When people think “startup” they tend to associate the term with an organization that moves quickly, trying new things and taking risks. The culture of most of the large organizations they’re selling to, however, tends to be the opposite: slower-moving, sticking with what’s known and avoiding major risks. How, then, can the average startup ever hope to close deals with an enterprise?
The answer is not having startups act simply behave more like larger companies. There’s no point in introducing more bureaucracy where none is needed, and while some risks aren’t worth taking, there are few entrepreneurs who have succeeded by consistently playing it safe.
Perhaps startups could sell more easily by embracing some of the elements that distinguish them from their larger counterparts and turning them to their advantage:
1. Adapt Customer Onboarding Processes to Selling
Customer onboarding is one of the most critical steps in using many startup products and services. When people encountered Uber or AirBNB for the first time, for example, they had to learn how to set up their profile, add credit card information and generally get what they wanted out of their account. The best startups spend a lot of time ensuring that the onboarding process is as pleasant and quick as possible, so that new customers will quickly turn into highly active users.
The only trouble with this approach is that it puts all the emphasis on what happens essentially after the sale, or when someone sets up an account. If you’re trying to sell to a large company, think about how you could treat closing the deal the way a confirmed customer could be onboarded:
Make demo or free versions of your product easily available to account buying teams to try and share with other members of the organization who could influence the decision.
Don’t just make an explainer video or tutorial that walks through how your product or service works for those ready to try it. Use the same approach to help those watching such content understand how they could build a business case for signing on as a customer to their immediate manager or even senior leadership.
Build selling into the customer onboarding process by making it easy for customers to rate the quality of their experience in a way that can be shared on social media or collected as survey data to be presented to future customers.
2. Get More ROI From Feedback Loops
Startups often begin by creating a minimum viable product that they can put out into the market to get some reaction on whether what they believe will be game-changing provides actual value to the target audience. Gathering those reactions can happen in many forms — social media comments, calls to a contact centre, polls or one-on-one interactions with employees. These are sometimes called “feedback loops,” because they form the basis for how startups continue to improve upon their products and services as they get ready for prime time.
Of course, some of what goes through feedback loops is negative — even a lot of it in the early days — but as things progress there are bound to be positive mentions from satisfied beta testers as well. Too much of that stays within the company, however. Use the opportunity to treat the best of feedback loops as early content marketing assets. This could include short pieces of praise that get used on the startup’s social media channels, or a roundup of several comments that are treated like customer testimonials and presented in a more formal pitch to an enterprise prospect.
3. Build Media On Top Of Media Mentions
The enthusiasm for startup innovation has spawned a sea of new publications and sections within existing newspapers and magazines that are always on the lookout for great stories of entrepreneurial ingenuity. It’s not uncommon for many startups to get earned media coverage without a long track record, so long as their business model or feature set sounds promising.
Look on the average startup’s web site, however, and all you’ll likely see are the logos of publications which covered it, or maybe a set of links to articles buried somewhere with their press releases or within the “About Us” area. There’s lots more you could do to amplify that coverage, however:
Summarize the coverage in a simple, executive summary-style document that forms the basis for your sales collateral.
Create LinkedIn Posts or blog posts that answer questions raised in an article, or fill in details that might have been edited out. Send these to customers prior to your in-person meetings as pre-reading material to overcome any initial concerns or preconceptions.
Take the best quotes or sections of media coverage and use it in any footage you put together as part of a video marketing strategy to show your startup is gaining attention by publications that are deemed trustworthy.
4. Go Back To Incubate, But On Sales Strategies
Startups were often born out of incubators — organizations that give entrepreneurs the space, time and tools to think through concepts and develop the basis of a viable business. Incubators often use all kinds of exercises to help people brainstorm and weed out the most actionable ideas from the ones that are too “blue sky.” This is how startups come up with great products, but once their business has matured to a certain point, those incubation techniques can get left behind.
Even if your sales team is small, gather the troops and try incubating better ways to close more deals. Treat it like a hackathon, where employees are divided into teams, given a specific time period to come up with a plan, and then present in short elevator pitch sessions to the organization as a whole. You may not come up with anything nearly as revolutionary as your actual products and services, but you’ll start to nurture a true culture of selling — which, in the startup world, may be one of the most revolutionary acts of all.
Take your sales game to the next level with the tips in our free ebook, “4 Steps to Transforming Your Sales Process.”