5 Steps to Close Your First Big Deal
An entrepreneur's first major deal is an important milestone, serving as a launching point into the next level of business success and establishing the company as a legitimate player in its area of expertise.
But landing your first big business deal takes more than merely developing a great product or service and setting it free in the marketplace. It requires focus, strategy and relationships.
We asked Tim Stoll, founder and CEO of Baton Rouge-based Tractional Catalyst and a Professional EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) Implementer, for a few tips on how entrepreneurs can close their first big deal. Here’s a look at what he shared.
Understand What Makes You Special
Stoll says before entrepreneurs land a big business deal, they need to clearly understand two things: why and what they do. Answering both of those questions means exploring what makes your company special, determining what you’re best at and being really clear on your core focus. This will help you focus on opportunities you can actually close.
Once you determine the “why” — what’s driving you inside — it’s time to combine that with the “what” — the thing your company can be world class at. “When you can marry those two concepts together and that becomes your focus, it helps clarify what opportunities you should be pursuing,” Stoll says.
Define Your Target Market
Stoll says next you need to understand the target market for your product or service that fits within the “what” and the “why” you’ve determined.
This typically involves market research and conversations with potential customers or people who can refer you to customers. If you're in the very early stages of your startup and unsure where to start, Stoll says friends and family can be a good place to begin having these conversations.
He says the goal with this step is to define a target market that fits into the scope of your “why” statement until you whittle it down to just the names and addresses of potential customers. “It’s just understanding where that sweet spot is,” he says.
Develop a Sales Process
While the details of your sales process are dependent upon your business and industry, Stoll says that process should be well thought out long before you approach potential customers.
Learn how other successful companies in similar spaces are selling their product or service, he says, and adapt your approach as needed. He says talking to other companies selling different products to similar clients — so they’re not a direct competitor — can also offer some valuable insights into what works in your market sector.
“Being able to talk to people that are selling into the same space you are but not in competition with you is a good way to figure out how people buy and how people sell in this space,” he says.
Finally, as a company grows and takes on new market segments, they may need to adapt their sales processes to those new conditions.
For more information about developing a sales team and process, see Catapult Creative Media CEO David Maples’ Tech Park Academy talk from 2018.
Understand Your Customer
While they can’t typically compete with major firms on price, entrepreneurs and startups can provide more personal service than larger firms. That means they need to find out what really matters to their clients and stakeholders within their organization, Stoll says. Focusing on the people who are actually making the buying decisions is a good place to start.
“It’s not a one-on-one conversation with one person,” he says. “It’s multiple conversations, really gaining a lay of the land and understanding what’s important to each of the stakeholders in that customer's organization.”
Learn From Your Failures
Rejection is an inherent part of being an entrepreneur, but it can also be a valuable learning tool with the right approach. “There’s a value to failure, but only when it’s coupled with reflection,” Stoll says.
If a deal falls through with a prospective customer, he says, it makes sense to keep the door open and take steps to maintain that relationship. It could pay off down the road with a referral or a deal. “I want that relationship to always be there,” he says.
Even the occasional communication, such as forwarding an interesting email and saying, “I thought you might be interested in this,” can help maintain a connection, he says.
“I think it’s important to keep the door open because somewhere down the road they may come back,” he says.