(Co-authored with Eric Quon-Lee, Strategy and Innovation Consultant at Detecon Inc.)
As a start-up, pitching your product to an enterprise client can feel like a David vs. Goliath moment. As David, you know your opponent has weaknesses and you can see how--in this analogy--your solution will remedy the weaknesses. But try to get into an enterprise and you soon realize what you are up against. Depending on your product, from introduction to signed purchase, the sales cycle can take anywhere from 6 to 18 months. The resources and time required to land the sale could devastate your business.
Still, as a scrappy entrepreneur you never want to give up. Winning a marquis client can be a crucial tipping point of success for a B2B startup. A large enterprise not only provides much needed market credibility and revenue, it can also accelerate direct and indirect sales activities.
How can a B2B startup manage this daunting sales cycle? Here are four simple tips:
1. Find the Pain Point
You've heard the saying, "sell the Aspirin not the vitamin?" Well, that analogy applies perfectly to enterprise sales. Find the pain point of each specific target and ensure your solution is not only a quick fix, but will continue to reap benefits over the long run. Keep in mind that enterprise clients are inundated on a daily basis by businesses both big and small, interested in selling them products and solutions. Some may see as many pitches as a typical Silicon Valley venture capitalist. So be quick and to the point.
2. Find Your Sponsor
In many cases, there is a key sponsor who champions the product or solution inside a company's organizational matrix. That champion is your new best friend and it is your duty is to make them look like a rock star. Unfortunately, one champion isn't enough. If he or she leaves the company or the role, it could kibosh the entire deal. You need to find and develop as many internal advocates as possible. Multiple champions not only protect the startup from corporate reorganization, it also opens up other avenues for potential client sales.
3. Manage Internal Client Politics
Everyone knows corporate politics exist. This is probably the most frustrating part of enterprise sales for B2B startups. Sometimes, it's not your product or your deal that gets killed so much as the advocate can't convince the other stakeholders to get on board. This can be for a variety of reasons, including corporate inertia. Consciously or unconsciously some employees will resist change and put up roadblocks to impede new developments. Be aware of these roadblocks and have answers that demonstrate how your solution can overcome their objections. As Jonathan Kong, CEO of ConvergIO, in Thousand Oaks, California said, "enterprises are tough to break in because nobody get fired for buying IBM."
4. Know When You've Hit The Corporate Wall
There are gatekeepers at every company and at every level, from receptionists to corporate innovation teams. Learn to recognize when you've hit the wall. When signs all point to the sale not progressing it's time to move on. As a small start-up, you can't afford to waste time banging down the wrong doors.