3 Classic Sales Skills for Startup Leaders to Get Better At in 2019


Startup founders and their sales teams are often thought of as being at the cutting edge of technology—and while it’s true that there are more great tech tools available than ever before to help with sales and lead generation, don’t forget to brush up on some of the classic sales skills. By all means, update your SEO tactics, invest in a CRM, and try the latest online marketing and inbound lead generation strategies. But don’t forget the fundamentals of sales. No matter what industry you’re in, no matter what your startup sells, there are few classic sales skills that never go out of style.

Here are a few classic sales fundamentals that you and your team should work to improve this year:

1. The Elevator Pitch

If you were to meet a new person on an elevator and exchange introductions with them, could you succinctly describe what your business does, why it matters, and how you can help, all in the duration of a single elevator ride? Every startup founder or sales person needs to be able to quickly and energetically explain the mission and purpose of their company. It shouldn’t sound unnatural or rehearsed, but take the time to write down an elevator pitch for your company if you haven’t already. Here are a few elements to consider including in your elevator pitch:

  • What does your company do?
  • What makes your company unique?
  • What problem does your company solve?
  • Who does your company help?
  • What is your company’s “super power”—the thing that you do better than anyone else?

Your elevator pitch doesn’t have to answer every question about your company, but it should pique people’s curiosity and make them want to learn more. Practice in advance to make your elevator pitch sound natural. Consider making a few different versions of your elevator pitch depending on which audience you’re talking to, such as prospective customers, investors, employees, or business partners. Different aspects of your company will be more compelling to different people, depending on what sort of relationship you want to create with them.

2. The Sales Call

It might seem like the world of marketing is all about social media and online marketing nowadays, but there is still value for startup founders and sales people who know how to pick up the phone and talk to customers directly. Do you know how to introduce yourself confidently by phone, build rapport, convey your value proposition, and ask for a commitment for follow-up? Write a sales calling script, rehearse on video, memorize it and practice it in advance before you start making real calls to customers. Lots of startup founders might feel reluctant to make sales calls, because they might feel like it’s a low-yield activity or they don’t want to feel like they’re telemarketers—and of course, sales calls are not valuable if you’re just randomly dialing numbers in the phone book without doing your research first. But no matter what you sell, as a startup in B2B sales, you will probably benefit from being able to directly contact your prospects and key decision makers by phone.

Here is a sample “cold call” sales call script; you can of course modify it with details for your company, but this is a basic script to show how to contact a prospect and ask for commitment for an appointment:

“Hello NAME OF PROSPECT, my name is _______ with ABC Startup Inc. I was doing some research into your company and I thought we might be a great fit to help you with your (NAME OF SECTOR/SOLUTION) needs. We offer (3 specific ways you can help solve this customer’s problem) to help you save money and boost productivity. Would you be willing to set up a time where we could talk further, and I can show you an online demo of our product?”

This is a generic script, but it’s short and to the point, and it ends with a specific request for the prospect to commit to a next step in the sales conversation—in this case, an appointment to see an online demo of the product.

If the prospect’s not interested, that’s fine; move on to the next one. But every sales call should have a “next step” and a specific commitment so you can figure out which prospects are truly interested and put the rest on the backburner.

3. In-Person Networking and Relationship Building

No matter how much time we spend looking at screens and tapping on our phones, there is still no substitute for building relationships with customers in real life. Meeting customers and prospects in real life, whether it’s at a formal sales meeting, industry conference, or a networking event, is one of your best opportunities to make a positive impression for your company and gain the trust and confidence of your customers. Just like you need to worry about your company’s online reputation and image, you also need to pay attention to your in-person presentation: your posture, dress, eye contact, demeanor all convey confidence and build trust.

Consider taking a public speaking class or joining a group like Toastmasters to improve your speaking skills. Even if you’re not making a lot of formal speeches or presentations, the skills of public speaking can help you get better at various aspects of talking with people in person: making good eye contact, listening well, standing up straight, speaking clearly and confidently without awkward pauses, and more.

Every new era of business brings its own unique new tools and technologies to help business people maximize their success, but a few core elements of sales skills have never gone out of style. If you know how to communicate with prospects effectively with a strong elevator pitch, if you can build trust and open up lines of communication with a powerful sales calling script, and if you can command the attention of a room and make people feel appreciated with your in-person presentation skills, you will be miles ahead of the competition.

Gregg Schwartz

Gregg Schwartz

Gregg Schwartz is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Strategic Sales & Marketing, an industry-founding lead generation firm based in Connecticut. His company helps technology companies and various startups and small-to-mid-size businesses in the B2B sales category generate sales leads and improve their sales processes.