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Tips For Winning Those First Sales

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                   SoHo NEWS & TIPS
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If you are just starting a new business, you might need a 
little direction to attract those first sales. Today's 
article includes an interview with Neil Platt, vice 
president of sales and business development at six-year-old 
CashEdge Inc. He offers valuable tips to help you attract 
customers and build a sales force.

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Tips for Winning Those First Sales 

Generating initial sales is among the toughest 
challenges for new businesses. We asked Neil Platt, 
vice president of sales and business development 
at six-year-old CashEdge Inc., for tips on attract-
ing customers and building a sales force. He faced 
this task in 2000 on joining the New York-based 
provider of online financial applications for banks, 
credit unions and wealth-management firms. The 
privately held company now has more than 450 
customers and eight full-time sales professionals. 

How do you gain the trust of first-time customers? 

If someone is uncomfortable doing business with 
you because you are new and untested, ask them 
what it would take to make them comfortable, and 
try and work with them to implement those changes.

One of our earliest prospects was very interested 
in our services, but felt that we didn't have the 
operational and security infrastructure to support 
such a large institution. We were a small, untest-
ed company at the time. We asked what it would 
take for them to do business with us. They gave us 
a list of changes, which helped us build security 
systems and procedures to support any size 
financial institution, and we made the sale. 

What do you do to build client relationships? 

We've tried very hard to establish deep ongoing 
relationships with our clients. Each of our major 
clients has a dedicated relationship manager, who 
is responsible for being the voice of the customer 
within the company. That person also represents 
the face of the company to the client and is 
responsible and compensated for growing the client 
relationship over time. You cannot underestimate 
the value of relationships and service. 

There's no question that our best clients keep 
coming back to us because of the strength of our 
relationships and the value we have provided them 
in the past. The biggest challenge here is success-
fully institutionalizing your relationships. For 
the first or second sale, the CEO or founder might 
be more involved than he or she will be in the 
future. He or she might be building on a previous 
relationship, for example. But when a company gets 
bigger, it will be impossible for it to give same 
level of personal service or attention to its 100th 
customer as it did for its first.

Tell us about a sales mistake you made when start-
ing out. 
I failed to understand all of the steps necessary 
to get closure. If you are dealing with a person 
at a prospect company who seems over-eager, then 
you can get the impression that you're moving 
faster than you really are. But if you haven't 
completed the steps, you're not going to close the 
sale. I once spent a lot of time with a prospect 
who was very interested in our products, but had 
no way of getting a budget for them. Had I deter-
mined this up front by asking whether the products 
were budgeted for, I could've more effectively 
used our time.

Can you give a tip for closing a sale? 

The best way to close a sale is to maintain a 
tight control on the process and continually get 
feedback from the prospect as to where you are in 
the sales process. Early in a sales process you 
want to ask questions like: "What kind of steps 
are we going to have to go through for you to
make a decision as to whether or not you will buy 
our product?" You may agree you have to pass steps 
"A," "B," and "C," and come to a decision. 

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In my industry, before we can sell a complex 
piece of software to a bank, we first need to 
develop a shared business case. Then we need to 
get approval from the prospect's internal techno-
logy, risk-management and compliance units. Then 
we need budget sign-off. If we haven't completed 
all the steps, we can't close the sale. I encour-
age our salespeople to develop a relationship 
with a "coach" inside the prospect to help us 
make sure we are covering the appropriate steps. 

If you follow that process, you should know rough-
ly when sales are ready to close. The most 
difficult part of this is the back-and-forth 
communication and making sure you're always moving 
forward. Sales like this can involve an enormous 
commitment of time and effort. If you're not in 
control of the process, it's easy to lose sight 
of the whole game plan.

When a customer isn't interested in buying, how 
far should you go when trying to find out why? 
You need to find out what the problem is as early 
as possible. At the end of the day, anyone can 
talk about the features and benefits of your 
product or service. What makes a truly effectively 
salesperson is the ability to ferret out and 
address customer objections throughout the sales 

We learned this lesson when a potential customer 
professed to liking everything about our product 
and service, but then ultimately decided not to 
do business with us. Had we been able to unearth 
the problem earlier on in the process, we could've
addressed it effectively. But we didn't, and, as 
a result, the business when to a competitor. 
Eventually, we asked what went wrong, and he said 
he felt our company was too small and potentially 
unstable. No question it was our responsibility 
to get that out in the open sooner.

When did you know it was time to hire a full-time 

At some point, you'll realize that there's more 
demand than you can meet with your existing staff 
-- whether that's one person or a team of a dozen. 
A good time to think about it is after you've got 
an initial one or two satisfied customers. A new 
product or service often develops around them. 
Until the product is fully developed and your 
initial customers are satisfied and willing to 
serve as references, you may not need additional 

Salespeople tend to be very entrepreneurial by 
nature, and, in my experience, good salespeople 
are always scouring the market, even if they're 
not explicitly looking for a new job. We've had 
success with the online job boards. If anything, 
the only risk you run with those is you get piles 
of resumes, and it's a little bit of work sorting 
through them. 

I don't think it's necessary to use a search firm, 
unless you're searching for something very 
specific, such as a salesperson who sold a 
particular kind of engineering part. Good sales-
people strike a balance between being motivated 
to bring in a commission and meet the company's 
goals. Not all salespeople are natural team play-
ers, but I believe that is ultimately an important 


Liability issues can be addresed through insurance, 
so while limited liability is one reason to choose a 
corporate form of organization, check with knowledge-
able advisors before making a final decision. 

So what did you think about this issue? Drop me a line and let 
me know at mandi@gophercentral.com 

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Copyright 2006 PENN L.L.C.   All rights reserved. 

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