From Leads to Clients

From Leads to Clients

Image for post

Have you ever followed up on a lead for 8 months without closing a deal then realized not only will your lead not give you business but also that they cannot? As a salesperson, you want to maximize the number of leads you convert to clients using minimum resources. Many salespeople approach this by increasing the number of leads they have. However, they can waste fewer resources by focusing on quality leads rather than just more leads. This makes it really important to qualify your leads.

Superficially, someone can say qualifying a lead is about who you reach in the organization, what their role is and where they stand in the hierarchy of the organization. But qualifying leads is more of an art than a science, and it requires high levels of both emotional and social intelligence as well as a deeper understanding of human relationships and dynamics.

First of all, let’s discuss why it’s important to qualify a lead:

  • According to entrepreneur Steven Tulman, 67% of your lost sales come from sales reps not qualifying leads properly before going ahead with the rest of the sales process.
  • Qualifying a lead helps evaluate sales projections by estimating the size of expected business from the prospect, thus aids in the allocation of appropriate time and resources to the lead.

Even though qualifying leads would vary from one type of lead to another, having a general process helps streamline operations and leads to a bigger impact on your sales growth. So what are the ingredients of a good process?

  1. Build an Ideal Buyer Persona Profile. This can be as detailed as possible with imaginary — or not — names, ages, occupation. In the profile, answer the following questions:
  2. How does he find you?
  3. What are his pain points?
  4. What is his budget?
  5. What role does he play within his organization?
  6. What does he need to know prior to purchase?
  7. Why would he buy from you and not someone else?

Building a profile shouldn’t be an imaginary exercise especially if you’re already in business. All you have to do is call your best customers and find out the similarities between them. If you’re not in business yet, that information would come out of your product-market fit research.

  1. Understand how long the sales cycle is for the type of deal you’re trying to make in that particular industry- If you’re a salesperson who works across industries, you’ll need to understand that sales cycles vary depending on many factors such as the size of the company, whether it’s a startup or a traditional organization, whether there are many technical aspects in the deal that might require customizations, etc. In other words, just because following up might take 12 months, that doesn’t necessarily mean the deal won’t close eventually, as it could just mean there are many fine details that need to be agreed on.
  2. Know the difference between interest and intent. People who are only interested in buying will ask general questions about the company, but those with intent will ask specific questions related to your demo and pricing, information about maintenance, etc.
  3. Know how much your lead usually spends on solutions similar to yours. Understanding that not only helps you price your solution better but also helps you drop those for whom your product or service is too expensive.
  4. Most importantly, understand the true decision makers in the companies. Just because a person has a role or a job title doesn’t necessarily translate to them being able to influence the project. This is where social intelligence comes in as you’ll need to connect with many people within the organizations to understand where the true power really lies, and who makes all the decisions concerning budgets.

Ride the wave before it forms

Another thing to consider in the pre-qualification process is whether the demand for your product or service is established or emerging. This helps pre-empt qualified leads and get to them before your competition.

Most salespeople are familiar with Established Demand. It’s when customers have figured out what they need and how much they’ll pay for it. General attributes for Established Demand are as follows (Link Here):

  • Senior decision-maker involvement
  • Buying authority
  • Customer consensus
  • Approved budget
  • A clearly articulated need

Emerging Demand is one that is driven by some form of internal or external change. Internal drivers of organizational change could be ongoing poor commercial performance, senior leadership turnover etc. External drivers of change such as changes in legislation, technology or macro-economic trends usually impact multiple organizations at once thus widening your leads. For instance, Kenya’s ban on plastics brought about a demand for alternatives.

Once you’ve qualified your leads, the number of leads you have might be less but their quality would definitely go up so you could focus your resources on each one, naturally increasing your conversion rate.

Co-written with Amina Islam


Read more

What Type of Person Do You Need to Be To Become an Angel Investor?

What Type of Person Do You Need to Be To Become an Angel Investor?

Image for post

In a couple of recent posts (here and here), we deconstructed the local angel investing cycle. One observation that comes up is that despite the existence of African-based investment institutions, a large percentage of money pumped into the continent still comes from international institutions. Why is it that we still haven’t tapped into the big reservoir of African high net-worth individuals (HNWI’s) who can become angel investors but are choosing not to be.

