Istock 000000105956MediumI’ll get lots of flak for saying this, but since I’m accustomed to flak from my Apple days, I’ll say it anyway: Sales fixes everything.

As long as you have sales, cash will flow, and as long as cash flows, (a) you will have the time to fix your team, your technology, and your marketing; (b) the press won’t be able to say much because customers are pouring money into your coffers; and (c) your investors will leave you alone because (i) they will focus on companies with weaker sales and (ii) they won’t want to jinx your success.

You can blow all the smoke that you like about brand awareness, corporate image, and feedback from early adopters, but you either make it rain or you don’t. To help you become a legend in annals of salesmanship, here is the art of rainmaking.

  1. “Let a hundred flowers blossom.” I stole this from Chairman Mao although I’m not sure how he implemented it. In the context of capitalism (Chairman Mao must be turning over in his grave), the dictum means that you sow seeds in many markets, see what takes root, and harvest what blooms. Many companies freak out when unintended customers buy their product. Many companies also freak out when intended customers buy their product but use it in unintended ways. Don’t be proud. Take the money. The guy who invented Brillo sold pots and pans; he came up with the clever idea of baking soap into steel-wool pads as a tchokes for his customers. To his surprise, his customers were more interested in these pads than his pots and pans, and that’s how Brillo was born.
  2. See the gorilla. You aren’t going to believe this, but Daniel J. Simons of the University of Illinois and Christoper E. Chabris of Harvard University ran an experiment in which they asked students to watch two teams of players throwing basketballs. The students were told to count how many times one team passed the basketball to their own teammates. Thirty-five seconds into the video, an actor dressed as a gorilla entered the room, thumped on his chest, and remained in the room for another nine seconds. Fifty percent of the students did not notice the gorilla! If you want to make it rain, you have to see the gorilla markets in the mist, so to speak. Decades ago Univac was a leader in computers, but it believed that the market for computers was scientists; it did not see that the gorilla market for computers was business people. That’s why everyone knows who IBM is and few people remember Univac.
  3. “Sell,” don’t enable “buying.” Marty Gruber, my old boss in the jewelry business, liked to point out that, “Everyone wants to be the VP of marketing.” Truer words were never spoken–everyone one wants to be the VP of marketing and do the cool stuff like advertising and promotion. This is fine if your product is already being bought. However, the products of most organizations is sold. For example, these days an iPod is bought: people walk into the Apple store intending to buy it. By contrast, much to my continued disappointment, a Macintosh is still sold: the hardworking Apple store employee has to convince people that a Macintosh is fast, safe, easy-to-use, and runs the software that they need. For selling to work, you need face-to-face, personalized, and intense contact. Advertising can’t do this, so for most organizations the best lead-generation methods are seminars, presentations by company executives, and schmoozing. With a little luck and determination, you may wake up one day to find that you no longer need to sell because your product is being bought–mazel tov!
  4. Find the key influencers. The higher you go in most organizations, the thinner the air. The thinner the air, the more difficult it is to find intelligent life. Thus, if you focus your rainmaking efforts on CXO level people, you may be dealing with the dumbest people in the organization. The biggest titles do not have the biggest brains, so don’t go after the biggest titles. Instead, go after the key influencers. They have humbler titles like “secretary,” “administrative aide,” “database administrator,” or “customer service manager.” They usually do the real work, so they know what products and services are needed, and the CXOs ask them for their recommendations. The logical question is now, “How do you find the key influencers?” The answer is that you ask people at the company to answer this simple question, “When there are problems, who does everyone go to at this organization?”
  5. Go after “agnostics,” not “atheists.” Ahh, the reference account: big, rich, and prestigious. It is the high-hanging fruit that every rainmaker dreams of picking because closing this sale brings credibility to the organization and makes every sale thereafter easier. For years, I tried to get Lotus Development and Ashton-Tate–the reference accounts of personal computer software–to develop Macintosh products. They never did get it, and I wasted a lot of time. By definition, reference accounts are already successful, and therefore probably fat, dumb, and happy. They are the least likely to try something new and different. Sure, give them your best shot–once. But then cut your losses and move on to the “agnostics.” In the mid-eighties, the atheists denied the Macintosh religion, and they refused to convert to the Mac. The agnostics–people who had never used a personal computer before–were the rich and fertile market for Apple.
  6. Make prospects talk. If prospects are open to buying your product or service, they will usually tell you what it will take to close them. All you have to do is (a) ask questions to get them talking about their needs, (b) shut up, (c) listen, and then (d) explain how your product or service fills their needs (if it indeed does). Most salespeople can’t do this because (a) they’re not prepared to ask good questions; (b) they’re too stupid to shut up; and (c) they don’t know their product or service well enough to know whether it can in fact fill these needs. When it comes to rainmaking, there’s clearly a reason why God gave us two ears but only one mouth.
  7. Enable test drives. I believe that people are inherently smart. If you provide them with the right information, they are the best judges of the suitability of your product or service. I don’t believe you should–or can–bludgeon people into becoming a customer. My recommendation is that you enable people to test drive your product or service in order to make their own decision. Essentially, you are saying, “I think you’re smart. Because I think you’re smart, I’m going to enable you to try my product to see if it works for you. I hope that it does and that we can do business.” Therefore, do whatever it takes to enable people to download a trial version of your software, use your web site, drive your car, eat at your restaurant, or attend your church service.
  8. Provide a safe, easy first step. Unfortunately, “unsuccessful rainmakers” (an oxymoron?) make it hard for prospective customers to adopt their products or services. I’ve been guilty of it myself–for example, asking Fortune 500 companies to throw out all their MS-DOS machines in favor of a new IT infrastructure based on Macintoshes. What can I say? I was young then. The goal is to make the adoption of your product or service as safe and easy as possible. If you combine this stress-free approach with a compelling product or service, you’ve got it made. If your prospects have to jump through loops to adopt your product or service, then your must convince them that doing so is worth the effort. Incidentally, this is why it’s so much easier to be a blogger than to be an entrepreneur. :-)

Written at: Atherton, California.