No matter how good is your product, service or solution, selling to large corporations isn’t something easy. And if you are still a growing startup, you don’t have yet either the brand, the reputation, the network or the trust to break into that circle. All key factors to make it happen.
Young businesses need some early wins with top clients to quickly build traction and reputation in their industry. Failing in doing that brings frustration, poor self-confidence, too many changes in strategy and execution, waste of money in paid and useless advertising, unhappy investors.
It doesn’t need to be this way. There are strategies that work, and they just require a completely different approach than traditional cold calls, emails or salesy LinkedIn messages. Based on my experience in bringing successfully small organizations or new divisions to market, there are four overlooked factors you should consider:
Niche, Niche, Niche
We are all familiar with the concept of identifying and targeting a niche market and this is particularly important for a young and small company. On the other hand, most of these companies have solutions that could be valuable for multiple industries.
But targeting more than one market at the same time is risky. Spreading yourself and your team too thin isn’t the best way to build short-term traction. This will lead to confusion, setting and re-setting priorities too often, chasing very diverse opportunities and needs from clients, overrun costs. In other words, you won’t go too far.
Pick up one market. The most promising market. Choose it properly. Either because you have a gut feeling or, much better, because you studied it, you learned enough, you have a clear understanding of the main pain points your ideal clients have and how to solve them.
Go all-in. Not just with the idea of testing the waters.
Not only that. Define your ideal client. In details. Don’t stop at the superficial questions (Who is he/she, gender, age, etc.). Challenge your thinking to understand where your clients meet, what they buy, where they speak, what they talk about online, etc. As you will understand shortly, these might be some very useful insights to break into their circle.
Build Your Powerbase
Most of the founders of the new current wave of startups are young, smart and have a stronger entrepreneurial mindset than my generation. If this looks like you, that’s great, as you have more chances to succeed. You grew up in the best time possible to create innovation.
But there is one element you don’t necessarily have. And it is very important. It’s a powerbase or network. As you didn’t spend too much time in the corporate world, you haven’t got the time and the opportunity to develop strong relationship and trust with decision makers. Now, you need them to build traction for your business.
How can you build a powerbase in your market if you don’t have one? Be very strategic, think again who your ideal client is and how you can connect by bringing value to him/her. One step at that time. Don’t rush. Develop a relationship first. When it comes to large corporate clients, you need to understand the internal dynamics, roles, responsibilities, the best entry points.
The ideal scenario is to create early adopters within the target organizations. Someone who really likes your company and your solutions. Engage him/her and he/she will do the rest.
Last piece of advice. There are many discussions and opinions about building or not building a board for your startup. You don’t need a proper board. But what you need is an advisory board and give to some key adopters a seat. You will leverage their experience as well as their own powerbase. In that way, you will build your own one.
Focus on Strategic Partners
Following my earlier points on niche and powerbase, there is a smarter way to break into large companies. Think wisely what your ideal client buys. Legal services, recruitment services, accounting, marketing, etc. List them.
These firms have nothing in common with each other but one thing: they target the same market that you are targeting. Some of them engage with the same ideal client you pictured. They might target the same managers or executives you identified in your strategy.
Once you know who they are, make sure they have the credibility, reputation and experience to be the right partner for you. Beside leveraging their own network, the partnership will offer an opportunity for you to refer them to your clients.
Provided they are not your competitors (although competitors can form good project-based synergies), the best thing you can do is to build a relationship with them with the objective to help each other and both bring additional value to the same clients. This is incremental value partnership.
Leverage their powerbase by bringing contents, ideas, insights. It can be done through joint seminars, workshops, insight papers, co-marketing activities, etc. Be creative. You are giving to them an additional reason to get in touch with their clients and bring you and your company along with them.
Educate First. Sales Will Come.
Once you have positioned your company, built a new powerbase and new strategic alliances, it is time to fully focus on education. If you are a tech founder, perhaps communicating with impact is not (yet) your main skill.
And, most likely, your solution looks simple to you, but it may not be the case for your clients. If they don’t get it in the first place or they feel this is too complicated/difficult to sell it internally or implement it, the sale is not going to happen. Full stop.
If the first steps have been properly executed, you have now a specific niche to target and a growing powerbase to leverage. How can you make your solution easy to understand so you convert leads in sales? Educate your client as if he/she is 10 years old. Not much on features but more on benefits and paint points you are solving. Use consistently emotions as these are main drivers for buyers.
Last important advice. Be flexible. Think beyond profit. If you feel you are getting close to make the sale and you believe this will be a turning point for your business, be open to change, pivot, twist, turn, adapt your solution. Whatever it takes to make your ideal client happy.
It is frankly pointless to have the most amazing product and no key clients.
If you find my 4-step process insightful for your business, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me to discuss further how this can be implemented it in your organization.
I look forward to reading your comments!