There’s a general idea that man fears that which he does not understand, and given the generational gap that usually exists between HNWI’s and startup founders, it’s easy for the former to dismiss investing in such startups and instead focus on buying properties.

But angel investing can be quite lucrative — as long as you understand it.

It’s a Numbers Game

Googling “average return on angel investing” will most likely return a hit that mentions a 27 % internal rate of return. Quoting this source, “Multiple studies* have shown that over the long run, carefully selected and managed portfolios of personal angel investments produce an average annual return of over 25 percent.”

While this might make your eyes light up with dollar signs, it’s important not to take that number at face value. The key phrases in the previous paragraph are “over the long run” and “carefully selected and managed portfolio.”

Angel investing is risky business. According to (the self-proclaimed experts of failure), 90 % of new startups fail. Investors need to go in knowing they’re writing a check they might never see again.

But here’s the thing, when it comes to investing in startups, the Law of Large Numbers applies, where your probability of success is directly proportional to how many times you play. Given the risky nature of the game, this means it’s prudent to limit how much you invest to 10 % of your savings.

Deals don’t get publicity

Another thing to note is that many deals on the continent don’t get announced publicly because people don’t want to put their wealth on display — or in question. This is not surprising in countries where people still associate wealth with corruption or drugs.

Because the startup ecosystem in Africa is still at its infancy and because of this tendency to not publicize deals, the information on this specific market is still incomplete and skewed.

Investing in startups is not for everyone

One more thing that needs to be highlighted is that angel investing is not for everyone. It takes a special type of personality to direct a portion of their investment into something as unpredictable as a startup. Investors need to have a long-term view (measured in years if not decades). Also, they should be financially able to tolerate losses and have a high threshold for risk — and failure.

As quoted here,“So if you are the kind of person who is going to get upset when you lose 100 percent of your $50,000 investment in a promising startup, or can’t deal with the fact that the day after your founder launches a breakthrough product, Google unveils a better, free version that soaks up the entire market, then angel investing is not the business for you to be in…just as you clearly should not be an entrepreneur yourself.”

Steve Jobs once said, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

He perfectly encapsulated the sort of personality ideal for an entrepreneur. That phrase would need to be modified for an investor so it reads, “Stay hungry, stay patient.”

Personally, I think every one of us can invest in the people who build our economic ecosystem to some extent. You don’t have to write a 1,000,000 $ check to support budding entrepreneurs. You could invest in them by sharing your expertise and time. Not only that, but I feel if we were to make solid progress as an economy, it is not just something we can do but also something we must do.

In the next post, we explore venture builders and compare them with venture capitalists.

Co-written with Amina Islam


Read more

Why Emerging Markets Need More Venture Builders?

Why Emerging Markets Need More Venture Builders?

Image for post

When you listen to entrepreneurs’ stories, many times they’ll say something like, “At the beginning, we didn’t know what we were doing.”

Even Sir Richard Branson’s company Virgin was named to reflect how new at doing business they were when they began.

However, imagine a scenario where every young inexperienced entrepreneur is backed by a veteran who already carries the battle scars of business. Imagine how that would drive faster economic growth catapulting Africa to new heights.

This could be done by multiplying the number of venture builders in the market. Venture Builders are investors who not only write cheques, but also take an active role in building the startups they invest in. In other words, they get their hands dirty, leveraging their knowledge, connections and resources to build their portfolio startups.

One Berlin-based venture builder — Rocket Internet — been on the news this past month as the backer behind the e-commerce behemoth, Jumia, which just got listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

This raises the question, why don’t we have more venture builders on the African continent?

Who are Venture Builders?

Venture builders are also called startup factories. They efficiently churn out startups to the market by executing several of the startup’s functions such as:

  • Market research and idea conception
  • Building high-performance teams
  • Deploying shared resources and services such as legal and finance

Taking care of these services gives the entrepreneurs time and space to focus on their areas of competency.

Some venture builders are full-stack, aiding startups in every stage of their life while others have specialized capabilities.

What’s the Difference Between Venture Builders and Accelerators?

While some might confuse venture builders with accelerators, there’s a distinct difference between the two. First of all, venture builders don’t run competitive programs that culminate in Demo Day. They have skin in the game and are there to run operations alongside the entrepreneur.

