team was “the whole screen matters”, meaning that team members needed to prioritize every single item that appeared on a user’s screen, since they were all equally important. In your sales process, the same is true – the whole screen matters, except think of each communication as part of that screen. Newbies often make the mistake of over-emphasizing the pitch itself and ignoring all the communications that happen before, during, and after the pitch. The point is – you need to be vigilant and care about the language used by all parties in every single email, call, and meeting so you can build a strong case for the “sale” & gain insight into what they really need, want, and think.

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Get Over Yourself: What Selling Really Means

There are a lot of myths about sales (especially among tech founders) that will get in your way of building a strong, sustainable business. For example, many people think the ability to sell is an innate talent, not a learned skill. Another misconception is that a good salesperson must be an inherently social, “life of the party” personality . Not only are beliefs like this 100% false, but they also undermine the single most important tool a founder can possess in her or his startup arsenal: Persuasion.

There are 3 core truths you need to accept before you can become a deal closing machine…

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Selling Silicon Valley: A Founder’s Guide to Closing (Big) Deals

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.

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