By Joleen Small
Glass ceilings can be hard to break. Li Chang found that out when she was working as a trader on Wall Street and reached a plateau in her career. Since she was no longer advancing, she decided to move on and create her own firm providing an analysis of the mortgage market. Her company, Recursion, provides data that investors can use to make sound investment decisions.
Li opened her company in 2015 but had trouble finding her first paying clients from her industry. Most of her contacts from her days working on Wall Street was impressed with her product but weren’t ready to pay for the service.
“I didn’t know how to control the process. I tended to do too much work for free,” Li explains. “I didn’t even know where we were in terms of sales.”
Her business model was great, but her lack of sales experience proved to be challenging. She was lucky enough to get a government subcontract that sustained the company, but with limited resources, she still could not afford to hire a professional sales team. This prompted one of Li’s employees to contact SCORE Westchester. Li was put in touch with Paul Katzenstein, a mentor who specializes in sales, marketing, and public relations. They worked out a plan to improve Li’s sales outcomes, and she went straight to work.
“Paul taught me to always have an idea of what we are going to talk about during client meetings and what we want to achieve. Previously, I just let the other side control the conversation, but Paul told me to have an objective for every single meeting,” Li says.
Now instead of letting a potential client direct the conversation, Li maintains the trajectory of her sales call so that she can find out more about her client’s needs and respond accordingly.
“Sales is all about asking the right questions. I tended to talk too much about us and our features,” Li explains. “You need to ask the clients questions and find their pain points. We need to sell benefits and not features.”
Paul also taught Li how to qualify clients so that she wouldn’t spend more time than necessary with prospects who were not serious about purchasing her services. For example, she has potential clients sign a non-disclosure agreement before proceeding if a significant amount of knowledge sharing is needed to close the sales. If they do not sign the NDA, it’s likely they won’t sign the contract to work with her firm as the contract is more complicated. That act alone helps identify serious clients.
Li also learned how to handle free trials. “We need to have a fixed term for the trials because they cannot go on forever,” Li learned. Instead of giving away free access to her product, Li now works with her clients to establish when they will actually use it. She also implemented a time limit on how long the client may try out the product.
Overall, Li learned that her clients need to have as much a stake in the sales process as she does. This turnaround helped increase her client engagement as well as her sales success. She now has about a dozen private industry clients and does business with several government agencies.
“I do think government programs and nonprofit organizations like SCORE put a lot of effort into helping small businesses,” says Li. “We are great in terms of analytics, but marketing and sales were definitely our weakest points. It’s very timely and extremely helpful for Paul to help us at this stage. I really appreciate it.”