Another difference is in the time investment made. Accelerators tend to run for 6 to 9 months and then entrepreneurs are sent out to fend for themselves. The problem with this model is they often find themselves asking, “What next?”

Venture builders, on the other hand, are invested — both with their finances and their time.

Which is exactly what our tech startup scene needs.

Emerging markets are volatile and vulnerable. Entrepreneurs need to overcome bureaucracies, as well as economic and infrastructural challenges. There’s also a shortage of skilled labor in the market, especially in STEM fields. That’s why bringing in a builder to share their resources across multiple startups would catalyze the ecosystem.

Also, venture builders are more likely to attract VC capital than individual entrepreneurs. Their established systems for manufacturing products, strategizing marketing and building high-performance teams tend to be more stable, thus lowering the perceived risk for investors.

Having a venture builder around would be too good an idea for every entrepreneur, but what’s in it for them?

More equity, of course. Because of all the value they bring to the table, they tend to take more equity than their counterparts in the venture capital world.

Just like local angel investors formalize investing, startup factories formalize the value added by investors to startups.

I’ll end with this quote from the website of Unicornify, a Venture Builder, “Money is stupid. It doesn’t think. It doesn’t network. It doesn’t solve problems. It doesn’t interface. Yes, it can buy you stuff but how do you know to buy the right stuff. We try to make money smart by attaching network and experience.”

Co-written with Amina Islam


Read more

Why You Should Use a Sales Script As a Compass Not a Map

Why You Should Use a Sales Script As a Compass Not a Map

Image for post
Why You Should Use a Sales Script As a Compass Not a Map

There once was a person who wanted to experience indoor skydiving in Dubai. Before going in, the gatekeeper asked them a question to ensure their safety, “Are you pregnant?”

Funny enough, the person going in was a man.

Now, this is an extreme case of following a script without considering who was standing right in front of them.

But, what does this have to do with selling?

In today’s post, I give my two cents on the debate around whether you should use a written script during cold calling or not [needless to say, a written script during an in-person interaction is a total no-no though the following discussion could apply to a memorizedscript].

My personal opinion is that using a sales script will depend on where you are in your sales career.

Experienced salespeople suggest that you use written scripts sparingly as they could make you sound either like a monotonous robot or an overcaffeinated, high-strung one depending on how fast you speak. This could totally ruin your chance to connect with your potential customer.

You might also become so focused on reading from the script that you spare no cognitive energy on actually listening to what your prospect is saying, again missing out on a real connection and introducing you to the phone’s dial tone more often than you would like to hear.

However, I still think sales scripts are a good training tool when an experienced salesperson wants to pass the baton of knowledge to new sales recruits. As a new recruit, you need to build your self-confidence, and scripts can do that by keeping your thoughts organized and coherent. That way, you’re more likely to succeed in your pursuits and less likely to turn into a bumbling mess during the call, which — depending on your level of self-esteem — could turn into self-bashing and consequently impact your self-confidence negatively.

A sales script also helps you stay ahead of the conversation by keeping key details close by in case a customer asks very specific questions about the product. Also, you can address common objections around your offering before the customer brings them up.

Essentially, the main benefit of having a script is preparation. As an inexperienced salesperson, role-playing the script with your team allows you to imagine different scenarios that could unfold and help you be prepared for each and every single one of them.

Scripts also give you a safety net on days when your performance is not stellar, which is something that everybody goes through.

Having listed out the merits of using a script, it must be seen as a compass, not a map. In other words, it only exists as a reference and a guide to the conversation, not as a detailed map.

When it comes to interactions between people, the secret behind building rapport is personalization. If that were not the case, selling would be one of the occupations at risk of complete automation.

As it stands right now, according to a study conducted by McKinsey to estimate the percentage of tasks that could be automated by adapting currently demonstrated technology in various occupations, 49 % of day-to-day of sales-related tasks could be automated.

The remaining 51 % is where you bring in the human factor to build trust and make a personal connection. Which is all good, because artificial intelligence and automation can handle tasks such as scheduling and keeping a sales pipeline organized, but can it really make someone laugh or feel like their lives will be turned around by the product or service you’re selling?

