A masterclass in selling: closing the sale for your start-up

Week five of the AIB Start-up Academy provided the 14 finalists with the tools to develop the skills and confidence to initiate, negotiate and close a sale

AIB Start-up Academy

Photograph: Getty Images


What is a business without sales? Nothing. How to sell, negotiate and close a sale was the subject of today’s lively training for week five of this year’s AIB Start-up Academy. Barbara Lynch, from Irish Times Training, was with the start-up finalists for “Sales and Negotiation”.

There was lots of engagement and lively input from the 14 finalists and Jennifer Hourihane of Oathello said it was one she found very helpful for both Lynch’s insights and the brainstorming that emerged from the group. 

“This was a really good session and it was one of the modules that I was most interested in because coming from a professional services background (sales), is something I don’t have much experience in, so it’s great to get the insights from Barbara, but also it’s the module that has brought up the most level of discussion among the group. There is so much engagement from all the companies on what works for them and their sectors,” she said.

Finding the best sales approach varies vastly with every company. Hourihane found that most of her meetings and potential sales were coming from approaching by email, while other companies preferred to get on the phone. “I do find that the legal space operates in a very planned, regimental way, so I found email a really effective way of engaging with customers in a way that suits them, and then for someone like Mary Toner (Bakers & Cakers) she said she has to be on the phone. I think everyone is going to take things away and make decisions on the back of today,” she said. 
This is the third year of the Start-up Academy which is a joint venture between AIB and The Irish Times to help start-up companies develop, as the 14 finalists follow an eight-week programme where they have the unique opportunity to network and learn from entrepreneurs, industry experts and each other in a mentoring and training programme.

The focus this morning was on how to go about selling, approaching customers, getting their foot in the door, selling effectively and closing the sale. 

“Sales are critical. You can have a fabulous (business) idea but unless you can present those ideas to your potential market in a way that excites them and makes them want to buy from you then you don’t have a business,” said Lynch.

In the afternoon the focus shifted to negotiation and how to work out the finalist’s “bargaining zone” to negotiate effectively and make it a win-win for both the company and the customer.
Figuring out your “bargaining zone” is imperative for start-ups before you enter into negotiations because as keen as you are to make a sale, you could end up making a loss if you give away too much too soon.

“Your bargaining zone is figuring out what the best outcome might be and knowing that you probably won’t get what you’d really really love to, and then also knowing what your walk away point is because if you haven’t figured that out and if the other side starts using tactics to get you to move on price you could end up making a sale that, in fact, is costing more than what you’re making,” said Lynch. 

Rather than the hard sell, be tactical in your research, look at your customers, profile who they are, consider who they are, what matters to them, what problems they might have, what opportunities might be out there that they’re missing at the moment and think about how your product is going to help them. “If you follow a sales process and sell accordingly so you find the customer’s need and then show them how your product is going to help them with that need, it doesn’t have to be a hard sell. In fact, it’s very easy and it’s a conversation and you share your story with them and show them how you’re going to help them,” said Lynch.

Kevin Kelleher from Ostoform said Irish people can often be a little apologetic when it comes to sales, which can hamper progress. “The Irish are “people people” in general and that definitely helps for opening doors. Aside from that, we can be a little apologetic when it comes to closing the deal and we can expect and fear the worst when really we should maybe be taking a leaf out of the book of some Americans where you see them aggressively going for the close once they have communicated the unique selling points,” he said.

“From today, I’m learning that from what I’m working on, we have the clinical and technical work validated and we know we have a strong offering and maybe it’s now a case of being that bit more bullish about the closing of the deals,” said Kelleher.

Hourihane said she was enjoying the variety of training topics as well as the camaraderie that is evolving amongst the group with each passing week on the Academy. 

“The Academy is wonderful. It’s like a big selection box of the things you need in start-up and it’s been great to learn and improve the team. I’m finding it really great and there’s so much more ahead like financials and practising our pitch for the final,” said Hourihane. 

Fourteen start-up companies are taking part in the Academy, an eight week accelerator programme, in the hopes of winning a prize worth €200,000 for their business. 

The 14 finalists are:

Frankman Grooming, who produce men’s grooming products

Tipperary Boutique Distillery Limited, who distil Irish whiskey from their own barley on their Tipperary farm

Bakers & Cakers, which is an online marketplace connecting cake makers to those who want to buy them

Izzy Wheels, who create a range of customised spoke guards for wheelchairs

Origin Bars, who produce handmade high fibre protein bars

Atturos, a molecular diagnostic solution to help patients make their decisions

Ostoform, who produce a product that manages peristomal skin complications for people with ileostomies

The Little Pharma Ltd, who produce hydroponically grown barley and wheat grasses

Kiki Moon, who create high quality organic cotton blankets

Oathello Network Limited, which is an online app that allows you to find, book and pay to have legal documents sworn and notarised

FEED, who produce a range of healthy meal pots designed for athletes on the go and for every Feed pot sold, one meal is donated to a child in the developing world

Hydrasure, a Wicklow-based company providing smart-stabling solutions to the equine and agricultural industries that use technology to improve animal health, welfare and performance

Dynomed, a health care application to tackle sleep apnoea by improving the effectiveness of therapies for patients using positive airway pressure devices

Fresh from, who produce a “Rustic Smoked Fish Pâté" called Fresh from the Pier

Next week is all about marketing and “Mastering the Funnel” facilitated by Lisa Hughes and Aidan Greene from Irish Times Training.  

To find out more visit www.aibstartupacademy.com

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