Startups

How Startups Can Sell to Large Enterprises

This column is authored by Sreeram Sreenivasan, Founder, Ubiq BI

startup enterprise salesFor startups, bagging an enterprise client can seem like an insurmountable task. And why shouldn’t it be so? The long sales cycles required to close a sales deal can be seriously demotivating for startups, who are short on time and resources.

On the other hand, if you get an enterprise customer, it can open many doors for your startup. You can use this opportunity to validate your product or service in a large scale environment. Also, enterprises are the best place to get repeat business. So if you clinch the deal, you can be assured of a steady revenue for years to come. They also can provide customer testimonials that will help you gain trust & credibility of future customers. In fact, they can even refer you some more prospective clients. And your startup will take off!

Here are some tips that you can use to sell your startup product or service to large enterprises.

Find out their pain point

Try to discover the pain points of your target customer and position your product or service as a solution to their problems. For example, if your startup offers a new HR solution, then try to find out their HR pain points. Read their blog articles about HR topics, use LinkedIn to find out their key HR managers and follow them on Twitter to see what they post about. Search for online interviews from prominent executives in that company to understand what problems they’re facing.

Large enterprises get tons of proposals every day, so you need to prove your value very quickly. It means having a clear understanding of their pain points and an in-depth knowledge of your industry. Be an expert, instead of being yet another vendor.

Understand their buying process

It doesn’t matter how you ‘sell’ your product. When it comes to large enterprises, what matters is how they ‘purchase’ a product. Every large enterprise has a set buying process which involves a series of steps that you must follow to close the deal.

For example, you may have a website that you promote using online marketing techniques. Your typical selling process may involve a person visiting your website and signing up for your product or service. After the trial period, they upgrade to one of your paid plans.

None of that matters for large enterprises. You have to play by their rules. They may be used to seeing live demos by senior executives, followed by 2-3 rounds of meetings, before they even ask for a quote.

Also, in large organizations, the product users are generally different from the product purchasers. For example, enterprise purchases are almost always made by the IT & Finance departments, although the users may from HR, Marketing or some other team. So it’s important to understand who all are involved in the buying process, who are the decision makers, and who is your main contact person. He may not be a decision maker but will be super helpful in closing the deal.

Also, find out their buying timeline. How long do they typically take to make a decision? Are they more likely to buy in summer, or during winter?

Always go for face-to-face meetings

When it comes to enterprise sales, always set up face-to-face meetings, as far as possible. Avoid cold calling, emails, and social media. This is true not only for the initial contact but even after you close the deal. You need to gain their trust and build a long-term relationship to get their business. They’re betting big on your startup, so they need to know that they can trust you, and you’re available whenever they need you.

Keep a few customer testimonials ready

Large enterprises are generally skeptical to buy from startups they haven’t heard of, or they don’t know much about. One of the best ways to overcome this problem is to provide ample social proof about your business. For example, you can present a case study of how your business helped another brand in their industry. Also, showcase positive testimonials from beta customers who have been involved right since your product development stage. Since your startup is unknown at this point, the key is to leverage the brand power of your customers to prove your credibility.

Pitch to multiple stakeholders

B2B sales always involve multiple stakeholders and decision makers. For example, if you’re selling a new HR platform, you’ll have to pitch your product to the recruiters & analysts who will need to use it on a daily basis, the HR managers in-charge of the project, as well as the IT department to assure them about your technology and data security capabilities. You may also need to convince the senior management about the value of your product or service, and finance department about the financial feasibility of using your solution.

The more people you pitch your startup to, the better it is. It helps avoid communication gaps, builds consensus and enables you to close the deal sooner.

Try out a pilot project

One of the most popular ways of selling to large enterprises is to start with a small pilot project. Pilot projects are typically smaller in scale than the final deployment, targeting a much smaller audience. It allows you to iron out the kinks in your solution, as well as establish good relationships with their team.

Once you get them to use your product for 5-6 months, they’ll become familiar with it and most likely buy from you, instead of your competitors. Even if your product or service falls short in some areas, you can always extend the pilot by a couple of months to build in those features and get back to them. Pilot projects allow you to get a foot-in-the-door and make them comfortable with your product or service. Thereafter, it becomes a lot easier to deploy your project to a larger scale.

Don’t underprice your product

Many startups make the mistake of underpricing their product or service, or offering heavy discounts, to get the deal. It drastically reduces the perceived value of your solution and can seriously damage your brand. People may not buy your product or service, thinking it’s not advanced enough to meet their needs or that it’s meant only for small businesses. So research what your competitors are quoting and offer just a slightly lesser price, but not too less either.

The key to closing an enterprise sale lies in identifying the right decision makers, and answering all their questions even before they even ask you. Focus on building long-term relationship and adding value to their business, and you should be able to sell your products & services to large enterprises.


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