With that said, as you gain more experience as a salesperson, you’ll learn to take control of any conversation with a potential customer. We live in a cluttered world, and to rise above the noise, it is imperative you grab their attention and be memorable by eliciting positive feelings through personalization.

Also, because we live in a world where the buyers themselves have changed, sales people have to be more responsive to that change. In studies on experiences that are designed to be purely digital like e-commerce, results have shown that people still crave human interactions.

In conclusion, remember that selling is a human process and though cold calling might have its perks in terms of efficiency, the real foundation of selling is long-term relationship building, which means at some point you have to get off the phone and meet your potential customer in person.

“The big trend for 2018 is conversational selling…Trying to treat them more like a human, really engaging with the prospect on a one-to-one basis, and tailoring the message to who they are and their needs at the time.”

— Marko Savic, CEO and Founder, FunnelCake [ Source]


Read more

Why You Shouldn’t Fall Off The Bandwagon of Lead Generation

Why You Shouldn’t Fall Off The Bandwagon of Lead Generation

Image for post

Being at the helm of your own company has many challenges. One of the main ones is balancing client acquisition with work execution. With only twenty four hours available to you every day, it’s always tempting to lean towards the task you find easier or more enjoyable.

For me, that’s usually work execution.

Which means that I struggle when it comes to staying religiously disciplined while generating leads and acquiring new clients.

What usually happens is this: at the beginning of every quarter, I start off with enthusiasm, but then I slow down the process of generating new leads, as I turn my focus towards work execution.

However, this would eventually catch up with me due to the turbulent nature of the market I work in.

What should drive your sales process is actively generating leads rather than relying solely on referrals and upselling to current clients. Also, keep in mind that industry statistics show that 63% of consumers requesting info on your company today will not purchase for at least 3 months, so you need to always stay ahead of the game.

Referrals are usually a good thing as they’re a sign of clients who were satisfied enough to pick up the phone and recommend you to their peers.

But you can’t always count on them.

Also, clients will primarily refer new clients who are at their level of the financial spectrum, which could make you plateau if your aim is to continuously acquire bigger projects.

Focusing on expanding business off of our current client base is another easy thing we tend to do as business owners but it can be very risky.

I learned this lesson the hard way when during the second quarter of 2016, a new marketing director joined one of my top clients. The new head was skilled at pitching for extra budget and within 3 months, the marketing activities we were executing lead to a spike of 40 % in revenues.

However, during the first quarter of 2017, a new regional management team took over, drastically cut the budget, sending our revenues into a nosedive. This sent us scampering and suddenly, we had to ramp up our lead generation machine.

It did not have to happen that way.

The mistake we made there was relying on that account to generate revenues when we could have diversified by acquiring more clients.

Define Lead Generation Goals Rather Than Revenue Related Goals

It is common for salespeople to define revenue-related goals. So when you close enough deals to hit that revenue (even if it’s just from a single client), lead generation takes a backseat.

However, what you need to do is set goals related to lead generation activities:

  • Number of leads reached out to (on Linkedin, through cold calling or referrals)
  • Number of referrals followed up on
  • Lead conversion

How I learnt to set those goals is to use my own team’s historical data to determine the number of leads we need to periodically generate to guarantee growth. For example, in one of our most productive quarters to date, we had 21 leads, followed up on 16 of them, and converting 25 % to business that lead to our surpassing our revenue targets by 49%.

Armed with this information, generating 20 leads every quarter has now been set as a goal so we can plan ahead.

What if you don’t have capacity?

Maybe you shy away from generating leads because you’re worried about converting so many of them into clients that you find it difficult to deliver due to stretched resources. The truth is, you don’t really know your capacity for execution until you’re operating at your limits. One of the quotes by Grant Cardone, the author of 10x rule, “Never lower your target; increase your actions.”

Unless you’re working on a reimbursement system, where you have to put your own resources to run projects before you get paid, new clients can also help you expand your capacity as they come equipped with resources that could help you free up some of your time — e.g. training a new sales team. You’ll never know until you have those conversations with your leads.

Overall, remember that if you’re focusing on growth, you’ll always need to keep your lead generation running in the background



Read more

Why Africa Needs More Unicorns?

Why Africa Needs More Unicorns?

