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One of the first things I learned working at Pollenizer was to ‘sell before you build’. Years on, old habits die hard. The process of inventing while selling, is nothing short of an art. Being resourceful, while demonstrating value you are yet to create. It’s literally like jumping off a cliff, building a plane on the way down. The true definition of entrepreneurship.

As I think through the last year, I have learned a considerable amount about selling, taking a bashing daily and being resilient to show up the next day. Acknowledging my own sales fails has made me learn fast and resulted in cost savings for the business.

Drawing from my key learnings of the year, here’s what I think we all can do better at;

We don’t act fast enough

If you’re onto a good lead, your competitors won’t be too far behind you. If they’re bigger, they’ll undoubtedly get past you. Being a small startup gives you the advantage of being flexible and getting to the solution quickly. Prioritising contact with your target customer is key to driving results and it helps if you can focus.

We focus on everything else

Operating a small team, makes it harder to have dedicated functions. It’s so easy to focus on everything other than sales. Sales focus is critical to maximising revenues and fuelling the business. If time is not on your side, automate.

We are manual creatures

Automation is taking over the sales process, optimising the flow of how we connect with customers. Building a relationship fast and personalising how we engage can be a key investment in growth. Tools will support your sales system, and help your inflow of leads.. Once they’re in, let the fun begin.

We qualify every lead

During the qualification stage, analysis of the likeliness of a win and ranking that again what needs to be achieved to get there. Measuring probability allows you make the call on whether the deal makes sense. Making that decision to pursue something, can make a difference to the growth of your business. Going after a lead that will never succeed is a sunk cost your business might not survive.

This is part of business intelligence that can literally game change how you operate as a business. We don’t always get it right, but whatever outcome, there’s no shame in trying.

We feel shame

To sell, you often have to be shameless. Ask of things that you might not feel comfortable with. Shame is a blocker that doesn’t complement entrepreneurship. As humans, we naturally fall short because there is never enough time to do it all. Shame is a natural trigger that drives our emotions in the wrong direction.

Keep focused on solving problems, provide solutions and learn as much as possible about who you’re selling to.

We don’t ask questions

We are taught to be right and to always know the answers. In reality, going into a customer meeting without understanding what the problem is, can often unlock many opportunities. You’re leading a discovery process and in fact find mode. Often listening for what’s not said, over the obvious allows you seek out new ways to transact with your customer.

Not asking the right questions is one thing, but not speaking to the right person is another.

We talk to the wrong person

One of the biggest pitfalls in the sales cycle, not identifying the key decision maker fast enough. Influencers are your best friend, and vital to the process. Bottom-line you can only close the deal with the decision maker. Find this out in the first meeting.

As we strive to create our startup soft landing, things rarely run smooth. We can all fall into the many seductive traps that keep us from closing the deal. If you can do two things, stay close to your customers and learn as much as possible in the process, you will stay on track. Share your sales fails with me over on Twitter (mention @nixos tagging #startupsalesfails).

Nicola Farrell

Nicola Farrell


Nicola is leading Pollenizer's global education portfolio, developing managed learning programs for entrepreneurs and corporate partners. Operating at the epicentre of change, Nicola has led educational programs at scale, maximising reach and widening the net for those looking to adopt startup practices for their organisation.  


  1. Jamie

    Great article. One thing we struggle with is how to get in front of potential customers. Our potential customers are not necessarily where we hang out. Expos have been OK but they are not cheap. Any advice on how we can ‘broadcast our startup’ to the right potential customer. I will include the website below so you can see our product. Thanks Jamie

    • Nicola Farrell

      Thanks for your comment Jamie. I’m unable see your website, so can’t comment on your specific customer. What I would suggest, is to narrow your focus as much as possible, and try to solve a problem for a small number of people until understand what would drive more of them to act. Customer discovery can be a long drawn out process, and requires resiliance and patience. I wish you all the best!
      Cheers Nicola

  2. tushar

    Hi, thank you for this post I agree with you that If you’re onto a good lead, your competitors won’t be too far behind you. If they’re bigger, they’ll undoubtedly get past you. Being a small startup gives you the advantage of being flexible and getting to the solution quickly. very useful information


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