Form strategic alliances and partnerships
As a small business moving upmarket, you should find allies with like-minded companies in your industry on ambitious initiatives. Together, you can pool resources to produce collaborative marketing campaigns; share tactics, tips, and strategies for growth; and partner on larger projects.
This last point is important because enterprise businesses prefer to work with vendors they believe have the expertise and headcount required to execute meaningful campaigns. Plenty of companies have been burned by vendors that were too short-staffed and overworked, or for some reason failed to deliver. Strategic partnerships allow you to take advantage of readily available talent. As a startup closing its first big enterprise deal, you don’t have to scramble to hire new staff and train them before the engagement begins.
Highlight past work
First-time customers need confidence that you can fulfill your end of a contractual obligation and deliver real value. Leverage testimonials when interacting with prospects. Name-drop big brands you worked with previously. Mention companies they are familiar with, including their competitors. Also, call out relevant performance stats to quantify the ROI of your work. On the Pardot blog, Jenna Hanington outlines four ways companies can use customer testimonials.
- Source in-depth case studies.
- Feature positive customer tweets on your website.
- Produce customer testimonial videos.
- Encourage clients to share their best reviews.
Play the long game
Keep in mind that enterprise deals take a while to come to fruition. Some projects have a sales cycle that lasts several months—while others last years. Continue working with existing customers and feel free to take on new clients while you nurture enterprise leads. Many startups make the mistake of relying too heavily on potential big budget projects while neglecting short-term cash flow.
Pilot small programs
Large businesses are careful in structuring news deals. With their profit margins on the line, buyers take their time to consider every aspect of the engagement. It can take weeks to make progress on just a small portion of the negotiation. Instead of pursuing a big contract upfront, pilot smaller programs with potential clients.
Department managers within big companies often have a large enough expense budget that you can squeeze in a small-scale project without requiring sign-off from the company’s executives or directors. This minimizes risk for the buyer and allows everyone to put the relationship to a trial. By proposing lightweight engagements, small businesses and startups win. Most vendors will invest their energies in securing big commitments upfront. You, on the other hand, can slowly create value for the organization after you get your foot in the door.
Over time, small businesses with a pre-existing relationship with a larger corporation can expand the scope of their working arrangements to close bigger and better contracts.
Work through current vendors
Many startups have an indirect relationship with their first big-name client: They often play the role of subcontractor to another vendor who originally sourced and secured the deal. Enterprise businesses tend to be loyal to current vendors. An indirect sales approach allows smaller companies to gain experience working for bigger clients. This eventually allows them to develop case studies and testimonials—valuable sales collateral—which they can use in pursuing other enterprise accounts.
Remember that even a small portion of a $10 million contract can help make your business’s quarter healthier. Acting as a secondary vendor to bigger projects can be the perfect way to circumvent the sales process and still work with world-class clients.