Image for post

In the 2018 superhero movie, Black Panther, Wakanda was shown as a high-tech African country powered by the extraordinary yet imaginary vibranium metal. Drawing inspiration from all over the continent, The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer called the movie, “a love letter to people of African descent all over the world.”

And it was a love letter indeed.

Because what Black Panther did was materialize the untapped potential of Africa.

It showed us what we could be, unfettered.

The question I’m raising today is what stops us from dreaming big when it comes to harnessing this continent’s potential? Why shouldn’t we aim at building innovative unicorns — startups valued at over a billion dollars? Why are the top ten unicorns emerging from the US and China?

If you scoff at this idea, then therein lies one of the reasons why. We’ve decided to program barriers into our mindsets, and into the collective cultural narrative so we are more likely to believe the following:

  • The only successful type of entrepreneurship on this continent is tenderpreneurship
  • You can’t make an honest living here without being involved in corruption
  • Money is racist, so you need a mzungu co-founder to raise funds for your startup
  • The dispensable income of the average Kenyan is too low for us to build unicorns around

While the anecdotes to support each statement are plentiful, they show that the first barrier is in our minds. We lack the belief in ourselves and our capabilities.

Henry Ford said, “‘Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”

And that lack of self-belief cascades into snail-slow progress (if any) in areas such as economic growth, job creation, service delivery, and poverty reduction in Africa, with 7 out of the 10 top countries with extreme poverty globally surfacing from Africa.

As a region, we also rank last in the Global Innovation Index list, with a value of 25, which is less than half of the highest scoring region, North America.

Image for post

While there are some examples of individual ingenuity, they tend to be scattered and small. As a country, we in Kenya love to toot our own horn about Safaricom’s innovative M-Pesa. What CB Insights named as Africa’s only three unicorns — Jumia, Promasidor Holdings and Cell C — might also make it into conversations, but that’s about it.

As a trickle-down effect emanating mainly from our low self-confidence, we also have problems with execution. We build small businesses with the intention of keeping them small leading to their collapse during volatile economic turmoils. We also tend to focus on the wrong ideas, sectors and industries. Rather than building contextualized businesses that solve our own problems in Africa, we look outwards at the fads that are happening across the world and try to import and impose them on our people, in hopes of attracting international funding.

There’s also an absence of a strong entrepreneurial culture, and an integrated ecosystem that would be able to nurture the unicorn types of businesses.

More importantly, thanks to our educational system, talent gaps exist in the market at an epic scale, with the African Union estimating the brain drain at 70,000 skilled professionalsemigrating from Africa annually due to the limited economic opportunities.

So do we have challenges?

Yes, we do, but we shouldn’t use them as excuses to lay down, because we definitely cannot afford to anymore. Instead, we should reframe them as opportunities.

In their report, McKinsey showed that sustaining the current growth rates of stable wage-paying jobs over the next ten years will not be enough to absorb the 122 million new entrants into the labor force expected over the same period. And nobody can imagine the types of problems that all this restless energy could cause.

It will be like a ticking bomb.

So we can’t afford to use our challenges as excuses, because we are quickly running out of time. We need to focus on building scalable businesses that would be irrigated by local investments directed at local entrepreneurs.

And we do have a chance to build unicorns, because we have the power of technology on our side. Rather than rely on inefficient, manual systems and processes to support our businesses, we can use technology to speed things up, and focus on delivering actual solutions to consumers.

According to a GSMA report, mobile adoption has grown rapidly in recent years: with overall subscriber penetration reaching 44 % in 2017, up from just 25 % at the start of the decade, and that would be important to empower consumers and drive economic growth. Mobile money and the use of smartphones will also provide the necessary infrastructure and networks to catalyze digital transformation.

Enabled with tech, and together with a positive mindset, and we can aim higher and build bigger, so who wants in?

Co-written with Amina Islam


Read more

How to Maximize Your Landing Pages

How to Maximize Your Landing Pages

Image for post

In Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice asks the Cheshire Cat which way she should go. He tells her it depends on where she’s going.

“I don’t much care where,” Alice said.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

Sometimes you find people set up websites for their products and services without any inkling of an idea about what their goal for it is. What happens is website visitors stumble onto it, and quickly stumble out of it.

Money and effort spent posting blog posts, optimizing content for SEO, and driving traffic to the site go wasted when you succeed in getting your target audience’s attention but fail toconvert them to paying customers — unless your goal is purely to educate and brand.

