How to be a successful innovator, without ‘being in sales’

Michael Millar

Co-founder, SmplCo

25 Nov 2022

‘Sales’ is a dirty word to many people. But those who think they aren’t in the business of sales every day of their life are either mistaken or deluded.

Every day we’re selling something to someone. Trying to raise money for your new Big Idea? Sales. Encouraging a team to undertake certain tasks? Sales. Trying to persuade my kids to get out of bed and ready for school as the rain hammers against the window? Sales.

In each scenario we are trying to sell something, even if we wouldn’t consider ourselves as ‘being in sales’.

The truth is we are all selling all the time, albeit usually in ways we find comfortable / acceptible – even if they’re difficult (goshdarn kids).

But if you want to be a successful innovator or an entrepreneur, being able to sell – and do so in any sort of circumstance – is crucial.

So, how can you move out of your comfort zone and into the realm of selling, without ever tarring yourself with the brush of ‘being in sales’?

Here are my top tips…

1. Don’t be so damn rude

There’s no escaping the fact that the idea of ‘being in sales’ turns many people off. The good thing is that we can – and should – be leaving that whole idea behind.

‘Sales’ as a concept is tainted because it is associated with a relentless, self-centred approach that no one wants. If you think of engaging with your stakeholders in terms of a hard sell – where you’re in a battle for supremecy – then you’re likely to fail.

This is an approach that is long past its sell-by date.

Instead, think about marketing and sales as being about building a relationship, based on understanding, trust, and an exchange of value.

When we think about it that way, it’s not sales. It’s communication.

Adopt the approach espoused by the marvellous Dan Fleyshman. His advice is good enough to put in massive letters:

“If you think that your product or service is good and functional and people are going to like it, you’re rude if you don’t sell it… If you have a product that you believe helps people, that tastes good…looks good on them… helps them with their family, or anything in between, you are rude if you don’t sell it.”

Dan Fleyshman

2. Focus on your audience

Look, I know you’re great. You’re goddamned fabulous. I also know your product or service is going to be – or already is – marvellous. That’s a given. Seriously, I’m in awe of you.

But now we need to move on and start thinking about your audience.

The sad truth is they don’t care that you’re awesome (like I do). They care about what’s in it for them. That’s where your focus needs to be.

This notion is neatly encapsulated in my favourite meme:

Toot toot!

It’s your job to be relevant to them. To make them care.

If you put your focus here, you’ll avoid the biggest mistake innovators and entrepreneurs make every day: not thinking about customer needs.

Ask yourself: ‘why should my customers, investors, directors (or whoever you’re talking to) care? What’s the benefit you’re offering them?’

If you don’t do this at the start of your journey and remain focused on it, chances are you’ll end up with a solution in need of a problem.

If you want to communicate your story effectively and build trust in both you and your product, take focus on where your audience wants to go and why.

And remember, the reasons your audiences will care – the reason they will believe in you – will be different in each case, so make sure your messages are tailored to those different needs.

Moreover, you have to do it in language they understand and using methods they want to engage with.

If you do this, you’ll find yourself asking questions like:

  • Why should different audiences engage with me?
  • Why do my plans and schemes matter to them?
  • How does my solution align with their purpose?
  • What challenge or problem is standing in their way, which I am ready and willing to solve?
  • Where and when do they want me to tell my story?

Once you’ve created a bond with your audience by dealing with them within their own context, you can then lay out your plan. You’ll be prefectly poised to tell your starry-eyed new acolytes precisely how you are going to help them reach their goals, to their utter delight.

And why wouldn’t they be delighted? They are clearly in presence of an expert. A person of substance. A person they want – nay, need – to do business with.

3. Find a man to bite a dog

When I was a young, naive reporter, starting out on my journalistic career, I was given two pieces of advice that really stuck with me.

The first was: ‘A good story is not “dog bites man”, it is “man bites dog”’; the lesson being the second scenario is surprising, interesting, and unusual, and thus an inherently better story than the first.

This metaphor is a great manifestation of all the key ingredients to a great story – exactly the kind of story you need to be telling to whoever needs to hear it.

Those ingredients are:

  • Topicality: your story needs to be relevant to the time or moment you are telling it
  • Relevance: your story needs to be relevant to, and ideally strike a chord with, your audience
  • Unusual: If people have heard it all before it’s unlikely they’ll be interested
  • Troublesome: an element of conflict or risk elevates every story and makes it more engaging
  • Human: bringing in a human element, whether it be case studies, stories of your own, or whatever, will make your story come alive

To help aid your memory, you’ll have spotted these make a neat acronym: TRUTH.

The author as a journalist, being particularly young and naive (and, hopefully, bulletproof)

4. Take out as much as you can

The second of the journalistic lessons I mentioned above was ‘Your story’s not finished until there’s nothing left to take out’.

This is a founding principle of Smpl and how we approach strategy, design, and development of any digital product or service.

But it should also be your credo when it comes to selling anything, whether it be a nascent idea, or an all-sing, all-dancing product.

In Point 2 above, we talked about focusing on the needs of your audience. Now we’re talking about taking those targeted needs and being laser focused on the core benefits and features you are offering to meet those needs.

If you do this your target audience will understand you and get on board with you much more quickly. than if you baffle them with endless detail.

You need to have all the detail at your fingertips, but save it until you’ve commmunicated a clear and concise story that addresses your audience’s needs or challenges.

5. Be yourself, everyone else is already taken

Finally, a motivational cliché! Sorry it took so long.

But this is one worth repeating in this context because we live in a world where people are desperate for authenticity and transparency.

It’s a world where we are becoming increasingly distrustful of the information we are being fed – and, by golly, isn’t there a lot of it!

If you’re out there telling your audience telling your story, you must be authentic. Don’t try to be someone or something you are not.

If you believe in what you are doing and saying, and you tell your story with passion (but not arrogance) then people will engage with you.

There is nuance of course; you might need to be a bit bigger, bolder, or brighter in your pitch than normal, but everything still needs to be rooted in your personality. If it isn’t, people will be suspicious and you will lose your connection to them.

I hope all this helps. Now get out there and sell. But for God’s sake, don’t ‘sell’. You’re a communicator now.

We’ve got lots more advice, bon mots, and (frankly) weird stories on our blog.
But if you want to talk to us in person about how we can design, develop, and help you sell your digital product or service more efficiently and effectively than anyone else, we’d love to hear from you.
Click here to email our MD, Andreas, or leave us a message here.

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