The Art of Sales

Published on 11 July 2019

Photo of Daniel Johnsen and Chris Lorang sitting down side by side

Many startup businesses hold the belief that if they build it, they will come. However, this dream doesn’t pan out the way many would hope. As Chris explains, it’s important to start with what the customers need and not with what you want to create. “If you go about it the right way, you’d go through product solution fit, product market fit, and then ultimately you’re going to get a customer base. It all seems a lot easier when you really know your customers, and that’s the beauty of an organisation like the SmartHub where you can actually work through that process,” He said.

Understanding the Problem

Selling is the key to any business, regardless of the product. From small transaction sales like a treat at the petrol station to highly complex sales cycles in complexed industries such as healthcare or defence, sales start with the soft sell. “You’re soft selling from day one,” Chris said, “But you’re not asking for money. You need to understand your consumer and the work you can do upfront strategically. It’ll save you a whole heap of time, effort and hardship in the long term.”

Getting to know your customer base and their pain points, likes, dislikes and issues with competing products or services is key to finding your place in the marketplace, but discovering this information can be a challenge. This is where making industry connections and finding mentors can help. “There’s plenty of places you can look to find people to talk to. You can talk to industry bodies, trade unions or social media. As a startup, what you’re trying to do is genuinely understand the customer and add value to their lives and people gravitate towards that pitch. People genuinely want to help you. Get out there, have those conversations. The sooner you have them, the sooner you know whether you’re onto something or you’re not onto something,” Chris said.

As an example, Daniel asked about what he should do if he was in a complicated industry such as healthcare, selling equipment to operating rooms in Australia, the US and in Europe. If he were to market this product, would it be in his best interests to walk into a hospital and ask to speak to the chief surgeon, or should he do his homework and learn more about these people? “I would definitely do my research,” said Chris. “I would still start to have a conversation with whatever the surgical body is, but it’s good if you can go and have a conversation with those guys. You can often find mentors for your business and set up an advisory panel. People love to help. You can go and have a conversation with the hospital themselves and again, be honest, talk to them about what you’re trying to do. If you’re trying to add value to their lives and change their life or their business and make it either more profitable or more efficient, they’re going to be genuinely interested. And that is all you’re asking for at this point is time.”

When doing your homework about who you need to speak to, evaluating the different trade organisations and the people within them, Theis key to finding the right person to pitch to. “You have to ask yourself, is your pitch going to resonate better with this person or that person? Maybe you’re looking for a marketer, a CFO, a board member, an advisory board member. Often, you’ll have advisory board members that may have come out of a startup or an industry body. Next, you need to make the phone call and go through to their assistant or receptionist and say, “This is what I’m trying to find,” and they’ll say, “Yes, I can help you and you need to talk to this particular person.” You can even just email someone directly and tell them what you’re trying to do, and they can tell you straight up if they can add value to your business. A lot of startups set up advisory boards. You might be too early to pay people, but you can still take these people out to dinner once a month and get them be a part of your organisation.”

Once you have found your audience and have connected with people in your industry, the next step is to meet with your ideal customers. “I have a real-world example of this. When we started one of our businesses, which was a digital agency, we heard there was a conference going on from a big client in Tasmania. So, I got on a plane, flew down there, and I found out which bar they were going to go to, and I went to that bar. I met so many wonderful people and we built a business off the back of that. You just have to ask yourself, what problems does your audience really have and how are you going to solve those problems? I think a lot of startups look at it and they’re quite tentative in their approach, but it’s persistence and attitude that really drive startups forward.”

Building Relationships

While selling is such a key part of any business, many startup founders don’t see themselves as salespeople. Instead they see themselves as technical people or industry experts and then they struggle to market themselves and their product. Chris believes this is due to a deep seeded fear of rejection. “Different people have different personalities, which is why they talk about the holy trinity of founders. You want a technical guy, you want a hipster who designs and looks after the product and you want a hustler. If you have those three, you have more of a chance of success. But sometimes you don’t have that luxury, especially in a place like Rockhampton, where you might be a solo operator, so you either have to hire those skills in or you have to learn those skills. And if you are going through the process of building a successful startup then selling is really a natural step to that.”

When Chris was starting out in one of his businesses, he realised he needed to get better at selling, so he gave himself a challenge to talk to people in elevators. “It’s something no one does, its usually just get in the elevator, get out. It’s pretty weird to try and get that little bit of information, but you soon break down those barriers. You can also get involved with social groups. What you’re really looking to do is build a relationship, and in order to build a relationship you need common ground.”

Chris finds that a lot of the sales process and building a relationship between you and your customer is a lot like dating. “What are you going to do to find a partner? Where will you find them? What will they like about me? How do I naturally have a conversation that’s simple, easy and engaging? Body language plays a part of it too.” He said.

The dating metaphor continues when it comes to making a sale. As Chris explained, “If you’re going out on a date, you need to present yourself as best as possible. You need to prepare, have an objective in mind. Do you want to close the deal? Or maybe you just need to get to know someone a little better and see if you’re a fit. But you need to have an objective, understand who you’re talking to and know which pitch you need to use. And you should prepare your pitches in advance – think of what their objectives might be and how you can counter them. You need to map it all out so you can manipulate the conversation in your favour.”

One technique Chris uses is following an old business saying that a ‘no’ is one step closer to ‘yes’. “The quicker we can get to a no, the quicker we can get to a yes. It’s not about being rejected, it’s just business. You’ll almost never get a flat-out no. If you’re cold calling then it’s a time factor, but most people will just say, “I’m too busy.” We got one of those yesterday, or they were interested but they were just time poor and tell you to call them back.”

As someone who has helped a lot of businesses find their start, Chris knows the most common pitfalls that startups fall into – the fear of reaching out to your customers. “Startups are so busy. You’re basically a CEO from day one. You’re thinking about financials, the product, marketing, operations, relationships and all these other things. The hardest task we have to do, is to talk to a customer. So, what do we do instead? We gravitate towards things that are easier to do. We’ll write a line of code or fix up this photo or anything. The reality is, the quicker you get to a customer, the quicker you’re going to understand your market.”

Opportunities with the SmartHub

What Chris has demonstrated within his own business and the businesses he has helped is that it pays to be daring, to hustle and to ask for the things that your business needs to succeed. “Pick up the phone, get out there, have those conversations and don’t just sit at home wondering. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Someone says that they’re busy, and you can find out when they’re not busy and ask for their email. It’s a smarter play.”

If you would like to hear more from Chris, you can find him on Twitter, LinkedIn or you can email him at He will also be continuing to work with the SmartHub in the Turbo-Traction Lab, helping startups build a modern business through practical guidance and assistance from world-class experts. Applications are now open for Lab 2 beginning on the 26th of August. Click here to submit your application.

SmartHub is also hosting another Startup Weekend, an event that provides experience and education to aspiring entrepreneurs. Learn skills such as pitching, brainstorming, developing plans and creating prototypes. A Startup Weekend is the perfect place to experiment with your business idea and take steps towards launching your very own startup. This event will be held at the SmartHub at 208 Quay St, Rockhampton starting from Friday, 26th of July and continuing until Sunday, 28th of July. You can learn more and register here. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the SmartHub and the services on offer, such as gaining access to coworking facilities, mentoring opportunities, free in-house training and workshops and much more, head over to the SmartHub Facebook page, or come and have a look at 208 Quay Street, Rockhampton.

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