Short answer: The best time was yesterday, so if you’re too late then start today.
This is a discussion we’ve heard a few times recently. It’s often asked in the context of a new product or service. Maybe it’s not fully formed or there’s more work required to perfect the offering. Quite naturally this might make someone uneasy to start selling.
What sits at the heart of this dilemma is the idea that selling is about telling someone you’ve got something brilliant for them. It’s effectively distilling the sales process into a short and compelling pitch that “wows” the audience, leaving eager buyers crowding around you bidding up the price.
Do you recognise that experience? No, nor us.
What problem are you trying to fix?
As a general rule people are more likely to respond to something that fixes a defined problem than to a sale that proposes a better outcome. But you might choose to reframe this question in positive language such as “what future are you trying to create?” or “what’s your purpose?”
However you word the idea, the underlying principle is that one way or another you want to make the buyer’s world a better place.
You might not yet have the precise ingredients for the launch product, but you can confidently hold a conversation about the perceived problem. Is it something the buyer recognises and do they agree it would be worth fixing?
If they are nodding in agreement at this point you can ask for their help in the next question:
Who are you selling to?
This is a critical question in the sales process. You might argue it’s technically a marketing question but that doesn’t diminish its relevance.
Yet in the early days of product development you might not really know the answer. For sure you will have a hunch, but it can take many years for a new service or product to properly establish its tribe.
Pitching at this stage could be a waste of everyone’s time and a disheartening experience for the business owner.
But you don’t need to pitch right now. Even if the buyer wanted to empty your warehouse you haven’t yet figured out how to fill it, remember ?
Having agreed with the decision maker that there’s a problem to fix, the most valuable feedback is who you can fix it for. Who does it affect most and what are the implications?
If the buyer embraces you and explains it’s just what they’ve been waiting for then go ahead and book the follow-up meeting. But it’s quite likely they’ll suggest a different market segment or another group of potential customers you’d not considered. That’s free strategic advice!
How else might the problem be fixed?
If the person in front of you isn’t demanding you offer them a deal there and then they’ve probably found another way of solving the problem you’ve outlined.
Perhaps there’s another supplier offering a bolt-on service that gives them a partial solution. Maybe the problem you’ve identified isn’t big enough or scary enough for them to take action.
Inaction might prove to be your biggest competitor.
This too is invaluable feedback for when you do need to create your pitch deck. You didn’t expect a sale today so you can benefit from hearing all these potential objections without any disappointment at leaving empty-handed.
If you can liberate yourself from the idea that selling is just about the perfect pitch then there’s never a bad time to start.
By approaching sales as a collaborative and explorative experience you can open up conversations with people who are happy to help. Much more happy to help than when you’re squeezing them for a Yes.
You’ll pick up some invaluable feedback about what you might sell and to whom. And along the way you might just bump into a few buyers who want to support your idea and partner with you on your journey.
When to start selling? If not yesterday, then today.