There are plenty of skills entrepreneurs need to be successful, but in an interview from more than a decade ago, Bill Gates suggested that sales skills may be the most important differentiator between success and failure.
Speaking at the 2007 Salon des Entrepreneurs conference in France, the Microsoft co-founder said that “every entrepreneur needs to be a mix of different skills.” But it was an entrepreneur’s ability to “be a salesperson” that might be most important.
“Not just convincing your customers to buy your product, but convincing people to extend credit to you and convincing people to come to work for your company.”
As Gates suggested, finding the right team to grow with you is critical.
“You want their skills to be such that, even as you get to 10 people or 50 people, that their ability can grow with that company,” Gates said. “So you want essentially overqualified people, so you have to be very convincing that it’s worth it for them to come along and join up.”
The point is well taken. Too often, business owners look at their sales function as a conversation with customers. But Gates was arguing that selling doesn’t end with customers: It’s a part of leadership.
This is especially true in a world where tens of millions of people are out of work and seeking jobs. Finding the right messaging and attracting top talent is critical. Being able to sell those people on your vision and your leadership could mean the difference between attracting the best of the best or merely mediocre employees.
But it’s not just attracting talent. Gates was also quick to note that you need to be able to sell your customers and find bankers, investors, and others who are willing invest into your concepts.
Selling, in other words, is the critical skill for all entrepreneurs. And there’s simply no substitute for doing it yourself. Selling is fundamental. It could also mean the difference between success and failure.