By: Meredith Lepore This post can be found http://thegrindstone.com/author/meredith/
Blake: A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing, always be closing. -Glengarry Glen Ross
It’s hard out there for a female entrepreneur. You may have come up with the greatest idea since Rent the Runway or LearnVest, but if you don’t know how to bring investors on board in those early stages, you are doomed. Amanda Steinberg, CEO and Founder of DailyWorth,told The Grindstone, “Every female entrepreneur must master sales. I don’t care how smart you are or how great your business idea is. If you don’t know the art and science of selling, you will fail. Every “deal” requires work. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch Glenn Gary Glenn Ross or The Boiler Room (watch this clip.)” Knowing how to sell your idea is the most important part of making a startup profitable. We talked with a few female entrepreneurs that had to teach themselves the art of being a hustler and pushing their product.
The U.S. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor says that women start ventures with eight times less funding than their male counterparts. According to recent research from The University of New Hampshire Center for Venture Research, only 8.9% of all proposals presented to angel investor organizations were put forth by women. Men and women tend to seek out investors of the same gender which automatically puts women at a disadvantage since most investors are men. According to The Diana Project, only 10% of VCs are female. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, data shows that while about 41% of private companies in the U.S. are owned by women, only 3-5% of them get venture capital.
The stakes are high for female entrepreneurs. There are a lot of barriers to start. On this site, we have talked a lot about investor discrimination against female entrepreneurs because their products are “too feminine” (fashion and babies.) They may have to worry about that in addition to making sure they know the art of sales.
Here are some women that had to learn sales 101 for the sake of their businesses.
Hilary Stockton, founder of TravelSort, told The Grindstone:
“I absolutely have had to hone salesman skills–and, as with many women, it’s not my style to toot my own horn. I frankly still find it challenging to be a great networker; I’m better at the strategy and execution/getting things done, and I find it rare that I meet someone who is an amazing networker, strategic thinker and gets things done in a detail-oriented way. That’s why co-founders with complementary skill sets can be really valuable.
The things that have helped when needing to sell either a client or an investor are:
1) Succinct “pitch” of the unique value we provide
2) Evidence of the money and time we save clients
3) My passion for what we do and how it helps our clients.”
Christine Pietryla, Executive Director for PietrylaPR told The Grindstone:
“It is intimidating at first, particularly if you are a young woman working in a male dominated industry. It is important as a woman to craft your pitch and overwhelm yourself and your audience with authentic confidence. It is critical that that confidence not be confused here for arrogance — it has to be authentic confidence in what you are saying and what you are bringing to the table. This power has nothing to do with gender or class so it is a woman’s greatest asset in a male- or money-dominated situation. The challenge, for me, was not buying into the hype that old rich guys know more than I do about a specific subject (in my case, public relations). After realizing that, rely on good selling skills and nurture good partnerships while immediately shedding those that aren’t useful.”
Female entrepreneurs may also have to worry about investors, both men and women, automatically thinking they will abandon the companies when they have a family.Entrepreneur and startup adviser Cynthia Kocialski told The Grindstone:
“The first time I raised money, it was an eye-opener. I was naive and thought of the process of more of a sophisicated job search. I was very wrong. I had already assembled the team. I thought these are great people who can develop a product – no problem. It amazed me how much the team was scrutinized. They wanted everyone’s resumes, they wanted to know what specific projects they had worked on, whether these products had made it to market, whether the products were successful, and how their specific work helped make these products a success.
The second time at fund raising, our presentation included an overview of the market – market share, units sold, global breakdown of demand, etc. Most of the VCs targeted our market segment and knew the numbers better than us. When we got to that section of the presentation, they told us to skip it. Also, the second time, I thought we’d have an easy time because we had revenue, but they put the customers under the microscope too.
Now, another point for would-be women entrepreneurs, is to be prepared for personal questions. Investors aren’t subject to employment or equal opportunity laws. They can ask if you are married, whether you have children, and whether you have any other family obligations. When I started as an entrepreneur, they would ask if I was married and had children. When the answer was ‘no’,the subject was quickly dropped. After having children, I started to get questions about how old they are, how I was going to take care of them, and how my husband felt about taking on more of the Mr. Mom role. I don’t believe investors discriminate against women, but they do discriminate about other major time commitments.
Yes, you need to be a sales person. The funding process is a sales process. Investors often don’t return calls or emails because it’s a test. If you aren’t persistent enough to pursue them, you won’t be determined enough to win over customers.”
There are a lot of challenges facing female entrepreneurs. But if they are good at sales they can overcome those. Steinberg told The Grindstone:
“I may have experienced discrimination as a woman raising capital, but I don’t think paying attention to it would have helped me, so I chose to ignore it. With every “no” around funding (and there were endless “no’s”), I simply brushed it off and moved onto the next prospect. It’s sales 101. You have to talk to 100 people to find someone to say yes to you.”
Always be closing.