Several years ago, I was working with a friend on a small startup in the apparel industry. Our company, at the time, was still in its infancy stage: we were busy raising capital, navigating legal issues, and negotiating with suppliers, but our product had yet to go on sale. Of prime concern to us was maximizing our exposure; we wanted to use social media, advertising, and word-of-mouth to spread awareness as best as possible before opening shop.
With the two goals of boosting exposure and raising capital in mind, we ventured out to an industry trade show and meticulously set up a booth on the convention floor. On the first day of the show we sat at our booths silently, our literature proudly displayed, and smiled warmly at anyone who passed us by.
And guess what? Nobody stopped at our booth – not even one solitary person.
As we would later learn, our shutout did not occur because our booth was poorly designed or because our business was unappealing. Rather, we simply didn’t make an effort to stand out. We didn’t bother people, get in their faces, and start talking. At a crowded and chaotic trade show, we gave the other attendees exactly zero reasons to give us a chance.
On the second day of the trade show, we switched up our strategy and tried to correct our previous passivism. We walked around the convention floor and talked to everyone that we could. We introduced ourselves to people, launched straight into our pitch, and were perhaps a bit aggressive at times. While some of our conversations were curtly terminated and didn’t get us anywhere, a surprising number of people showed genuine interest in our business. They talked to us and asked questions. They followed us over to our booth and wanted to learn more. By the end of the day, we had found ourselves two potential investors.
What did I learn from the experience? Simply put, it often takes an aggressive and forward strategy to boost exposure, instill interest, and raise capital for a business. While such sales tactics may seem off-putting in many standard life situations, in the context of business and entrepreneurship it is understood and even expected. People don’t want to have to do the work and teach themselves about your new business – they’d rather you just come to them.
I also learned that interactions and in-person relationship are incredibly important in the startup process. While we hear every day about the necessity of promoting social media, online marketing, and online reputation in your business model, these digital means often do not allow for the persuasiveness of face-to-face interaction. Some people that we spoke with were dismissive at first, but – after a couple minutes of chatting – they had become fully won over.
Finally, along these lines, I learned that the best sales pitch is a short and succinct one. There is much that we deem valuable about our business that would not interest a potential investor in the least. Instead of trying to win a skeptical listener over with background facts and tangential stories, it is ultimately best to be direct and get to the point.
And, as part of this directness, don’t forget to be just a little forward and pushy if necessary. You wouldn’t want to spend your first day at a trade show with the strikeout rate that I passively endured.