by Allison Conkright Engel
Startups pride themselves on being small and scrappy in the beginning. Many founders find startup life appealing because they can build their company their way, which often means quietly building a cool piece of software and going after clients who will appreciate their innovative approach.
Enterprise heavyweights like Walmart, Staples, and Target may not have as much in common with your startup, but forming these relationships can help catapult your company into completely new markets, increase profits and brand recognition, and create new opportunities.
What a Major Brand Can Do for Your Startup
Working with enterprise corporations can be extremely lucrative for any startup. Landing just one major enterprise contract puts your company on the map, from both a client and cash perspective.
Because major brands don’t ink deals with startups lightly, making their list of go-to vendors can help you lock down a steady revenue stream for up to five years (or as long as your technology remains cutting-edge).
Plus, the relationships that come out of these partnerships can also help you expand your client base. Working with a major brand gives your startup more clout and puts you in new earnings strata. Individual relationships with your contacts at these companies can also be beneficial because these individuals are often experts who can offer advice to boost your company’s overall performance.
Finally, enterprise contracts challenge your company to prove its mettle. Because of the sheer size of the project, your product will undergo constant stress tests, forcing you to innovate and upgrade constantly. Successful enterprise relationships allow you to demonstrate your ability to scale and integrate into a larger system, which opens your company up to a wide range of potential clients.
What You Need to Understand About Enterprise Clients
While working with a major brand can help put your startup on the map, there are several major differences between working with smaller companies and large corporations.
- Red tape: Enterprises are held together by red tape. High-profile brands often have complex internal processes you’ll need to wade through before they’ll sign on the dotted line, so you should expect much longer sales cycles than you’d have when working with startups and individuals.
- Silos: People often think of large companies as full-service organizations, but most enterprises are actually silos. While you may be able to roll out a solution in one part of the company, gaining mass adoption is much more challenging. The flatter the company, the faster and quicker the decision-making process usually is.
- Stakeholders: You might get the green light from the project manager you’ll be working with directly, but she has to get approval from her boss, who has to get approval from his boss. Large corporations have reputations to uphold and more people who need to be in the loop when forming a new partnership.
- Longevity: A deal with an enterprise client is more likely to turn into a long-term relationship. If an enterprise takes the time to vet and hire you, it probably wants to keep you around for a while.
How to Land an Enterprise Client
While reeling in an enterprise client is a much different process than working with another startup, there are a few things you can do to increase your chances of success:
- Don’t cast too wide a net. You may be tempted to start pitching Starbucks and Sony right away, but not every brand is right for your startup. Research which companies are a fit for both your product and culture. Ask what problem the brand is trying to solve and how you can help it do that better.
- Pick up the phone. Everyone hates cold calling. Nine times out of 10, it’s a dead end. But that one-in-10 win is worth the frustration as you try to land one of these big clients.
- Leverage your network. Cold calling is an inevitable part of the process, but you can speed it up by identifying the company’s decision makers and looking to see which of your connections might be able to make an introduction.
- Let them do (some of) the talking. Once you land the meeting, don’t go in with 10 different points you want to make. Ask why they took the meeting, why they’re interested in working with you, and what they need help with. Then, offer your proposal.
- Raise your profile. During this process of trying to land meetings and get contracts signed, you should constantly be working to raise your company’s profile. The more noteworthy and influential you are, the less convincing the corporation will need.
Startups and enterprises stand to gain huge benefits from working together, but many startups are hesitant to go after big brands. Don’t sell your company short! If you can distinguish your startup in the marketplace and make connections with the right people, an enterprise client can be an incredibly valuable relationship that can position your company for aggressive growth.
Allison Conkright Engel leads global marketing and operations for the Dell Center for Entrepreneurs. Prior to Dell, Allison worked for various startups, leading their Southwest expansion efforts. She has more than 15 years of experience in media and marketing and has worked for several iconic brands. Connect with Allison on Twitter.
Andrea Arden | Courtesy of Author