If the purpose of your website is to sell a product or service, however, then it’s important to steer your target audience in the right direction, and set up an effective landing page.

A landing page is a powerful sales tool as it is a dedicated webpage that drives visitors to complete a single goal or call to action. Its main mission is conversion — of prospective customers to paying ones.

So how do you maximize conversion on your landing page?

There are best practices to remember while designing landing pages, and those are:

  • Speak to your target audience. Empathize with them by highlighting how you’re removing their pain points. More importantly, in line with what Simon Sinek talks about in his famous TED talk, tell them why they are parting with their hard-earned money to buy your products/services. Most importantly, remember that a landing page is not yourblog where you rant or wax lyrical about your life. That’s what your blog is for.
  • Make sure your content is engaging. With so many landing pages copying each other’s style, be a little creative to engage your audience. Provide short videos rather than text. However, if your target audience is in rural areas of developing countries where the cost of data is high and connection speeds are low, you might want to stick to text.
  • Be concise. Besides the fact that it displays simple courtesy when you make it clear you don’t want to waste anyone’s time, an eye-tracking study shows that it takes users 2.6 seconds for their eyes to land on that area of a website that most influences their first impression. So the sooner you get to the point, the better.
  • Provide testimonials and case studies of people who are happy with your solution. Also, provide a money-back guarantee if it doesn’t work for them.
  • Give a clear, bright call-to-action that draws the reader’s attention.

How effective is an effective landing page?

To measure the effectiveness of a landing page, you’ll need to calculate its conversion, which is defined as the ratio of the number of people who buy the product and/or service to the number of people who visit the landing page.

But to understand how effective is effective, you can benchmark it against statistics provided by ImpactBound that states, “The average conversion rate falls around 2.35 %. The top 25 % are converting at 5.3 % while the top 10 % are looking at 11.45 % and above.”

However, it’s important to note that various factors such as your industry, product or service, target audience greatly influence the conversion rate.

“I’m here to help you.” — Adding Interactive Chats to Your Landing Page

Due to their prevalence, landing pages could sound both spammy and impersonal, so nowadays, companies are modifying them by adding an interactive chat window manned by actual people who ask, “Do you have any questions? I’m here to help you.”

This helps personalize the experience for the prospective customer. This tool comes with its own set of best practices, such as:

  • Give the visitor some time to peruse your website before letting the chat pop open. Otherwise, they’re more likely to close it as they wouldn’t have had any questions yet.
  • Mix up your default chat greeting and offline messages. When the greeting always starts the same way, it makes the chat sound like a bot, which defeats the purpose of personalization and interactivity that these tools are supposed to add.
  • Respond to chats quickly. Waiting for someone to reply to you is frustrating. It’s better to not have the chat if you’re not going to manage it well.
  • The people responding to visitors should have some sales experience. Rather than pick entry-level workers who are focused on customer service, man the chat with salespeople as those are more driven to close to the sale.

Keep Testing, Tracking, and Learning

The good thing about websites is the ease with which tracking can be done. Also, perform A/B tests to measure the effectiveness of different designs, and see how each impacts conversions.

Just like many things, designing an effective landing page is more of an art than a science, so keep on learning and visiting different landing pages to see what works and what does. There are also various blog posts that list out the best landing pages, and break down the reasons on why some elements work and other don’t, such as this one.

Last but not least, remember to use landing pages as any other sales tool. Make sure to quantify the goals attached to it, and work to hit those goals.

Written with Amina Islam


Read more

Frame Your Product As a Painkiller Not a Vitamin

Frame Your Product As a Painkiller Not a Vitamin

Image for post

Pain is a powerful motivator.

It drives people to do anything in their power to stop it.


It’s very good to understand this while framing your product for sale because in some cases you need your potential customer to view it as a painkiller rather than a vitamin. It comes as no surprise that due to the complex and challenging nature of the market, customers’ expectations are rising. It’s getting harder to do business nowadays, and rise above the noise to convince customers to part with their hard-earned cash.

So when you frame your product like a vitamin that is nice to have and might get your customers benefits in the long term, you are more likely to face more rejections because they don’t find the delayed gratification enough reason for immediate purchase. However, when your product addresses short-term pains, then your probability of closing more sales increases.

