If you are a highly technical person, who’s found one of the many problems in a big enterprise, join the club! There are so many things to fix that seem easy from a coding perspective but so hard from an organizational perspective.
Any tool you build for big enterprise makes your startup a sales play. Yes, even if the tool is highly sophisticated and brings huge ROI you still have to grow your sales team, think of the product from a sales perspective, prepare for really long sales cycles, but most importantly: prepare for companies to take advantage of you.
If your target is big enterprise FT1000s companies, you are most likely building what I call an enabler. An enabler is a system/platform that doesn’t bring value on its own but instead helps employees build something (a process or an app) faster than before and has a ripple effect across the organization or department, saving time and money. Let’s talk about how you build one of these fancy systems and eventually sell them.
1. Validate the concept
Calculate the time/money savings using spreadsheets and make sure you can justify a 5–10x ROI on OPERATIONAL use. Talking to big corp isn’t hard. There are employees there who are paid to speak to startups. Just reach out.
Don’t be intimidated. Seasoned execs will make you feel like you are an outsider. Remember one thing: they had the job for 20 years because some time ago, a guy/lady just like, had the balls to do things differently. Find out how much they are willing to pay.
2. It’s a good idea, now build it
If you are lucky enough to have a seasoned sales manager of former VP on your team, good on you, but that doesn’t mean you will do well. If you don’t, try not to worry too much. Experienced salespeople will join a company with an awesome product if it’s an easy sell.
3. Focus on the “enabler” first
“Customer first” and all that, don’t apply in enterprise sales-driven organizations. The tolerance for shitty products is very low, and because your sales cycle is expensive, you might burn more capital if trying to sell your MVP.
4. Search for corporate partners
Lots of big corporations have corporate innovations programs where they sponsor your startup to do a pilot project, provide resources for R&D and give you valuable insight. Find them. Find what works for you, but be careful. Some are sneaky, they make you share your Intellectual Property. Not naming any names here, but beware of IoT corporate innovation programs.
5. Make dashboards early
Creating dashboards is a great way to make management understand what you are building and why. Helping them make better decisions is a good idea, but if generating those dashboard means 1000+ people must be re-trained, it won’t happen.
6. Big Corp loves long lists
When you present the features you are building, have a lot of small features helps you sell the big ones. Sell the big ones, but at the proposal stage, show the long list.
7. Create sales materials before coding
Sales materials, operational sales deck, executive sales deck are a great way to understand how your value proposition sounds to everyone around you. It should be enticing, bring value, easy to understand and well designed.
8. See if salespeople get excited about your product
A great way to validate your product is to make a recruitment campaign for your inexistent sales department and see how seasoned salespeople react to your value proposition. They only get excited if they see an easy sell.
9. Customers get upset at the sum of frustrations
You are planning 1,2 killer features which make all the difference, but you also need to build 10–15 smaller features (everything from user management, invites, emails etc) that are a MUST. Make sure you get those right.
10. Founders make the best sales reps
Introverts create less social connections but create more meaningful connections than extroverts, you just need to learn to channel that skill. Here’s a great book on that.
11. Sell business functions, not technical features
It’s a natural tendency to revert back to what you know best, coding that is, and not try to understand how the world really works. Let’s pretend you are selling a product that makes account payables and vendor management easier.
Tech person selling:
register your invoices, sales dashboard, easy to use, fast interface.
get paid 30% faster, vendors can see the status of the invoice, automated emails for late payments, auto-approve transactions
12. Operational value vs Executive value
When you are selling/pitching your idea to executive it’s all about long-term support, oversight, reporting, 0 errors, machine learning, the future. Same product for operational roles it’s all about less time spent on X, faster Y, automated Z.
Also published here.
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