Start-up selling to big companies is one of the hardest jobs around. Your product is still being built. Your team is still gelling (or coming apart--or both). There's little marketing support and few customer references. You've only got a few bucks in the bank. And, worst of all, you aren't at all sure how well the rest of the team is going to be able to deliver once you close a deal.
To give you a hand, here are 13 tips for start-up salespeople.
1. Target Your Opportunities
Start with five target companies to focus on. Having too many options is too confusing. Once you've made some progress with those five, you can expand your search. No need to rush.
2. Use Your Network Selectively
Initially, you don't know how the rest of your start-up team is going to perform. Save your big contacts and the full power of your network until you know your team is up for the challenge.
3. Cold Calling is Your Friend
There is no single better way to hone your pitch than cold calling. Don't be that LinkedIn spammer who always needs introductions. Do 10 cold calls a day to companies outside your target list. You'll be ready when the boss of your top target picks up the phone.
4. Respond Instantly
You must address any indication of interest, curiosity, or objection instantly. By "instantly," I mean drop-everything-now instantly. Nothing is more important than that inbound email from someone on your list.
5. Qualify Constantly
Don't waste time on small deals, one-offs, partnerships, anything strategic, outside the box or "win-win." Relentlessly go after the biggest companies that can pay you this year. If they move slowly, move on. Time is your enemy.
6. Find an In-house Champion
Signing any new customer requires that you find an employee at that company who loves what you do. You don't have an opportunity until you find that person.
7. Seek Personality Fit
The most important characteristic of your in-house champion is personality fit. If you two were stuck in a jail cell, would one of you kill the other? Or could you team up to escape? Your champion is going to risk a lot for you. He is entrusting you with his career.
8. Don't Push
Desperation gives off a stench that repels big companies. When you feel someone hesitate, be the first to say, "I'm not sure you guys are ready for this. Let me come back when we have made more progress." Your contact will always remember you.
9. Relentlessly Prepare for Meetings
Before the meeting starts, you must know why the potential customer is willing to take a risk on you and your company. Come up with three theories and run them by your in-house champion the week before. Then ask her what the big objections will be. Polish your answers to those objections like a sword before a duel.
10. Don't Use Slides
I don't mean you shouldn't bring slides; just don't rely on them. Have the slides as a backdrop, but if you find yourself merely clicking through them, stop, and break up the meeting with a product demo. Then, don't go back. Discuss the product, how it will help, your passion for it, anything but mindlessly staring at and talking through slides.
11. The Second Best Answer is a Quick No
It hurts. It stings. There's nothing good about getting rejected on a deal except not taking too long to get rejected. There's precious little you can do to push the needle towards a decision. But you can respect those folks who decide quickly, and make a note to come back to them.
12. A Deal Isn't Closed Until the Check Clears
The only thing worse than getting told "no" is having a "yes" fall apart. Unexpected and unusual things happen in corporations, and you'll never really know what's going on. Keep driving and stay in touch until a deal is really done.
13. Your Job isn't Over…
Yes, it's absolutely on you to make sure the rest of your team delivers on what you just sold. Yes, you've got to do it again. And yes, after your huge success, your quota will go up next quarter. But take a moment and celebrate a big win with the people who helped you make it happen.
Have other tips for start-up selling to big companies? Post them in the comments below.