How to make your first sale

Many business ideas never get off the ground if that first sale can't be achieved.

Once you’ve got that first sale in the bag, you can get referrals and testimonials off the back of it, making it easier to generate further business.

Opening doors

Establishing first and subsequent sales is about creating relationships with your customers. Find out as much as you can about them and work towards making them feel individual, rather than one name in a list you are working your way through. It’s all about getting to know your own company’s products and expectations and tailoring these to your customers’ needs.

Initially, try to arrange face-to-face meetings as this will give your customers the opportunity to see the business on a more personal level. Keep track of your potential customers’ buying patterns – find out how their budgets have been allocated. You will therefore avoid wasting valuable time pitching to a company whose annual budget has already been exhausted.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and make a list of all the reasons why someone should listen to you. Keep as much up-to-date information as possible on potential clients. Remember that your customers are far more likely to respond in a positive manner if you approach them with the right product at the right time, or fulfil specific needs.

The first issues you should consider are what individual aspects make your product stand out from the competition, and what needs it serves. Look at what your product offers over and above other products being offered in the same market.


Remember that you are not likely to be the only business pitching for clients – so make a list of the unique selling points (USPs) of your product or service. Find out as much as you can and ensure you keep up to date with other similar products on the market. Consider issues such as price, delivery mechanism, areas you are willing to deliver to and how fast you can deliver your product, enabling you to stay one step ahead of the competition.

The trick is to give prospective clients a reason to get back to you by a certain deadline (known as a time-close) by offering special deals or free incentives related to your product or service. For instance, offer a discounted rate around your product that only applies to customers who are willing to commit within a pre-determined time scale.

When you initially approach customers they are likely to be wary about new product offerings, so remember to include an offer of guarantee.

Test run your sales approach

Test your selling approach on focus groups (which can be friends and colleagues) that should be made up of a cross-section of your potential audience. Gaining feedback from such a group will enable you to target your sales more successfully and take out some of the guesswork often associated with sales. Get your friends or colleagues to come up with as many objections as possible and work out solutions to each of these. Remember though that not all objections will be negative – look at how you can turn these around to highlight the benefits of buying your product or service.

Above all, your first meetings will be a refining process where you can learn how best to pitch and position your product to the appropriate market. A good salesperson will use every pitch/client presentation as an educational tool to improve upon the next pitch.

Try to arrange initial meetings with companies that are perceived to be the smaller players in your target field, before approaching the larger ones. It is worth bearing in mind that many larger companies will already have their budgets allocated and will have set a limit on the number of suppliers they are willing to meet.

Don’t forget to encourage, gather and use testimonials and referrals from the focus groups. You can use these as a marketing tool, such as within newsletters emailed to target customers. It is crucial to ensure you have a system in place for regular follow-up so that leads can be maintained. This will also be a useful tool if you decide to cross-sell other products and services.

Related: A small business guide to creating a sales pipeline

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