I piled into the van with 6 middle-aged men. Most of them smoked half a pack of cigarettes by the time we arrived at our first sales call.

But these guys were professionals. I mean, they were good at what they did, which was to sell vacuum cleaners door to door.

Most Valuable Sales Lesson

And I was right there with them. A less-than-graceful transfer of universities and majors had put me in a cash crunch during the summer after my freshman year. This door-to-door sales was the first (and only) job I ever took by responding to an ad in the newspaper. But it was during that long summer that I learned my most valuable lesson in sales.

We were equipped with 50-pound machines that could clean, suck, blow, dust, and shampoo better than any other competing product on the market. But there were a few hurdles to selling this product.

For starters, most people aren’t in the market for a new vacuum cleaner. Most people with carpets already own a product that they’re happy with and believe their vacuum adequately does the job for which they purchased it. And this particular product that I sold didn’t advertise or market their brand online, in print, or even on TV. Oh, and one other major hurdle in each and every cold-call sale…

The vacuums were $2,000 each.

vacuum door to doorSo, how do you sell a product for which there is very little brand awareness and no perceived need?

How do you help someone understand that their existing solution, which is less than one tenth of the cost of your product, is inferior and not worth using for even one more day?

And how do you build enough of a relationship and urgency to educate and relate to a stranger enough to turn them into a life-long customer?

There are many complex ways I could answer those questions. And I could go into great detail about dozens of sales tactics or marketing strategies. But the best answer, in my opinion, simple: Build value.

Let me tell you what I mean.

The only way to ever guarantee that someone will happily buy your product is to demonstrate and sell the full value of that product or service. Only then can you sell your product at a price that is less than its perceived value, leaving your clients feeling great about the transaction.

This means that you have to show why your product or service is necessary and more valuable than their current solution. Demonstrate the value. Educate your prospects on the product, the technology, the industry and yes, even the competitors.

There are so many effective strategies and tactics that I’ve seen over the past decade as I’ve sold everything from software, enterprise cloud hosting infrastructures, digital media services, and even social media advertising. But, in the end, it all comes down to building value.

I want to share all of these sales and marketing lessons I’ve learned from screwing things up, learning what works, and scaling efficient systems. But, it’s hard to know where to start (that’s why I started this at the beginning).

What sales issues keep you up at night? What marketing ideas get you excited but leave you feeling overwhelmed?

This is the first in a series of weekly blog posts where I’ll dive into startup lessons learned around ramping revenue and building sales and marketing systems. And I’d love to include your idea in next Thursday’s post.

So, please drop a comment below or shoot me an e-mail!