Selling To Entrepreneurs

Did you know that your ability to present your product or service in the way that your prospect wants to perceive it is critical to making the sale?  Are you using the right approach to successfully sell to entrepreneurial buyers, corporate executives and purchasing managers?

In this article, we’ll begin a three-part series that explores the emotional agendas of different types of buyers; entrepreneurs, corporate executives and purchasing managers. This understanding will help refine your selling skills so that you can make a positive impression every time.

An entrepreneur and a purchasing manager may both be interested in your product or service, but they are likely to have very different buying agendas. These differences can be traced back to the distinction between needs and wants.

Needs are…

  • Rational
  • Above the surface
  • Based on fact

Wants, on the other hand are…

  • Emotional
  • Below the surface
  • Based on perception

For example, consider the basic need for transportation. If people bought cars with just their needs in mind, we’d all be driving very functional vehicles and there would be just a few makes and models on the road.

Instead, many people choose a vehicle based on how it makes them feel… or how they want others to perceive them. So there are hundreds of models with thousands of options, colors and features aimed at satisfying every possible want – while still fulfilling the basic need for transportation.

This example also illustrates how much easier needs are to identify and fulfill than wants. You might even decide that since wants are so hard to uncover, you’d rather just focus on needs. The problem with this approach is that people don’t always buy what they need. People buy what they want… and they’re more likely to buy what they need from someone who understands what they really want.

If you can present your product or service (a need) in the way that your prospect wants to perceive it you will be more likely to make the sale. So, you might focus on very different things when selling to an entrepreneur than you would when selling to a purchasing manager – even if you’re selling the same product.

In this article, you’ll gain an understanding of the challenges that entrepreneurs typically face in running their businesses. We’ll explore the unique perspective of the entrepreneur and show you five strategies that will help you be more effective in selling to this type of prospect, including:

  1. Ways to build rapport
  2. Making your product or service the right answer – no matter what you sell
  3. Positioning your organization as the ideal provider
  4. Describing the benefits of your product or service
  5. Positioning your price as a true bargain

Before we dive into this valuable information, let’s be very clear on two points:

  • You should never misrepresent your product or service to make the sale – that’s unprofessional and dishonest and it will cost you in the long run. Instead, you should be aware that different buyers can be equally satisfied with your product or service for very different reasons. Understanding the different buying agendas that certain types of buyers may have will help you filter out everything that’s not relevant to that buyer and focus exclusively on what each individual wants to get from your product or service.
  • You cannot substitute generalizations about different types of buyers for the real legwork of asking questions and carefully listening to determine the best solution for your prospect. Instead, use this information to gain a broad understanding of your prospect’s world so that you can understand their problems and communicate in terms that are meaningful to them.

With that being said, let’s begin by defining an entrepreneur as anyone who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.

Here are the five strategies to help you sell more effectively to entrepreneurial buyers:

1. Building Rapport

You’ll do a far better job of building rapport with an entrepreneur if you’re aware that most entrepreneurs aren’t trying to build financial empires for themselves. Most of them went into business to achieve a far different goal – a steady, respectable paycheck without having to put up with a boss.

Entrepreneurs tend to want certain things regardless of the type of business they’re in. Many entrepreneurs share a desire to:

  • Be in charge
  • Call their own shots
  • Be independent and unique
  • Run their business their way
  • Have complete control over their business

Entrepreneurs generally resent any form of authority that’s exerted over them. In fact, they often lack the single characteristic every employee must have… being willing to obey orders of a superior, even when they think the superior is wrong.

Many entrepreneurs don’t want to have to do things that employees are expected to do, like:

  • Reporting their results
  • Explaining their actions
  • Justifying their decisions
  • Appearing at times and places “on demand”
  • Cooperating with a superior whose capabilities they believe aren’t any greater than their own, and are probably inferior
  • Accepting other people’s decision-making authority

Being a cooperative employee runs against the very fiber of their being. As a result, their desire for personal independence – more than any other impulse – drove entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.

The impulse wasn’t for profits or riches. It was freedom. That’s an important distinction because it actually tells you the best way to approach this prospect… and the approach you should avoid. When you’re working with an entrepreneurial prospect, it’s actually a mistake to position your product in terms of “profitability” or “growth.”

Profitability is nothing more than an intellectual abstraction for most entrepreneurs. They can’t really “feel it.” It has no emotional urgency, value or meaning for them. They relate more readily and eagerly to the amount of money they have in a checking account or cash register at the end of every day, week or month. Cash position has always mattered far more to entrepreneurs than profits ever could. It represents a reality they can easily understand and respect. Profitability may also raise anxiety about taxes in the mind of the entrepreneur. An explosion in earnings might actually cost them more time and trouble – forcing them to seek advice and services to help combat rising taxes and manage their finances.

