Sales Tips for Entrepreneurs: Q&A with Vertafore’s Top Talent

When you’ve got an amazing idea, you don’t want to sell yourself short – literally. Sales may be uncharted territory for a new entrepreneur, but it’s a necessary skill to develop. Whether it’s selling your business idea to an investor or selling your finished product to a customer, an entrepreneur will have to wear their “salesperson” hat more often than not. We asked Vertafore Chief Sales & Marketing Officer BJ Schaknowski, and VP of Channels & Ecosystems Ben Deda, for their best sales advice.


1. What is your definition of sales?

BJ Schaknowski: Sales is the function within a company accountable for creating and expanding commercial relationships with customers, in service to achieving revenue (and profits), by demonstrating and communicating measurable value.

Ben Deda: Sales is the art of discovering the needs of a customer and communicating how you can help meet those needs and create value for the customer.

2. A lot of entrepreneurs have great ideas, but some have a hard time selling the idea to investors and potential customers. Why do all entrepreneurs need to be a good salesperson first and foremost?

BJS: I’ve been part of M&A within several large companies. If a founder can’t demonstrate true value delivered to customers by a product or a service, with quantifiable/demonstrable outcomes, it doesn’t matter how good his/her idea may be. Lots of people have good ideas – few can execute. The ability to inspire confidence in that capability is what matters…. and that’s selling.

BD: Any business is about value creation and a big part of that is effectively communicating that value. If you cannot communicate the value you’ll never be successful.

3. What qualities makes a good salesperson?

BJS: They are methodical. They are naturally curious and ask great questions. They are tenacious without being obnoxious. They believe (or make people think they believe) in what they are selling and communicate with passion. They are great story tellers. They are accountable to a fault.

BD: Master the art and the science. Be able to create and communicate a narrative. Understand your sales process and metrics so you can identify where you need course corrections.

4. What common mistakes do you see people make when it comes to selling their product or service?

BJS: They focus on the product/service, versus the outcomes. Customers care less about the how, and more about the what. They try to solve a problem that may or may not exist vs. selling with insights or teaching while selling.

BD: They sell the product before they truly understand the customer.

5. How can an entrepreneur improve his or her selling skills? Are there any resources (both online or in-person) that they should be taking advantage of?

BJS: Read The Challenger Sale.

BD: Practice it in your personal interactions. Try and truly understand what is important to your connections and position your asks to align with those things that are important. It could be where you are going to dinner, what you are doing that weekend, anything. Getting to Yes is a great book to read.

6. What are some best practices for what to do post-sell that have worked for you & your team?

BJS: The best sellers know you are never done selling. There is no “post-sale” in a commercial relationship. The best sellers know this and never forget it. The poor ones look at sales as a series of “transactions” and lose customers.

BD: Maintain a systematic relationship. Have a schedule for communicating with your customer and always have a value add item for the conversation.

7. Do you have any other advice for nurturing relationships and leads in hopes of getting them to become customers?

BJS: Sales process trumps sales skills, often. Dedicate time every day/week to selling. Don’t put it on a list and not get to it.

BD: Be consistent and methodical in your prospecting. Iterate on your messaging and methods of communication until you find what works.


BJ Schaknowski has spent his career selling, marketing and servicing software. He currently leads sales and marketing for Vertafore, the leading provider of insurance technology and analytics, as its Chief Sales & Marketing Officer. He’s held go-to-market leadership roles at LexisNexis, Intuit and Sage Software and is a prior-service United States Marine. He earned his MBA at the University of Georgia’s Terry School of Business and his BA from The State University of New York at Geneseo.

Ben Deda is the VP of Channels and Ecosystems at Vertafore. Previously Ben was the COO of Galvanize, a tech and entrepreneurship education company, where he led the company’s growth from 35 to 370 employees and the VP of Sales and Marketing at FullContact, an identity management API and application company. Ben is also a co-founder and board member for Denver Startup Week, a week long event of entrepreneurial programming that had over 13,000 attendees in 2016. Ben has an MBA from the University of Denver and a BS of Mechanical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame. He spent seven years in the Marine Corps as an infantry officer and recruiting officer.

Do you have any more sales tips? Leave some below for our students in the comments!

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