The Twentysomething Entrepreneur’s Guide to Selling [Part I]

“Don’t mind me asking, how old are you this year?”

Yes, they are checking me out. No, I wasn’t trying to hit on ladies who are more mature than me.

This is probably the one question I get most often when I meet my prospects to sell my training and coaching programs as a Twentysomething entrepreneur. And my guess is that if you’ve started running a business before you are 30 years old or that you are naturally endowed with a baby boy (girl) face, you will face a certain level of healthy skepticism when you are out there selling.

Service vs. Product Entrepreneur

You will either sell a service and/or product. For simple comparison sake, let’s keep it dichotomous for now.

Service entrepreneurs are those who are being financially remunerated in return for them performing a service or suite of services. You could be a writer, web or graphic designer, language teacher, opera singer, insurance or property agent or hell, a magician. Or you could be a public speaking coach and trainer like myself.

Selling in such situations can be tricky because your competence in delivering the service is oftentimes judged from your age, years dedicated on mastering the art, credentials, track record, clientele listing etc. The bottom line – if you are older, you are deemed to be more experienced and hence, capable in delivering the service. Age is the general mark of excellence and credibility. So, you may just do better if you grow some white hair first.

The Product entrepreneur has the advantage to partially (not totally) shift the judgments and evaluation to their products. Take for example – you have developed an IT management system, security devices or audio speakers. In all likelihood, your product demo, specifications, trial run results, clientele base, end-user satisfaction surveys will do a fair bit in convincing your prospect on whether to invest their resources in your business, or not. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

That said, the product entrepreneur still needs to ensure the prospect is sold in terms of the entrepreneur’s ability to lead, manage, delegate, organize, strategize and execute. But, the focus may not be as heavily weighted upon the entrepreneur’s age and hence experiences (or lack of) vis-à-vis that of a service entrepreneur.

Simplistic comparison, but you get the drift.

Psyche of the Buyer (for Business to Business (B2B) Selling)

In the minds of the buyer, what they are really most concerned about are risk and return (value).

They want to minimize the risk that you will under-deliver or not deliver as an entrepreneur and hence resulting in business mistakes like loss of revenue and key client accounts, burgeoning expenses with little or no impact on the business profitability, downtimes, bad press etc. Yet, what stings them most is what happens to them on the personal level like their reputation within the company and industry, loss of dignity and pride from making a poor judgment call, jeopardizing their career progression, having to be accountable and responsible for mistakenly choosing you as a solution provider etc.

Conversely, they want to know they have made a wise investment and that shows up in their normal or super-normal returns after they have invested in your product or service. Or it has allowed them to reduce their costs significantly. So the value you deliver as an entrepreneur is really captured either in increasing their revenue generating capabilities or lowering their business costs. Better still, both.

When you can successfully manage these two variables, chances are that you are one big step closer to the sale.

Typical Barriers to B2B Selling for the Twentysomething Entrepreneur

Granted there are common barriers to selling for just about any sales person or entrepreneur, these may be the more prominent ones facing typical Twentysomething entrepreneurs in B2B sales, assuming the fact the work and products you ship is great.

1.Real selling experience and training – All else being equal, an older entrepreneur would probably have had more skin in the game and have sold a lot more frequently and to a wider range of prospects. They may have gone through formal or informal sales training. Their egos would have had taken more of a beating and hence, be more resilient in face of objections and rejections. They are more capable in sniffing out opportunities and also, BS  from within a mile.

2. Industry and corporate experience – Most Twentysomething entrepreneurs may not have significant corporate working experiences and hence lack understanding of corporate buying needs, decision making capability and process, long and unpredictable corporate selling cycles, game of corporate politics, political clout and all. As a result, the Twentysomethings would most probably can’t get their head around why “I have to tell you this, Jerry, we have a good feeling about this” is seldom or never a “Yes, let’s do it now”.

3. Soft skills – Soft skills is the huge umbrella of skills in networking, small talk, negotiation, persuasion, pitching, public speaking and communications. Granted that the average college grad has only exposure through classes, internships, co-curricular activities; it is not unusual for the usual Twentysomething to take time in gaining some finesse and certainty on how to carry himself effectively amongst his peers or more senior executives especially in a corporate and sales setting.

4. Social capital – Social capital refers to the value of your social networks. It is about who you know and who knows you for what you are great at. The downfall to thinking about social capital is in hoping for immediate gratification and fulfillment. No one will refer their good friends to you for a major purchase decision if they don’t know you well enough and what you can deliver. Their reputation is on the line. Relationships are founded upon exchanges and mutual trust and if you don’t take the lead in giving early first, chances are people will not reciprocate and refer you to your target prospects when you need them to. There is no shortcut around this.

5. Irrational skepticism – For the more objective reasons above, it is natural that a certain level of health skepticism is held up when making a purchase decision with a Twentysomething entrepreneur. Yet in my experience with some of the more senior prospects, they may be closed up or unwilling to reveal their problems and vulnerabilities to a younger person because of pride issues, which can be understandable though frustrating. They can sometimes display their disapproval either covertly as a form of defence or put you down quite overtly in an offensive stance.

Such prospects mostly defer only to authority and age and really for such prospects, there’s only so far you can go into convincing them. Their skepticism or rather, cynicism, is independent of your capabilities and competencies. As a Twentysomething entrepreneur, you may be better off disqualifying such prospects so as to go after better opportunities.

In Part II of this Guide, read on to find out what Twentysomething Entrepreneurs can do to increase their chances at making the sale.