Growth raises the fear that they’ll lose control over their businesses. They fear that a major increase in the size of the business will outstrip their ability to manage it. This fear stems from the fact that entrepreneurs rarely use any kind of coherent management strategy – they’re more likely to manage in a very hands-on way.

With this perspective in mind, a good bonding statement to use with an entrepreneur might be something along the lines of: “My sense is that independence is important to you. You probably want to be able to ‘call your own shots’ and that’s exactly how I would like to work with you. To see if we can help you achieve that, do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

2. Positioning your product or service

Entrepreneurs often respond to salespeople by saying, “That doesn’t apply to me.” Or “my business is different, it’s unique.” It’s important to realize that in the case of entrepreneurs, the owner and the business are practically one and the same. And what they’re really saying is “I’m unique, but you don’t make me feel that way.”

Entrepreneurs are also strongly attracted to products and services that have been designed specifically for their unique situations. If it were up to them, entrepreneurs wouldn’t buy a single product or service that wasn’t designed and developed precisely – 100% – for their specific business, industry, application or competitive environment.

Entrepreneurial buyers want to buy products or services that are practical, street-smart and not theoretical because they want solutions that:

  • Will eliminate complexity from their lives
  • Won’t strain the company’s resources
  • Won’t put additional demands on their own personal time

Entrepreneurs often have little patience for complexity because it interferes with the hands-on, quick-action performance they consider so vital to their personal independence.

An entrepreneurial buyer might be more receptive to your product or service if you alleviate some of their anxiety by saying something like: “Before we discuss our product let me stress that it is practical and street-smart. It’s also been carefully designed for your unique business situation.”

3. Positioning your organization

The highly suspicious attitude that many entrepreneurs display toward salespeople often stems from an overriding sense of uniqueness – of having special needs. Small and medium sized businesses outnumber giant companies by as much as 45-to-1. Yet, entrepreneurs perceive that almost every element of society favors the large companies and institutions. They want to do business only with a provider who considers them important enough to warrant flexibility or very special treatment.

To be the ideal provider, you must be willing to make accommodations to what entrepreneurs consider their own unique requirements. You may not really have to make many exceptions, but the entrepreneur wants to be sure that you’re willing to do so.

Also, be aware that many entrepreneurial buyers are too busy to follow up with every detail – they’re often seeking “hands free solutions.” They want to be sure that your organization will take care of the details of implementing your product or service.

You could address these issues for the entrepreneur by saying something like: “Let me tell you a little about our company. We pride ourselves on being flexible, responsive, accountable and thorough. We follow through on everything. We cover all the bases for you so that you don’t have to.”

4. Describing your benefits

The chief benefit that many entrepreneurs want from any product or service is better control that doesn’t require more involvement on their part. If there’s a word that reminds most entrepreneurs of their business, it’s “chaos.” But when they try to deal with the chaos, they become victims of their own management style. For them, running a business is an act of physical labor – they manage by direct, personal intervention.

At the same time, entrepreneurs cannot stand chaos. The entrepreneur’s desire for order takes on monumental proportions when you consider that it’s tied to the need to believe that their lives aren’t being squandered. After all, for entrepreneurs, their businesses and their lives are one and the same. They consider their businesses practically their homes. It’s the place where their very existence is on the line every day. It’s where the drama of their lives is acted out from minute to minute.

With that in mind, here’s an example of a benefit positioning statement that might appeal to an entrepreneur: “This solution will give you a lot more order and control so you can reduce chaos automatically, without any involvement on your part.” 

5. Positioning your price as a true bargain

Many types of prospects are likely to talk endlessly about things like cost-effectiveness, but the entrepreneur is one of the few who’s really serious about it.

The reason for that is simple. No matter how large the business becomes, entrepreneurs always perceive that buying anything means taking money out of their own pockets. They must perceive the ideal product or service as being worth the money and producing a tangible benefit on a virtual one-to-one basis for each dollar spent. In other words, choose a symbol that’s familiar to your entrepreneurial prospect and use it as a model against which he or she can compare the price.

Also, the entrepreneur may be able to see the value of your product or service in real terms if you leverage its price against its ability to combat chaos, save time and minimize complexity.

You could make this point effectively for an entrepreneurial buyer with this type of statement: “Before we discuss price, let me stress that it won’t cost any more than what you’d make from three additional sales. Additionally, you’ll see substantial savings because this solution will help reduce waste and make your employees more productive by…”

In the next article, we’ll take an in-depth look at corporate buyers and you’ll discover why selling to a corporate executive might require a completely different approach than selling to an entrepreneur.