Hardware Talks

Saba Shafi on Getting Your Foot In the Door

Making sales by building relationships

There are probably about as many sales strategies as there are stars in the sky, all with varying degrees of success and applicability depending on who and where you are. But that isn’t to say there isn’t still wisdom in learning general principles. Highway1’s Saba Shafi gave a talk to our seventh cohort on building relationships to generate sales. We spoke with her afterward to delve further on this strategy.

HWY1: What’s the thing that most startups seem to not know about sales?
SS: Most of the time, startups forget that this is about building relationships, that people remember how you make them feel. You can put together the best deck and have the best product, but if the person on the other side of the table can’t relate to you, you won’t get very far. I think that’s even more true for startups. You don’t have a reputation in that field yet; you only have that one conversation. Basic things like civility and professionalism will go a long way to getting another meeting, but being friendly and engaging is just as important. Once you’ve gotten to that second or third meeting, you can spend the time to make sure you have something to back it all up. At the outset, remember that people will recall if they liked you and will make more time for you if they enjoyed speaking to you.

Essentially, it sounds like a good salesperson should want to make friends with everybody. What would you say to someone who worries about being accidentally creepy?
[chuckles] I think that’s valid, but at the same time, everybody has different styles, so you’re better off if you can just be yourself. You don’t need to be friends with everybody, but you should be friendly with everybody. Remember that at the core of it, you’re asking somebody to do something for you. Be polite, be deferential, and adjust yourself based on the person you’re speaking to.

If you’re a shy person or otherwise lacking in your people skills, should you just not attempt any of this? Do you need to find another person in your organization to do the talking?
No. I think there are lots of different kinds of people in the world, which means you need lots of different kinds of people to engage with them. If you’re very outgoing, you might not resonate well with someone on the other side of the table who’s very shy. Also, just because you’re shy doesn’t mean you can’t be good at sales. I’m a big introvert, I spend a lot of time by myself, and yet I’m pretty good at sales. I think it’s about being yourself. I prefer small, intimate conversations with people and that’s the niche in which I made myself good at sales. Other people prefer speaking to groups when speaking about sales. Keep in mind that you need to respect the person you’re speaking to and make sure you’re not wasting your time or theirs. I think everybody should be thinking about sales, especially if you don’t have a lot of people in your organization; everybody should spread themselves out as much as possible, and think of it as a soft skill you’re doing all the time.

Do you have any easy tips for going to a networking event?

I do:

  • For me, the best networking events have a lecture or some sort of informational piece around them, it’s not just people meeting in a room for no reason. You can think about interesting things you learned at the event and use those as conversation starters.
  • Know yourself: if you’re exhausted after half an hour, just go home. You’re not going to get the most out of the event if you stay past your endurance level, and you won’t be able to impress as many people if you’re not not invested in the event.
  • Don’t ask people to meet up for coffee right then and there. Offer to exchange contact details (which is the right level of ask) and follow up with them the next day; wait any longer and people will forget you.
  • Ask yourself afterward: What did you learn from the event? What kind of people did you see there? Would you want to go back? Sometimes you go to events that attract people at the wrong level of their organization for your purposes, or who are more amateur enthusiasts than professionals in the field. You learn to stop attending those types of events.

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