This week, as part of our business interviews series, we’re speaking to Ian Price, co-founder of Sales Mind, a team development programme for full-time sales people or professionals that have to sell as part of their job.
From humble beginnings back in 2012 Ian and his business partner have established a stable and growing client base on the strength of their unique business mindset product. In the interview Ian explains how Sales Mind was formed and also offers some unique sales tips for small business owners.
- STARTING OUT
How did you start out? What was your industry background? Did you identify an opportunity or take a punt?
I started out as a loan consultant and spent 20 years in corporate life, mainly in the telecoms industry. In 2008 I decided to change career completely and become a business psychologist. I then spent two years studying a Masters degree in business psychology. I co-founded Sales Mind in 2012 with a corporate sales director I had previous experience of working with, Mark Williams, and we focused on taking sales teams through our bespoke development programme to help them improve their sales performance.
This was the first time in my career that I had really gone out on my own. I had always been interested in business psychology and had noted from my corporate life that the learnings from the science of psychology weren’t really being used in business. I felt there was an opportunity to put this into effect in some way to improve people’s efficiency. I also wanted to do something entrepreneurial and run my own company.
- YOUR ROLE
How has your role changed over time? What were your primary responsibilities during the first month/quarter/year?
When we first started it was very much two guys, each with a laptop and a phone. Once we had sorted out the practicalities of registering the company and setting up the website, the focus was on establishing our credibility and reputation. The emphasis during the first quarter was on getting the first client under our belt, delivering some successful programmes and getting some case studies.
A year in it was all about accelerating the pipeline, broadening our customer base and charging more. We were also looking to get more disciplined in what we were doing, including our sales process, our product, and the admin side of the company. It was still just the two of us, so we decided to outsource responsibilities such as payroll and accounts.
What was the most difficult aspect of setting up the business? With hindsight, what aspects would you do differently?
Probably the same as for most start-ups, the biggest challenge was in building up the business from scratch and attracting customers. Much of what we now teach clients around sales development we had to use ourselves – the hard way! 2012 was a tough financial climate for budgets in sales team development and the single biggest issue was effectively selling our own product.
This meant being incredibly persistent, dogged, not getting demoralised, managing the cash flow, all the time reviewing what we were doing and being prepared to change the way we were working.
When we first started, we were perhaps too emotionally attached to our product. We were so eager and bushy tailed in the way we presented it that the emphasis was on getting prospective clients to like what we did, rather than pushing the value in it. Saying that, we learned how to change our approach very quickly and got much better at qualifying opportunities.
Do you have any sales tips for small businesses that they might not have heard?
A lot of small businesses get told to network like crazy and use social media. In my opinion don’t network at all unless you’re networking with people who have got budget to spend on your services and if you’re going to utilise social media, be very selective.
Be very disciplined about your sales process and fully understand what you’re doing as part of it. Our experience is that start-ups don’t put enough people in the top of the pipeline so make sure time is calved out for this and not wasted on other activities that aren’t really helping you with your pipeline.
Also, as far as possible, be very emotionally neutral about your sales process and accept that some people will drop out. If you approach any number of prospects, only a few will go through the whole process and buy your services.
The danger is that people can take rejection very personally and become demoralised because it feels futile. You’ve got to do your best to guard against both those things as a small business owner. Remember, it isn’t futile, so keep going!