The cofounder of San Francisco-based GrowthX Academy delivered a decidedly analog message to hundreds of digital entrepreneurs gathered at Lansdowne Park on Thursday for Invest Ottawa’s annual AccelerateOTT event.
Sean Sheppard urged the local crowd to put down their smartphones and push back from laptops. They should instead commit themselves to having the right conversations with the right people in order to scale their companies.
GrowthX runs an academy in the San Francisco Bay area that trains talent for emerging technology companies. It runs small 12-week courses, often focused on sales and business development.
According to recent statistics, Sheppard said that 70 per cent of startups are doomed to failure. And most often, startup founders point to their product as the reason for their downfall.
But in most cases, that blame completely misses the mark, Sheppard argued.
“Stop focusing on the product and start focusing on solving people’s problems,” he told the audience.
The real reason for most failures is that founders are talking with the wrong people, having the wrong conversations.
“You need to reverse engineer where you need to be and then focus on Mr. Right Now, not Mr. Right … every time you’re speaking with someone who isn’t ready to do business with you, you’re wasting valuable time and resources,” he said.
Sheppard said that growth and customer acquisition begin with good conversations. Those almost solely revolve around trying to identify and solve a problem.
He cautioned the audience to stay away from pitfalls that can send a blossoming sales lead to the “conversation graveyard.”
These pitfalls include not understanding how to handle rejection, using scripts, cold calling, using phony closing techniques and an inability to handle objections.
Each conversation should be authentic and take place within a framework. He said the ultimate goal isn’t to close a sale, but reach the “truth” about solving a problem.
As far as the framework is concerned, Sheppard advised founders to “know the company, know the prospect, know their problems and know the questions that might be posed.”
The last thing founders should do is start conversations with product demos, he said.
“Closing is about being fully immersed in helping people get what they want,” Sheppard said.
Now in its fifth year, the sold-out AccelerateOTT is a one-day event that aims to “fuel the entrepreneurial fire” by bringing together startup founders, mentors and venture capitalists.
Invest Ottawa CEO Michael Tremblay said the event brings the entrepreneurial community together and gives attendees a chance to compare notes, offer mutual support and build a sense of collaboration in the city – keys, he says, to making Ottawa a globally competitive tech hub.