Life after Startup – Calling strangers in Helsinki

Focus mode at co-working space Cupola XS

I don’t like sales. There, I have said it.

Sales can be an incredibly frustrating experience. You are constantly running after numbers the whole month, just to end up at the beginning of the next month and do it all from scratch again.

Particularly the creative agency business has a stressful sales cycle. I come from a type of business where the nature of the sale is based on a project.

On the one hand this makes a project less difficult to set up, starting a project is often a matter of a few phone calls since we don’t really need to buy any materials for example.

On the other hand you are constantly looking for new projects, and not every customer has projects all the time, so you need to constantly keep your eyes and ears open.

But Sales is more than just selling stuff to people. Today I want to focus in particular on New business development, especially in the starting phase of a new business.

Is new business development and cold calling really that bad?

Calling strangers in Helsinki

“Hello, can we speak English” I ask the Finnish government rep that deals with startup relations.

“Yes, sure” says a friendly voice on the other side of the line.

“I am calling because we are organizing a unique event called superconnectors in Helsinki during the tech conference Slush and I would love to involve you. Can I tell you more about it?”

After listening to my excited pitch of the concept, the guy on the phone connects me to 2 other people he believes I should talk to, and so the ball starts rolling, and from this moment forward I am getting introductions, a much easier starting point.

After my call, I hang up the phone and think to myself: was cold calling always this easy?

It’s not cold calling if it has purpose

The thing is, none of that call felt like a cold call. I had a clear urgent reason:

I was reaching out for an upcoming conference in Helsinki, I had done some homework, and I had a clear proposal to make: send someone from your team to my event.

So even though I was calling a stranger out of the blue, I had a clear drive and energy that made its way through the phone and travelled all the way to Helsinki to the ears of my now new friend.

A man on a mission

This week I had set myself a clear mission: there will be a Superconnectors event in Helsinki during Slush.

Slush is one of the most popular tech conferences in Europe, while maybe not being the biggest (Still 12.000 people, but smaller compared to 70.000 Websummit attendees), it is definitely known for its rich side-events during the event days.

I had been very busy with organizing superconnectors at the Websummit in Lisbon so far, and people told me it would be tough/impossible to organize something still in Helsinki.

The venues would be taken and the programs would be full.

So I did what I believed needed to happen: during an inspiring visit at the Cupola XS in Haarlem, I locked myself down, and focused on two objectives:

⁃ Securing a venue

⁃ Getting the first people excited

After some research I stumbled upon a few cool co-working spaces and to my surprise one of the nicest ones didn’t have a program yet for the evening of the 17th of November. I set up a follow up meeting and continued on my quest.

I called the Helsinki partners contacts, all of them, nobody answered.

And then got called back by one of the people there. This was the conversation I referred to in the beginning.

New business development is more than selling

So to sum it up, by now I would say I have figured out that my strength is new business development. The point is not that I love sales, actually I find chasing numbers highly irritating.

For me sales is about much more than reaching a target.

It’s about validating a market, about showing others (employees, my business partners, and clients) that there is plenty of opportunities to get very very excited about. And that proof of concept is what I live for.

I believe new business development has made a bad name for itself. New business often just gets thrown around by people that cold call their way through hundreds of people with a script just to hit their quotas.

I believe that new business is about what it literally says: building a new business.

A new business needs much more than customers. It needs absolute believers, new ideas, new ways of thinking and an original way of approaching the market.

That kind of energy and belief can be truly felt over whatever medium you decide to use if it is genuine.

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