Topic of the Week (TOTW): Hustling

As we mentioned in social media, we have long had a Topic of the Week that we discuss for 30 minutes at the beginning of our weekly status meeting. Topics relate to new venture creation, management, growth, and the personal aspects thereof.  Sometimes topics are quite lofty and ethereal, while at other times they are extremely practical. In addition to posting the TOTW (Topic of the Week) in our social media feeds, we decided to begin doing write-ups here to give you a sense of what we are thinking about for the week.

In what will likely be the first in a series of topics related to selling, this week we are thinking about what it means to “hustle” in selling, and how that applies to a fast-growing venture (or one that we want to be). The conversation was lively and featured several great stories (and others that were merely mentioned obliquely).

Make-It-RainThe opening: what does it mean to “hustle” in selling?  For the investment banker in the group, it calls to mind the high-energy foreign exchange trader on a large Wall Street trading floor – a sea of screens in front, a live squawk box to one side, a myriad of people on different phone lines at the same time, yelling at the person at the next desk looking for a price.  Others cited the idea of just keeping after it and not giving up, handling rejections with courtesy and stamina, and chasing after the “maybes” and getting the close.  And still others noted that to “hustle” someone connotes the snake-oil salesperson who is conning the buyer into paying for something they don’t want that doesn’t work – clearly an approach that we, and everyone else, should run away from.  So, what does it take to sell well?

One Partner mentioned his work for the CEO of a large industrial “Michael Porter” conglomerate. The CEO, a mentor to him, advised that in business, you either have to make something or sell something. With his dual history degrees and international relations degree, he couldn’t do either. He started selling packaging.

Sales as a practice is something you learn by doing. And yet there are always themes that are in vogue. Ten years ago it was Solution Selling. Then came Challenge Selling.  So, you should know the theory, but you have to learn by doing.

One of our Fellows highlighted a point based on years of seeing breakdowns in high technology development teams: sellers need to have rock solid relationship with the product builders. Without those relationships, the builders don’t know what the market wants and the sellers don’t know what the product people can make. What you sell has to be useful in the marketplace. Engineers love to dwell go off on tangents: “wouldn’t it be interesting to…” So, you have to think about how you integrate engineers and sellers. It’s not just about putting in the time, it’s about getting the right things done.

Another contribution came from an early experience of selling a suite of products.  Sometimes you are stuck selling a commodity. That’s where you see the value of relationship selling, which means developing ties to a diverse set of buyers – in this case it ranged from the fry cook in the back of a restaurant, to a major hospital purchasing agent, to a school district procurement officer – all kinds of people. And it’s all about relationships. In this case, as in many, commission was paid on gross margin. So, you would get into the account with a low-priced commodity item, then move them up to higher margin products. And the low-priced item was something they needed every week – repeatedly – so they kept having to work with you, and you could keep connecting with them.  All the customers were well aware of the approach, so the trick was doing it honestly and better than your competitors.

In yet another situation, a long-ago mentor advised that to build a sales territory you need to make 10 good calls, 5 days a week. If you do that, you cannot fail – as long as they are real calls, good calls.

A recent piece on Bloomberg regarding Berkshire Hathaway highlighted how Warren and the team take things very seriously. They look for intensity and focus – people who are very clear on what is important. The former boss of an Opus Faveo Partner was the #2 at a large retailer – the COO.  Every day he focused on getting one thing done – and he usually got it done – that day. Intensity.

And finally, one person had to tell us about the firecracker salesman that was looking to come work for him. Everyone kept telling him about the “firecracker salesman”.  Wow, that person must be an amazing salesperson!  Well, whatever the merits of his selling abilities, it turned out that “firecracker” was properly viewed as a noun and not an adjective.  He had actually sold firecrackers in an earlier job. So, when hiring salespeople, context matters.

Opus Faveo does manageable small projects for clients to develop relationships- like the capital raising strategy that we recently developed for a company, or the Innovation Impact Forum that we do for university leaders.

Tell us on social media what you think about hustling, or contact us to talk about how it impacts innovation.

Posted in News & Views.