Guest Post – Figuring Out The Formula For B2B Sales by Lucy Stonehill

formulaThis is a guest post by Lucy Stonehill, founder of BridgeU, a startup that democratizes access to the world’s best universities for globally mobile or international students via its SaaS platform. BridgeU joined the Seedcamp Family out of Seedcamp Week Berlin last month. Following Onboarding Week, Lucy reflects here on what she learned at the Sales session with David Clayton of True & North. 

Amongst the more compelling speakers throughout the week was Dave Clayton, from True & North, speaking on the topic of sales. If anyone could turn sales, which otherwise seems to be rather a cloudy art, into a science—fully equipped with variables plotted out on X and Y-axes—it’s Dave.

He began speaking about the nature of the B2B sales cycle. For a B2B provider, he explained, the logic behind the sales strategy boils down to how you can help them help their customers.

Dave spoke about the key factors that distinguish mediocre sales people from the greats (think: Don Draper). A mixture of authenticity, approach and application is Dave’s secret recipe.

Authenticity: give something of yourself, show you care, that is transferable across cultural, and language boundaries

Approach: frame of mind you’re in and the sales tactics and strategies you adopt

Application:  the method used to sell someone (phone, in person, meeting), and how much you do it

Dave asked the Seedcamp companies what we thought made a good sales person. We offered a variety of responses: charisma, charm, knowledge of the product, pearly white teeth? While these are all “factors” in creating a successful sales person, they’re not crucial contributors.

Two most important contributors to a successful sales person? Alignment with the customer and the ability to build trust. Dave explained. The more you can position yourself in your prospective customer’s shoes, and the more you can align your interests and experiences with theirs, the more likely a sale will result.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to know your client and her industry inside out, back to front. What does your client do? What are her KPIs (key performance indictors)? What are the outcomes she is trying to achieve on behalf of her customers and what are the existing barriers preventing those outcomes? Bridging the gap to success for other businesses begs the question: “where does my client need to go and how can I help her get there?”

Dave’s insights about the nature of the sales cycle were both surprising and interesting. The riskiest point in the sales cycle? When the customer is about to hand over her credit card details.

Plotting milestones on a whiteboard, Dave walked us through the typical customer journey. At the beginning of the sales process, the salesperson needs to control need, where as later it is about managing the customer’s perception of risk. Another slightly surprising insight about consumer behavior is that customers tend to feel risk even after a purchase, so truly successful salespeople need to influence and alleviate risk after the purchase has been made, guiding his or her client to feeling value, at which point risk goes away. Cost, also, is far less important than we tend to think. If we can speak to need and manage risk, we can hold price.

Whether running a direct-to-consumer or B2B company, mastering the art of how to sell, and how to communicate value to prospective buyers, is an undeniable component of every business’ potential for success. There’s sometimes a myth thrown around the tech-startup world that’s very product-centric – “if you build it they will come.”

At BridgeU, our mission is to democratize access to the world’s best universities for globally mobile or international students. Our software platform offers a variety of tools that better prepare and position applicants for foreign university programs. Our value proposition lies in the quality of our offering as our software tools are the result of input from admissions consultants & international educators from 5 continents. But our uniqueness lies in the accessibility and affordability of our platform. Despite what we feel to be a powerful standalone offering, we at BridgeU still need to coach and support students, families and schools through our sales process, demonstrating exactly how and why BridgeU will result in better university results, and ultimately happier life outcomes.

Dave’s lecture about sales strategy and process shed some light on just how complex (and frankly difficult) it is to get anyone to buy anything—regardless of the power of your offering. Without a carefully nurtured and well-thought out sales strategy focused on the client, it simply ain’t happening!

Image courtesy of Horia Varlan, CC, via Flickr

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