A Critical Skill Entrepreneurs Need To Attract Customers And Investors

Hanah Lopes

In 1970 Tom Golisano spotted an under-served market in the payroll processing industry. At the time, most companies in the space believed there was no value in serving small companies of one to fifty people. So Golisano invested $3,000 cash, maxed out his credit card, and started Paychex to provide payroll services to small businesses overlooked by larger competitors.

Today one of every twelve private-sector employees in America receives their paychecks from the company Golisano started. Although it took years for his startup to take off—Golisano didn’t pay himself for the first six years—Paychex is now valued at $47 billion.

I recently spoke to Golisano via Zoom about his new book, The Italian Kid Did It, a memoir of growing up as the son of immigrants in Rochester, New York. The book is part autobiography and part self-help for anyone with a business idea.

In addition to donating hundreds of millions of dollars to philanthropic causes like Special Olympics, Golisano invests in early-stage businesses. Spotting a winning idea requires due diligence, says Golisano. And he focuses much of his research on the founder.

“When you size up a business, you need to have faith in the jockey,” says Golisano. “It doesn’t matter how fast the horse can run if the jockey has no idea how to ride it to victory.”

Golisano says he looks for the following qualities in entrepreneurs: industry knowledge, passion, dedication, a strong work ethic, and the ability to identify a significant market opportunity. But there’s one attribute that Golisano says is most important:

The entrepreneur must be able to sell what they produce.

“Sales ability is very, very important,” says Golisano. “Many entrepreneurs fall into this trap: they say they have a cash flow problem, but really what they have is a sales problem.”

Golisano tells aspiring entrepreneurs that just because they hang up a shingle, it doesn’t mean the world will beat a path to their door. “I warn them the sales process is going to be harder than they can ever imagine. And if sales are low, there will be insufficient revenues to cover operating costs.”

Many entrepreneurs and business leaders who don’t have ‘sales’ in their formal titles believe selling should be left to ‘sales professionals.’ What they fail to realize is that everyone is in sales.

“If you look at what people actually do all day on the job, they are selling,” sells bestselling author Dan Pink in his Masterclass on the art of persuasion. “If you’re a physician or a nurse, you are selling patients on doing something different. If you’re a boss, you are trying to influence or persuade your people to do something in a different way. If you are a teacher, you are trying to persuade your class.”

Pink and his team conducted research that shows most business professionals spend about 40% of their time on something akin to sales: persuading, influencing, and convincing.

The good news according to Pink and Golisano is that everyone has the ability to improve their sales skills.

A great salesperson educates, simplifies, and inspires.

  • Educate. When Golisano started Paychex in 1970, he couldn’t sell the product until he explained why a small business would want to outsource its payroll processing to an outside firm. Golisano had to play the role of educator to make a sale. A good salesperson is a good educator and explains the benefit of their product, service or idea.
  • Simplify. As business grows more complex, the ability to simplify complicated technologies, information, and products is a skill that will set you apart. Former PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi said that she drew attention early in her career because she had the ability to translated complex ideas into language everyone could understand. Simplifiers are valuable.
  • Inspire. Entrepreneurs and business leaders who are passionate about their product, or service have a better chance to elicit excitement from others. Remember your favorite teacher? It’s likely they loved their topic. Their enthusiasm sparked your excitement, too.

Don’t get hung up on titles. If you’re an entrepreneur, a small business owner, or a leader, sales skills are critical to your success. As Dan Pink says, “we’re all in sales now.”

https://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2022/04/01/a-critical-skill-entrepreneurs-need-to-attract-customers-and-investors/

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