“The big trick in sales is not talking, it’s listening.”

This was one of many gems that Mark Elliott, co-founder of Venture Accelerator Partners, shared with our attendees at last week’s Entrepreneurship 101 lecture on business-to-business (B2B) sales. After hearing all of the wisdom he shared, it’s not surprising that Mark has been successful in this area. Here is some of his advice.

Create a value proposition

First, make your value proposition strong. You can do so by:

  • identifying the benefits that you’re selling and clearly separating the features of your product from its benefits;
  • quantifying the benefits of your product, which is the best way to change minds;
  • tailoring your value proposition to your audience (for example, to investors rather than clients); and
  • weaving in how your product is different from that of your competitors.

Remember, your product is not going to be appropriate for everyone. That said, try to pick a vertical and horizontal focus as this will allow you to become an expert in those areas and to understand and serve that segment better. Also remember that not every organization works the same way and that you should start with people close to the top of the organizations you’re targeting.

A “yes” is not always a sale

Next, a prospective client saying “yes” is very different from him or her actually paying you for your product. It’s important to understand the following aspects of sales:

  • the sales process: from prospecting and qualifying to proposing, closing and rolling out your product (yes, how you deliver the product is part of the sale, so don’t half-cheek it!);
  • quantifiable sales activities: this includes proposals, demos, cold calls, meetings and more; and
  • objections to your product (don’t be afraid to ask prospects for more information on why they aren’t interested).

Sales tools

You should also make use of the following tools:

  • email templates, which you can use to introduce yourself and your company;
  • telephone scripts, which can guide you through conversations with people who you didn’t plan to call and who didn’t plan to hear from you; and
  • customer relationship management tools, such as social media.

Convert cold calls to warm calls by:

  • sending targeted emails;
  • following up on emails (it’s a great way to get a conversation started);
  • using language your target customer would use; and
  • doing your research to understand your target customer’s needs.

Your solution may not lend itself to normal sales methods, but you may need to use the conventional methods to start before employing unconventional ones. Have a look at the slides from Mark’s lecture to see what those methods are.

Networking is important

Another sales tactic is networking. If that just made you cringe, Mark has some great advice for you.

  • Look for events where you can find customers or partners.
  • Make a bet with friends and family members about how many people you can meet at an event (business cards are the evidence).
  • Let people talk about themselves first—it’s a great way to get an intro without feeling like you’re selling.
  • Practice what you’ll say (it sounds like prep for a first date, but in this case the results might be better).

This is just the tip of the iceberg! It’s hard work, but it will pay off—literally. To hear all of Mark’s advice on B2B sales, check out the video from his lecture. Happy hunting!

Produced by MaRS.

Next lecture: Negotiations on Wednesday, February 12, 2014.

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Gina Leslie

Gina was the interim manager of MaRS’ Entrepreneurship & Innovation Series. Prior to joining MaRS, Gina worked in the small business and startup space in a variety of roles, with a focus on business development, project management and communications. She recently completed her MBA at the Rotman School of Management. See more…