Minnesota tech entrepreneur Lief Larson is no stranger to hard work and tenacity. His current endeavor, Workface, has raised over $2.5m for a B2B engagement platform serving the likes of Toyota, the Cleveland Browns and Travel Leaders of Fargo. And like the technology he’s pioneered, Larson is the epitome of the always on and always ready entrepreneur.
“Everyone at our company is in sales whether they know it or not,” he exclaimed during a recent conversation, which lead to this Q & A direct from the source.
When asked what topic regarding your own entrepreneurial experiences would be highly relevant to other tech entrepreneurs, you chose “sales”. Why?
Nothing can catalyze that success and prove viability better than sales. Too often entrepreneurs don’t take time and think about what “sales” actually means. It’s like the word bubblegum; If you say it enough it completely loses its meaning. If you meditate on the what “sales” actually represents, it’s the act or quantity of something being sold. It’s an exchange of your commodity for somebody else’s dollar. Sales will solve all your problems.
Don’t want to unnecessarily dilute your company by taking on outside capital? Well, sell more! Having trouble getting credibility in the marketplace? Well, get somebody to pay for what you have! My point is that every business has some unique product or service. But selling it is the ultimate indication by the marketplace that it has value which they will part with money for. The phrase “to make money” is beautiful. But first, there are sales.
What do you mean everyone is in sales?
I strongly believe that for a company to move from thriving to succeeding, it takes a coordinated sales effort. Especially in the early stage company, EVERYONE needs to be in sales. You’re a programmer? Good for you… you’re also in sales! You’re a database admin? Good for you… you’re also in sales! What, you’re a front-end developer who’s really good at doing wireframes, but you don’t like selling? You’re FIRED!
You should be selling the company, its differentiating value, its products, at every chance you get. Building some awesome doohickey is the easy part. Selling it is the hard part.
How do you approach sales internally and how do you created a culture of “always be selling”?
We identify prospects, cultivate relationships, ask for the purchase. The first two of these take the longest. We use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to make sure we’re applying constant pressure. This is the process of creating a customer. Asking for the purchase is the easy part. Either it’s a “yes” or a “no” and either answer is o.k. because it’s a signal that we can move on to the next opportunity. Internally we do some lead scoring to understand if the prospect opportunity is worth pursuing, but generally our framework is like a couple of track runners: each person carries the baton through their leg of the race to sales. Our “always be selling” culture was easy to create. All that needs to be communicated is that if we don’t sell more, the company goes out of business. My hope is that as our company is maturing in our growth phase we become a culture of “always be closing.”
What has been your best successful close and why?
My proudest sale is always the next one I’m working on. Right now I’m working with a large and well-known company here in Minneapolis and we’re 95% of the way to getting a deal signed with them. I’m proud because when we’re successful in winning them as a customer, I’ll know that it was a team effort and we all put a lot of energy into winning their business. I’m usually proud of a sale for the rest of the day, but the next day I want to get another prospect converted into a customer. Can one ever have too many sales? I sure hope not.
What advice do you have for peer entrepreneurs regarding sales?
Start with buying and reading Carl Moe’s book Chief Revenue Officer. There’s a plethora of books about sales that are good for doors stops and bludgeoning people to death. If you want a book that you can read over a weekend and will make sure you’re focused on the right things, Carl’s book is the best. Plus, Carl lives in Minnesota and when he’s not farming he’s working to help companies. So, you’ve got a real shot at talking with someone that has earned his grey hair in sales.