The Most Important Entrepreneurial Skill

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In my work in mentoring people on entrepreneurship; I often asked them what they think is the most important skill in order to be successful is running a business. Invariably a large proportion of them would eventually arrive at the conclusion that that critical skill is selling skill. I could not agree more.

There may be other skills area that you need but you cannot run way from the fact that if you cannot sell, you cannot get business and if you cannot get the business in, your business cannot last very long. It does not matter what business you are in, what products or service you provide; you need to know how to sell it well. Whether that means you sell a product or sell a service or just selling yourself or an idea; your ability to sell determines the extent of your business success. This is the case even if you are not involved in the actual sales function of your organization. You have to able to sell the viability and the value of your product or services to your workforce and in particular the sales force, before they can do a good job selling it to your customer.

I always believe that if you are to run a business well; you must be your organizations’ best sales person. You should be able to sell better than any one else in your organization.
One early lesson I learn from the mistakes I made was when I grew my organization to a substantial size. Without realizing it I ended up spending more time dealing with the internal issues; tacking staff problems, delivery issues and administrative challenges instead of doing the one thing that has most significant value as a business owner. That is, being out there in the market selling your product and services to the market and getting direct feedback from your market why they buy and why they don’t. Understanding why the market doesn’t buy your product or services should be a business owner’s most important preoccupation especially if you are new.

The challenge is some business owners don’t think that it is necessary. May be they are to high up there and selling seems like a low level activity that they would rather not get into. Perhaps they feel that they can employ a sales manager to take care of that part and leave it entirely to him. Someone once said that if you want to keep your business going and not end up having your ex-employees become your competitors; the two areas you must have control is sales and finance.

The other possible reason why some business owner finds this difficult is because of their perception of what sales is all about. Majority of people don’t like to sell and see selling as something that is not a nice thing to do. May be this because they have previous bad experience with sales people who were pushy and perhaps even sleazy. Their aversion to selling could well come from the negative experiences they had. The other possible reason is the inability to take rejections and objections. Some people take rejections and objections personally and are unable to handle the emotions. Of course they would not admit but it is there.

To help these people I often have to help them to change the mindset and perception of selling to ‘helping the customer to buy”. And objections are treated as customer’s mere desire to get more information and help to overcome their doubts. When we sell some one something; we are in effect asking people to make changes. Changing their present state (money in their pocket) to another state (money into your pocket and in exchange for your product or services). It is only natural that we all have resistance to change. So selling is really helping people to make changes; it is really influencing skills. And your ability to influence is a skill of paramount importance as an entrepreneur. You influence your work force, your customers, your partners, your suppliers and your business associates.

I am a little more fortunate in my own personal journey to learn to be an entrepreneur. My first job right after Sixth form is working as a sales promoter selling car polish in petrol stations. That was probably the most important business education and experience I ever had. It toughens me and taught me how to overcome rejections. I have little choice it is the only job I could lay my hands on at that time.

But that experience actually leads me to starting my first business. I started a car wash jointly with the owner of a petrol station who is impressed with my ability to sell cans of car polish in his station. (This is the Shell petrol station in Lower Bukit Bintang Road in Kuala Lumpur). I was barely 19 years old when I started the business and I was making good money as business was good and there was little competition those days. Eventually I realize I don’t want to spend the rest of my life washing people’s car so I went back to school and did my accountancy studies. So till today if I am asked what is more valuable to me as a business owner; my sales experience or my accountancy qualification; I pick selling skills.

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