Expert Insights: A look into sales and marketing with Mark Elliott. Background photo is photo is Expert Advisor Mark Elliott in Innovation Factory's Hamilton office.

Expert Insights: A look into sales and marketing with Mark Elliott

From reaching your first customer to building a scalable strategy, navigating a successful sales and marketing plan can be challenging. Resources like Innovation Factory (iF) are there to help you navigate each stage of that journey. In addition to coaching from iF’s Venture Growth Advisors, you can also access specialized mentorship from the Expert Advisors and get the hands-on guidance you need to take your business to the next level.

We turned to our Expert Advisors to gain more insights into navigating some of the common challenges faced by entrepreneurs.

In this part of the series, we asked Mark Elliott, an Expert Advisor at iF to answer some sales and marketing questions. 

Elliott is the founder of VA Partners, providing  sales and marketing services. The VA team has worked with several life sciences, health, and agrifood organizations since they were founded in 2006. As an Expert Advisor at Innovation Factory, Elliott leads Sales Bootcamps, co-champions the Sales and Marketing Peer-to-Peer, and supports the IDEA Fund program recipients. And here’s what Elliottt had to share. 

Mark, you’re an expert in sales and marketing with years of experience. What do you think are some common pitfalls that entrepreneurs face in their sales and marketing strategies, and what are some ways they can overcome these challenges?

Entrepreneurs often fall into a few key pitfalls when it comes to sales and marketing strategies. 

First, they tend to delay their sales and marketing efforts, waiting for the product to reach perfection. It is better to start with early outreach and collect information so that when your product is ready to be sold, you already have a list of potential customers or partners.

Second, they tend to not have a sales and marketing plan. Even having a very high-level plan is preferable to no plan. It takes time to build one, but it will save you time later. A plan will allow for more repeatable sales and marketing efforts.

Lastly, there’s a common tendency to focus too much on the product’s features and technical aspects rather than its benefits and the problems it solves. Your customers will be interested in the problems you solve and the benefits you bring to them. The decision-makers will be less interested in the features and technical aspects of your solution.

Speaking of customers, what strategies would you recommend for start-ups to effectively reach and engage with their target audience?

Identifying and engaging with the right target audience from the get-go is crucial for any start-up, and there are a few ways it can be accomplished. First, have a well-defined Ideal Customer Profile (ICP). This focused approach not only accelerates growth but also helps deepen your understanding of customer needs, which in turn enhances communication and builds a solid base of referenceable clients within the ICP.

Second, it’s important to remember that partnerships can play a vital role in early stages. They can significantly speed up the process of reaching both potential customers and other valuable partners. These partners, especially those with established trust among your target audience, can open doors to early meetings and provide crucial insights and visibility. This could be partners that sell to your target customers or even someone like Innovation Factory.

Third, technology, particularly Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, is another cornerstone for start-ups looking to build their sales and marketing strategy. I always say, ‘The best time to have a CRM was yesterday; the second-best time is today.’ Especially for B2B start-ups, a CRM is indispensable. It keeps the team organized, captures valuable interaction data, and supports future engagement strategies. Given the variety of affordable, if not free, CRM options available, there’s really no reason holding you back.

Lastly, talk to your customers and partners. These conversations are invaluable for validating the problem your start-up aims to solve, understanding the market and competitive landscape, refining your pricing strategy, and much more. It’s about talking early and often to build a business that truly resonates with its intended audience.

If you’re looking for some sales and marketing help with your start-up, reach out to Innovation Factory to schedule a meeting with Mark Elliott.

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