Entrepreneurs serve a number of different roles. They’re creatives, they’re marketers, they’re financers, and they’re charismatic leaders, yet they still get stuck doing routine tasks and making phone calls. Still, some of these roles are more important and more prominent in an entrepreneur’s life than others, and deserve more attention and focus.
One of the biggest roles of the entrepreneur is that of the “idea person.” In this role, it’s the entrepreneur’s job to produce a vision that can be achieved, and dream up new ideas that bring that vision closer to reality throughout the company’s earliest stages of growth. While this is undoubtedly one of the entrepreneur’s most critical roles, it’s also secondary to a role that’s even more important — that of a salesperson.
Here are five reasons why entrepreneurs are salespeople more than they are visionaries:
1. Most breakthrough ideas are improvements, not original inventions. Pablo Picasso has been quoted as saying “Good artists copy, great artists steal,” and even influential entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs have admitted to believing and appreciating this strategy. If you take a look at some of the most influential developments in the past few decades, few of the standout, breakthrough successes were original ideas. For example, Google wasn’t the first search engine. YouTube wasn’t the first user-driven video uploading and sharing platform. These were merely improvements on a model that already existed. Instead of coming up with brand new ideas by themselves, these entrepreneurs merely found a way to make these ideas more appealing to a mass market. In effect, they took an idea that already existed, and found a better way to sell it to the public. Unfortunately, even amazing ideas can flounder if they aren’t sold effectively.
2. Branding is more powerful than product appeal. Take a blind taste test of a brand-name breakfast cereal against its generic or store-brand counterpart. Chances are, you won’t be able to tell much of a difference, yet brand-name cereals can afford to charge more and still have far higher sales. Why? Because branding has a more powerful effect than raw product value. As a better, more objective example, consider the Pepsi challenge — in almost every unbiased run of the Pepsi vs. Coke taste test challenge, participants favored Pepsi as their beverage of choice. Even so, Coke’s powerful brand allows it to remain not only alive, but flourishing. No matter how good a product — the idea is — how it’s sold can make or break its eventual performance.
3. Revenue is what keeps businesses alive. New ideas are fun to dream up and even more fun to create, but revenue is what keeps businesses going. Without a stream of revenue to keep cash flow positive and keep a business positive in the long term, even a company with a constant churn of new, innovative ideas can fail. The main job of a salesperson is to secure this stream of revenue, which is objectively more valuable than the ideas that may make that stream easier to acquire.
4. Ideas evolve based on customer feedback. What looks like a valuable idea on paper may fail when it comes time to test it in a live environment. Practical tests of an idea guide its development, making it honed enough to please its users. This process of shaping, molding, and changing an idea is more of a sales role than it is a visionary role. The most important part of the process isn’t coming up with a good start; it’s fine-tuning that start into something that people will want to buy. Salespeople take the lead in matching a product to customer needs, and therefore are a more necessary role for entrepreneurs to take.
5. Sales is a broad term. Sales can apply to a broad number of situations and categories, beyond the conventional “sales” department. As an entrepreneur, you won’t just be selling your idea to potential clients. You’ll be selling it to investors, selling it to new employees, selling it to your partners, and maybe even your friends and family. Sales is all about persuasion, which is a necessary element of leadership in general. Generating ideas can also be applied to many categories and situations, but they exist in a much more passive, theoretical state, making them less tangible and measurable than persuasive efforts.
None of this is to say that entrepreneurs aren’t or shouldn’t be visionaries — without the vision, there is no business. But performing a sales role is just as, and sometimes more important. Even decent ideas can lead to successful companies if the right salesperson is behind them, so imagine having a fantastic idea with an experienced salesperson backing it. If you’re an entrepreneur, work on being the best salesperson you can be — you probably already have an idea worth selling.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!