For some products, the classification between painkillers and vitamins is easy. For example, productivity tools, and content aggregators tend to fall under the vitamin category, while products that help you satisfy a regulatory requirement or win sales.

However, if you’re unsure, how do you even know if the product you’re trying to sell is a painkiller or a vitamin?

  • Measure the length of your sales cycle — people and businesses with real pain push for short sales cycles
  • Take note of how your customer acquisition metrics. When you get more customers through referrals and inbound leads rather than outbound leads, chances are high you’re in the painkiller business.

But just because you see your product as a vitamin doesn’t mean that the customer shares that perspective. If you talk to enough customers and listen to them, you might realize there’s a pain your product is relieving you might not even be aware of. And listening to your customers doesn’t need to happen in person, but could be done by gathering stories around your product through customer service channels, and on social media.

Another thing to understand while selling is how context always matters when it comes to making a purchase. Sometimes how one product is perceived would depend solely on your customer, their needs and problems. Some might view your product as a vitamin while others might view it as a painkiller. To understand the context, you’ll need to do in-depth interviews with your current customers to understand a few basic things. For B2C customers, you would need clarity on what was happening for them to purchase your product? How does it tie in with any personal goals they might have? For B2B customers, how was the business performing, what was happening around them to make them reach out to your product?

This makes it necessary to have a clear understanding of who your user is, or defining your user profile, which is why there needs to be continuous alignment between sales and marketing departments. Some of the activities the two departments would need to align on are:

  • Persona Profile Development: Persona profile is a detailed description of your target customer, capturing everything from demographic information to hobbies, values, fears, goals, and challenges.
  • Brand Positioning and Messaging: Understanding how your brand is perceived internally and externally is crucial for your organization. Sales teams can help marketing teams identify gaps in brand consistency, and together they can address a plan to improve them.

But what if your product is a vitamin that can’t be framed into a painkiller in any way? There are some sales strategies you could use:

  • Talk money: At the end of the day, if you can make a case about how your product increases revenue or reduces cost, clients will be more willing to be sold on it.
  • Build Credibility: This is done through testimonials, case studies with real clients, focusing on the impact of your product. Because the timeline between the purchase and the value might be more extended for vitamins, the more real-life examples of the ‘ultimate’ value — even if delayed — would need to be communicated, for the clients to be able to make a decision now.

Last but not least, remember that sales is a numbers game. No sales call goes to waste. Even rejections can be seen as good market research as even if you do not close a deal with a lead, you still gain enough by listening to them to understand their perception of your product.

Co-written with Amina Islam


Read more

Are You A Visionary Sales Leader

Are You A Visionary Sales Leader

Image for post

In a world where the majority of people have become salespeople, it takes more than a title to be a sales leader, especially a visionary one.

And no, multiple years of experience selling does not cut it. Neither does marshalling the operations of a sales team.

Visionary sales leaders stand out, not only by what they do but also how they do it and why. Visionary leadership combines the two skills of seeing the potential for change with the ability to lead others to cause that change. Visionary leaders share the following traits:

They operate on a pull strategy rather than a push one. For instance, rather than push their product down their potential client’s throat, they pull them to buy it by inspiring a vision of how it could improve their life.

They also pull the best out of their team members by communicating the why of what they’re selling rather than its what only. For example, a visionary leader would explain to their team why they should be hitting their sales targets, and would also ensure that outcomes are tied to intrinsic motivation. By contrast, a typical sales manager would most likely use extrinsic methods of motivation, enforcing and reinforcing the carrot-and-stick approach.

They neither bark down commands nor micromanage. Instead, they know how to properly delegate. As a leader, your job is to set expectations and empower your team with the skills and knowledge they need to do their job well. Then you must give them autonomy and get out of their way. More importantly, every employee needs to feel like they’re part of the bigger vision, regardless of their position.

The best way I’ve witnessed that was in a company that made its sales target visible at the front office, and even the receptionist could explain to a visitor what that target’s achievement meant to the company. This made sure that everyone understood the value the company provided, and could potentially go out, and bring in more clients.

They know that selling is about building valuable, meaningful and trusted long-term relationships rather than short-term transactional ones. Imagine coming to the realization that you don’t have the capacity to deliver to a client according to their specifications, and referring them to a competitor with the capacity. The client would appreciate that you made a decision that was good for them even if it jeopardizes your position in the short-term.

