Business Development · Sales

Breaking ice on corporate sales and business development for startups?

Hasnain Millwala

November 13th, 2016

I would like to get some advice on how to best approach corporate sales for a start-up. The product we have MVP for is in the supply chain software and analytics field for manufacturing and distribution companies. Now, unlike a consumer product where its a lot about using online marketing, getting loads of users , traction etc. to grow the business, corporate sales is another beast which traditionally relies a lot on outside sales force, relationship building and often with sales cycles of months to grow

We as a boot strapped start-up dont have the resources to build that, so were looking for some advice on how start-ups usually navigate through the world of corporate sales and business development at launch. We have tapped our network which doesnt consist of a lot of decision makers in companies and often to get through them, we have faced a lot of resistance and excuses about not having the time, budget etc etc., plus in the corporate world, we have faced a lot of "who have you done business with before, how many clients do you have, how can we trust a company which is so new, risk etc etc." We plan to go to some local networks/meet-ups but am skeptical if decision makers will be there and what impact will it have

Need some advise on how others have approached this area to get some initial pilot 2-3 customers to set the stage up for growth? Feedback and some examples would be appreciated

Rob G

November 14th, 2016

Hasnain, there isn't enough room here to answer your question adequately. i have a background in industrial engineering and robotics.  most of my career has been focused on engineering, sales and executive management designing, building and selling robotics and automation software (ERP, warehouse automaton, supply chain systems, etc.) to manufacturing and distribution companies - from medium to enterprise-scale multinationals.  i have worked for small, medium and large companies in this industry prior to starting my own companies - my current company does not address this market.   To be clear, i am not looking for a job or to be an advisor. The best advise i can give you is to find someone with extensive enterprise sales and sales management experience in your target market and preferably someone with an engineering background (it helps, believe me).  Hire them, beg them, bring them on as a co-founder or as an advisor, but you need this expertise in your camp. It simply takes too long to gain this experience yourself.  It isn't rocket science - for those with the right experience the process, strategies and tactics are relatively straight forward, but it's not expertise you will develop yourself over night.  I don't know anything about what you are selling nor your ideal prospect profile, but i would suggest that you focus on sales before you consider business development (and you should understand the difference before you go looking for a partner/advisor/employee).

And one obvious question:  why have you built an MVP without first having a number of committed beta customers already lined up? 

As Nathan mentioned, the opportunity to influence the direction of your product and to get a jump on their competition and competitive differentiators are all on the short list of why large(r) companies might be interested in working with you.  This is by no means an easy sell.  
good luck. 

Nathan Terrazas

November 13th, 2016

Patience and One Early Adopter. 

This is what you need to drudge through the early stages. You may want to try approaching some companies and ask to interview them for feedback. Approach your first conversations as a "co-creation" discussion, meaning you admit to the early stage, no big clients, etc. Just be real with people. 

Explain that you're trying to build a product for them using their feedback and its super important. I've found more often than not this helps build trust. 

But you only need one big customers and the snowball starts rolling. 

I worked for a food data company 5 years and our first client was Kraft. We told Kraft they would play a huge role as part of changing the landscape of food data forever by being an early customer. They really liked that. 

Of course your industry is different,  product is different. But sometime approaching the conversation in a different way than the hundreds of other companies doing the same thing.

Then there is patience. High volumes of outbound prospecting and taking full advantage of every conversation you have will pay off, but corporate sales take time and not much you can do to change that. 

Hope this helps. 

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November 14th, 2016

Hi Hasnain,

As mentioned before, your goal is to focus on the early adopters. A good definition of early adopters is potential customers that have the problem you're solving, are aware of it and are actively looking to solve it.

How do you find them? I use Lean Startup/Customer Development with the startups I'm working with - (there are numerous techniques and you can be very creative with them). 

To name a few:
- Meet them in trade shows
- Send them cold emails (very low response rate, but still - you just need a few)
- Targeted linkedin and facebook campaigns

When reaching out, you should experiment with your message. Don't despair once you don't get any responses. Try to figure out whether this is because your message is not compelling enough, or you're targeting the wrong group.

A/B test rigorously to find out what's the best path.

Feel free yo reach out directly if you have specific questions.

Hasnain Millwala

November 15th, 2016

@Rob and Eitan, have sent you a direct message as well as a follow up to your comments. Please have a look and get back to me. And thanks everyone for your thoughts

Robert Hoskins (4,400+)

November 13th, 2016

Pretty simple:

1. Build a website to communicate your MVP's features and benefits
2. Build a crowd of potential customers via Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter
3. Begin building awareness with press releases and industry press coverage
4. Google search growth hacking

Without these marketing programs in place, it will be very hard to score a loyal customer base for now and in the future.