The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster
Every day there are a million things you could spend your time doing to keep your ride in motion and your business moving. From shipping, quality control and vendor selection to arranging financing, invoicing and paying the bills, there is an endless stream—a raging torrent, really—of things to do, contemplate and decide.
Each one feels critical. Each one screams for your attention. When you look at it all, it seems daunting and overwhelming, a blur of scenery as you whiz past, your shoulder harness secured, unable to focus on any one thing.
One of the scariest parts of this ride is deciding where to spend your precious time and attention. This is no false threat. Wasting too much time on things that don’t matter and neglecting the things that do will send your cart hurtling off the tracks and headed nose-first to the ground below—a short ride on an even shorter track.
But how do you decide where to spend your time?
Imagine for a moment that before closing up shop one afternoon, you find a golden lamp lying in the middle of your conference room table (just go with me here). After looking over your shoulder to make sure no other people are in the office (because they would certainly call you crazy), you pick up the lamp and wipe away a thin layer of dust to get a better look. (You know where this is going, right?) Immediately the lamp rumbles and out pops a genie like the one from the famous fable Aladdin and the Magic Lamp.
Unfortunately, this genie has his loincloth in a bunch and is not in the mood for the standard “three wishes” nonsense. Instead, he promises to grant you instant “best-in-your-industry” status in just ONE category.
Which would you choose? For the record, this isn’t one of those “there are no wrong answers” kind of questions. There is a wrong answer. You run through the various options in your head.
Best Product Ever
The highest-quality product wins. Right? Not necessarily. With all the fancy three-star Michelin-rated restaurants run by celebrity chefs, promoted wildly on reality TV shows, what’s the No. 1 restaurant in the world? Answer: McDonald’s.
One of the most competitive businesses on the planet is the wine business. After all the art, science, label design, heritage, courting of tastemakers and connoisseurs, what company claims the title of No. 1 wine in the world? Answer: Franzia. (Yes, that’s the stuff that comes in a box.)
I have watched thousands of entrepreneurs spend millions of hours designing, creating and perfecting their products. Unfortunately, I have also watched many of these same entrepreneurs close their doors or file for bankruptcy while their perfect products collect dust in their garages.
Like it or not (and I don’t), it’s not a whoever-has-the-best-product-wins world.
You’ve often thought that if you could just gather the right team, you’d have the competitive edge.
Enron assembled one of the most talented corporate leadership teams in the history of business. Total bust.
The United States’ 2004 Olympic basketball team was built with nothing but National Basketball Association stars and was dubbed the “Dream Team.” Yet team U.S.A. came in third. Ouch.
Assembling a dream team is just that… a dream. It’s not the real crux of success. The right people focused on the wrong priorities can turn the dream into a nightmare. Just ask Enron.
Well then, what about the highest margins? Certainly your accountant and chief financial officer would support that wish. Imagine all that profit. And isn’t that the goal of a business?
But margins don’t matter if the product never sells—100 percent of zero is still what? Yep, zero.
Awe-Inspiring Sales and Marketing
Apple was not the first to deliver a mobile digital media player (or MP3 player) to the market. Not even close. In fact Apple was the eighth, and four years late to the party. Companies like Compaq, Archos and Creative had MP3 players with larger hard drives that could hold significantly more than 1,000 songs before the brilliant marketer Steve Jobs touted (and persistently repeated), “1,000 songs in your pocket.”
But who won?
Oh, don’t argue that the iPod was a significantly better product. The reality is that Apple won because of awe-inspiring sales and marketing.
When the iPod was announced, tech tastemakers weren’t impressed. Rumors were that Apple would release a revolutionary PDA (personal digital assistant). Instead the company “just” unveiled a music player, and sales didn’t take off for a long while. The year Apple launched the iPod (2001), its revenue declined, going from 30 percent revenue growth the year previous to -33 percent. The following year, 2002, revenues were -2 percent. In 2003, +18 percent meant a partial recovery. It wasn’t until 2004, three years after the launch of the iPod, that the company returned to 33 percent growth and then dominated the digital music player market, claiming a 90 percent market share for hard drive-based players and over 70 percent of the market for all types of players.
What happened to turn the tide those three years?
Sales and marketing happened, that’s what!
When it comes to the entrepreneur roller coaster, one critical thing will keep your ride from coming to a screeching halt. Of all the distractions you encounter each day, there’s just one job that matters the most when it comes to making this the most thrilling, successful ride of your life.
Like it or not, that thing determining whether your business succeeds or fails miserably is sales. It’s the one business truth that I witness every day: The ultimate success of a product or service is 10 percent the quality of the product and 90 percent the quality of the marketing.
Nine times out of 10, it’s not the best product, management or margin that determines the leader in the industry. Whether it’s clothing, cars, restaurants, accounting firms, real estate agents, lawyers, furniture manufacturers, refrigerators or fishing tackle, the companies that become the biggest are the ones that market themselves the best and sell the most.
I don’t necessarily like that fact, and I bet it makes you uneasy, too. I believe the quality of a product or service should be what’s most important, and it should stand entirely on the value it delivers. But that’s not reality.
So put the lamp away and get back to the real world where, like it or not, sales is king. The person who knows how to acquire, keep and cultivate a customer gets paid the most. Period.
Your No. 1 Job
From the first glow of your computer screen in the morning to the last loose end you tie up before heading home, you need to be selling. Whether your business has one employee or 1,000, you have to sell.
Even if you have a sales force selling your product for you, you’re still going to be selling “big ideas” to partners and “the vision” to your employees. You’ll be selling to new recruits, persuading them to join you; banks to back you; vendors to trust you; and the manufacturers that make your product to speed up production and keep up the great work. You will be persuading people to do their best, to lower their prices. You’re going to push, pull, convince, negotiate, wheel and deal.
You’re going to sell. All day. Every day. That’s business.
From now on, sales is your No. 1 job, your top priority, the only thing that will give you the speed you need to survive the dives, drops and inversions along this ride.
Why is it more critical than other business essentials? A few good reasons:
• Everything starts with sales. Nothing matters until you sell something. Nothing. You can vision-cast, dream-board, draft fancy business plans, meet with consultants, design a nifty logo, get pretty business cards and letterhead, but there is no business until a sale happens. A sale tells you if you even have a business. A sale starts the entire process and is the first thing every new business needs.
• Everything is sustained with sales. It’s the lifeblood of the business. Have problems? Sales will solve most of them. And the most common problem in surviving and sustaining your business is, guess what? Yes! Sales.
• Everything ends with sales. It doesn’t matter how socially conscious or environmentally friendly your product is. It doesn’t matter how important your cause or critical your mission or how awesome your culture is. If you don’t sell enough, you’ll be out of business fast. There are no bailouts for small businesses or entrepreneurs. There are no safety nets on this ride. Your only insurance policy is to sell something.
If the idea of sales as your top priority every day is making your stomach queasy, then you’ll need this spoonful of medicine:
Suck it up and go sell.
Because this ride runs on sales.
Are you courageous enough to #JoinTheRide?
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Kelvin Slater started a company with his wife, Mandy. His advice? Be intentional in your relationships.