Building relationships with their sales team is also important, as they nurture the relationship over a long period of time through continuous training and mentoring, leading to team chemistry and loyalty. This is in contrast with continuously recruiting market champions who come with great experience and contacts, but ask for a very high salary scale and are in many cases, less loyal.

Their mantra is ‘Value, value, value.’ They build sales strategies based on the exchange of value with clients. They also live coherently with personal values such as integrity and honesty.

They listen, patiently, to everyone. They listen to their team to understand the challenges they’re facing, and rather than criticize, they opt to give constructive feedback on their work. They also listen to their clients to get feedback on what they’re selling. They listen to the market to see where it’s going and if they need to pivot their product or service, or reframe the message they use to sell it.

They drop their ego, and let others shineThey don’t try to take credit for everyone’s work. They also keep track of their team’s progress, and hold them accountable to their goals, by keeping the lines of communication open.

This also means giving their team enough freedom to make mistakes, without fearing repercussions. This is done by building a culture where failing forward is allowed, and mistakes are dissected and distilled openly to understand the lessons learnt.

Last but not all, they tolerate risks because visionary leadership is about change…changing lives, changing sales metrics, changing the business, and change is never risk-free.

So how many of your traits describe you?

Leave your comments below.

Co-written with Amina Islam


Read more

The Downsides of an Overly Optimistic Entrepreneur

The Downsides of an Overly Optimistic Entrepreneur

Image for post

The strength of a visionary entrepreneur is their ability to see something in their mind and bring it to life in the real world. The problem is that sometimes, they can become excessively overoptimistic that it could lead to their business’s failure.

Before I launch into my opinions on that, let me first state that I’m definitely not against optimism per se. In fact, if you’ve been following my posts, I’ve often written about the importance of optimism when it comes to running your own business or working in a sales career, as it takes optimism to build resilience in the face of multiple obstacles. It takes optimism to build self-discipline and charge forward even when you don’t feel like it.

In fact, according to research conducted by psychologist Martin Seligman, optimistic people tend to see negative events as temporary, limited in scope, and caused by external factors, which is the exact mindset you need to beat the odds of succeeding at building a great business. Optimism has also been shown to be a great stimulant for creativity as optimistic individuals feel that the environment is safe so they are more likely to seek novelty and experiment with ideas.

However, too much of it can be your kryptonite.


Being excessively overoptimistic makes you continuously underestimate risk. For example, you might underestimate the amount of time and money a project would take, and thus fail to sufficiently plan for it.

Being overly optimistic can also give your employees the impression you’re walking around with blinders on, as you excitedly exaggerate growth metrics, while hiding other elements of the truth that show there might be a problem within the company. Without admitting the company’s problems, you’re denying yourself and your team the opportunity to solve them.

Also, you cannot just visualize your way to success in business.

Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret brought with it people who’ve become obsessed with the ‘law of attraction’. They spend a lot of time visualizing, and visualizing some more, without actually doing anything to achieve what they’re trying to achieve.

The entrepreneur’s version of this is going from one conference to another telling the company’s story rather than doing the work.

“You must change reality, not just wish it away.” — Shawn Achor

Shawn Achor, known for his books on positive psychology, distinguishes between an irrational optimist and a rational one. While the former has a warped vision of reality that is grounded in desire, the latter believes that mindset does matter, but they also recognize that reality is part of the formula.

So what can you do to make sure you’re optimistic enough to run your company, without being too optimistic to run it into the ground?

Use Metrics. Numbers don’t lie. Though it is encouraged to be enthusiastic and passionate about your business, you have to use a set of consistent measurements tracked over time to gauge how the company is performing, and make decisions based off of that. The numbers will tell you whether you need to put in place strategies for growth, pivoting or failing.

Have an executive board that keeps you in check. Surround yourself with people who challenge you rather than agree with everything you say. Such people will help you stay accountable and grounded in reality.

In summary, while it is important to be optimistic as an entrepreneur, it’s also important to know when you’re becoming overoptimistic, leading your business towards derailment — and possible demise.

Last but not least, Jim Collins summarizes it best in Good to Great“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”


Read more