PR Can’t Work Miracles, Sales Isn’t Scary and Be Resourceful, NJ Startups Told

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Startup entrepreneurs who wanted to know how to get in front of prospects or what to expect from the press were treated to three presentations on these topics by knowledgeable speakers at the joint meetup of Scarlet Startups and NJ Entrepreneurs and Tech Startups on Sept. 27, 2012.

About 200 tech and nontech startup founders attended the meeting — moderated by Clark Lagemann, Scarlet Startups organizer — that took place at the new JuiceTank Innovation Lab in Somerset. NJTechWeekly.com will have more to say about JuiceTank soon.

Starting off the evening, Michele Baer, Baer Consulting (Upper Montclair)founder and president, spoke about public relations and marketing. Every company owner should know, she told the audience, that PR firms can’t guarantee a positive Wall Street Journal story for a client. Certainly that would be nice, but it’s not something a PR person can just “dial up.”

What public relations can help you do, she said, is build uptake for your brand, convince people to support it and drive sales. One of the most powerful things PR can do, she noted, is build early adopters through social media and get them to tell everyone else about your brand.

In addition, Baer noted, “If you are ever in a crisis, … lawsuit or product recall … PR can help you minimize the damage and recover a bit.”

However, PR can’t control the media. You can’t tell a reporter the exact article you want written and expect that to happen. If you decide to delve into the social world, you can’t control what other people are saying about your company or brand. If you are in the social media space, do engage in a dialogue with your customers, but be “prepared to take your lumps.”

Reporters are not “in it to do your advertising for you. … They want a sexy story and they want something a little bit controversial, maybe not about your company but about a market trend or unmet need.”

Remember that news organizations have experienced major budget cuts, so make your story easy for them, Baer advised. Give them both your expertise and access to other sources and experts. Be ready for their questions. “Reporters always want to know about financials. Be prepared for questions about revenues and the number of customers you have,” she said.

Moving on to sales, David Goldstein, now president of startup Health Options Worldwide (Princeton) and the former No. 1 sales manager at ADP (Roseland), shared his observations and practical tips. Above all, he said, success is a choice.

People find sales scary, but it isn’t, Goldstein said. “I don’t sell my soul … you don’t have to. Sell people what they need.

“It’s a crime to sell people something that they don’t need. Our job is to find people who need our system and make them want to use it,” said Goldstein.

Be an expert but have a playbook where you write down how this innovation is going to affect your potential clients, Goldstein advised. Know the future trends in your industry, and be able to articulate this information in an easy-to-understand way so your customers will follow your lead. “We need to guide them [customers] on a path providing a solution that fits the challenges they are facing today,” he said.

Sell the benefits of your products. Tech entrepreneurs tend to rattle off their systems’ features, Goldstein said, but clients don’t really care about features or technology; they get emotionally attached to the benefits the technology will bring.

Be prepared, Goldstein said. Know your product and the industry. Do the research on prospects, write out your pitch and the questions you are going to ask, role-play with a buddy and practice in the mirror.

Put yourself in front of enough people to be successful. Sooner or later someone will take a shot at your company. You just have to keep plugging away.

“The caveat is that you have to be in front of the right people,” Goldstein said. Startups need to find early adopters.

Successful salespeople qualify all the folks they are going to meet with, said Goldstein. “It is worthless to meet with someone who cannot do business with you. The one thing we don’t have enough of is time … so it’s imperative we get in front of the people who can buy from us.”

Once you are in front of prospects, play detective and find out which of their problems you can solve, Goldstein said. Ask good open-ended questions. Find at least three hot-button issues that will move prospects closer to buying the product, he advised.

When you are talking about price, start high and be confident. “It’s always going to be too expensive the first time they hear the price,” Goldstein noted. Be willing to walk away from business. Sometimes that leads to being able to close the deal.

Christopher Spaulding, business development and strategy EVP at The Spaulding Group (Somerset) and Sales Professional Forum founder, presented some ideas for business growth.

First, “you need to be resourceful,” he said. Spaulding explained how resourcefulness have helped Kenneth Cole, then a fledgling designer who needed to get his shoes in front of buyers at an important New York Hilton conference but couldn’t afford booth space.

Cole, who had a friend with an 18-wheeler, decided to fill the trailer with his artfully displayed product and park it in front of the hotel. However, in New York the only entities given permits to park in front of the Hilton were movie or TV production companies and utilities. “Being resourceful, he decided to change the name of his company to Kenneth Cole Productions,” said Spaulding. Cole pretended to be shooting a movie, obtained the permit  and was able to gain access to conference attendees.

The takeaway: remember that no one is going to care about your business as much as you do, Spaulding said. “My guess is if Kenneth Cole had given the task of finding out how to park a truck in front of the New York Hilton to a staff member, they would have probably stopped at the first ‘no.’ ”

Added Spaulding, remember that you are not just selling your services or products; you are selling yourself. Set yourself up as a thought leader and expert in the eyes of your prospects. If you can do this by either writing or speaking, selling your product becomes easier. Think about ways to improve your personal brand.

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