Another reason start-ups fail: Waiting for the phone to ring

Waiting for the phone to ring is a losing strategy for start-ups. You have to make it ring with a strong sales effort.

Waiting for the phone to ring is a losing strategy for start-ups. You have to make it ring with a strong sales effort.

By Michelle van Schouwen

Following the publication of my most recent Succeeding in Small Business post, How resourceful startups can avoid the “number one cause of death”, longtime friend and successful entrepreneur Rob Gillette (currently vice chairman of HealthEdge) commented that a frequent cause of startup failure is “we forgot to sell” and adds wryly, in the words of the hypothetical startup-that-forgot, “but our product is so great!”

Initial overconfidence that a product will attract enough customers without being “sold” can lead companies to fail to assign sufficient resources to sales. But with time, that confidence fades as product sales do not meet expectations.

Surely then the startup will dedicate more resources to sales, yes?

Well, maybe. In fact, both startups and established companies often neglect to sell their products well… for a host of reasons.

-Good salespeople are hard to find and harder to keep.

-Distributor networks, if used, must be cultivated, motivated and well-informed about your product offerings. Distributors are typically selling many products. Why yours?

-Nearly all salespeople need ongoing sales and product training, usable resources from marketing and competitive pricing. Without the right tools, they will have trouble selling and may fall short of sales quotas … or they may simply leave.

-For some startups, the chief salesperson is an owner. That owner must spend enough time selling to help assure the company’s success. He or she must learn what works for the company and industry, and what doesn’t. What’s more, the busy owner must not procrastinate when it comes to making sales.

-The sales team (whoever that is) must have a good understanding of who the prospects are. Do leads come in from marketing efforts? Must the sales team search for leads? Both?

-Salespeople, product development and marketing (whether these are departments, individuals or compartments in an entrepreneur’s mind) must stay in touch and work as a team to create the best product, the best sales tools and the best selling proposition possible.

-Salespeople must – not – give – up. It may take many contacts to get a meeting. It may take months to make a big sale.

Marketing is important. The quality and market relevance of your offerings is important. A powerful sales effort is just as important, like it or not.


Michelle van Schouwen is president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company based in Longmeadow, MA. The company is known for vSALaunch, its proprietary, modular and scalable system for B2B marketing launches, vSAConsult, its executive-level strategic planning capability, and for its expertise in integrated marketing for B2B. Michelle is also an early-stage investor and mentor to startups.


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