How early-stage companies can approach selling B2B
Founders at early-stage technology companies are usually very focused on product, and rightly so. Creating something that solves a real-world problem is absolutely crucial for success.
But that’s only part of the challenge. One of the biggest obstacles for many enterprise tech startups comes when they need to sell their idea to other businesses. This is something that is rarely discussed, but is just as important as finding product-market fit. It’s the other half of the equation.
I know how frustrating it can be when this doesn’t go well – especially when so much effort has gone into building a great product. And then, of course, there’s the stress – for most early-stage companies, slow sales just aren’t something you can weather for long.
Luckily, there are some basic principles that you can follow that can help you sell your technology to other businesses: here are my own.
Before you connect
If you want to make a sale, you need to prepare. Ahead of your first conversation with a prospect, research is key to setting yourself up for success.
- Do your homework: When a sales negotiation begins, if you truly understand how the prospect’s business works, you’ll find it a lot easier to pull out the selling points that are going to be most valuable to them. Try to identify the biggest pain points they face, the consequences these have on their business, and the areas where your product could most help them.
- Think about ROI: When selling B2B, you of course need to be able to explain how your product supports common business objectives like increasing revenue, saving time, and decreasing costs. On top of that, be ready to show – from your homework – that you understand the unique challenges your prospect faces. Value looks different for every business, and their willingness to pay for your product will depend on your ability to tap into their specific success metrics.
Sometimes, sales conversations arise through referrals, existing relationships and other organic leads. But at other times, you have to put in the work to open the conversation.
- Personalisation is everything: Many people get frustrated by cold sales emails. If you’re using emails to open a conversation, use the information you’ve gathered through your preparation to tailor your note. Prepare a basic outline that you’ll adapt for each prospect and test it out as you go – if you send out a small amount of emails, you can test and learn what’s working as you go. This is far better than a scattergun approach, which leaves you no room for improvement and can lack the human touch. In your email, make sure you get straight to the point in explaining its relevance to your prospect.
- Look to other forms of communication: Owned content can also be a powerful way to help support sales. For example, sharing insights, learnings or data in blog posts can be a way to draw people towards your company in a natural and mutually-beneficial way. If you can teach potential customers something they didn’t already know, you’re already showing how you can add value to their business, planting the seed for a sales conversation down the line.
The best salespeople I have seen approach sales conversations as if they’re consultants. Everything they do is part of a thoughtful, strategic effort to understand where the prospect wants to get to – they then use this to present an argument as to how this can be delivered.
- The first step to this process is understanding the prospect’s status quo. To begin with, ask plenty of questions to help you understand how the prospect is doing things today. Once you feel like you have grasped this, try to explore with the prospect what their ideal scenario would look like. Find out where the prospect wants to be in a year, so you can understand what motivates them and understand what success looks like.
- When you have a comprehensive understanding of both the prospect’s status quo and where they want to be, you can go about defining what needs to happen to get them there (their required capabilities).
- Only once the best salespeople have built out a list of required capabilities, do they tell the prospect about what their business offers. You should focus this pitch on how your product will get the prospect from point A to point B, using everything you have gathered to this point to personalise your approach. When a prospect feels you understand them, the sales conversation will feel less like you are trying to persuade them to buy your product, and more like you’re trying to help them towards the right decision for their business. If you believe in your product, that’s what you’re trying to do anyway.
Finally, you need a way to close a B2B sales conversation. A great way to do this is by using ‘the mantra’, a set of six points that can help you align with the prospect. It goes a little something like this:
- If I understand correctly, you want to achieve the following goals…
- To get there, the required capabilities are…
- And you want to shift the following metrics…
- Here’s how our product can make this happen
- And this is how we do it better than our competition
- If you want more context, you can take a look at the following proof points…
Memorise the six-point structure, and you’ll help to ensure you always do your product justice in sales conversations.
As well as helping summarise your value proposition, this outline helps demonstrate that you have actually listened to the prospect. This is key: businesses want to work with partners that understand their business and are sensitive to their needs, and they’ll sometimes be willing to go with an unproven partner who shows this over an established business that takes a presumptive, cookie-cutter approach.
So if I had to leave you with just one key takeaway, it would be to show prospects that you are listening. As an early-stage company selling B2B, listening is just as important as anything you say.