Corporate Engagement Tips for B2B Startups

Dec 14, 2017 · Guest Post from Rishi Chowdhury, co-founder of IncuBus Ventures and Momentum Startups

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Startups and corporates are increasingly looking at working with each other. However, the cultures and processes in both differ, often drastically, and can lead to these collaborations falling apart or not even beginning. This is especially evident as startups who are currently working with SME clients look to build a proposition for corporate clients.

At Momentum London we held a panel with representatives from both the corporate and startup side of the coin, to discuss best practises for both, to work better together. Below we look at some of the insights that came out of that discussion and tips for B2B startups building a pipeline of corporate clients.

Getting more senior

Mike Rees, former deputy CEO at Standard Chartered says that in many organisations "water only flows downhill".

You need to speak to those who can influence those further down the chain, that you’ll work with on a day to day basis. We all know this, but it’s hard to get the time of day with those at the top.

Finding influencers connected with whom you want to get in contact with, came out as a key way to getting meetings with people in senior positions. This includes doing the research and getting advice from those who are well connected and trusted as well as having a deep knowledge of the industry.

One of the best ways to do this, is to look ‘one stage removed’ and leverage organisations that already have the connections (Momentum London for example).

You might already have these contacts through an investor/advisor or accelerator. Ricky Thomas, CEO of AVORA says more startups should spend time building those relationships if they don’t already have them.

Hitting the right message

Ensuring your value proposition fits the corporates needs is key to a strong relationship.

One-way startups can improve their sales deck is to do the research on each specific company they’re looking to work with. This means the basics like latest press releases or blogs but also much deeper insights that are found in company reports. This can give a better understanding of the company’s current focusses as well as potential areas that they need to improve. It also helps with wording that can be reflected in your sales presentations. Having a good understanding of the business your speaking to and their current problems will give you a head start.

With this information you can be best prepared for when you get a warm intro.

"You’ve got to solve other people’s problems, not sell your idea" – Mike Rees

Most executives are ‘firefighting’, dealing with problems everyday they need to solve. Unless your solving one of those problems you won’t get the time of day.

Managing expectations

Steve Homan, Digital Transformation Director at Collinson Group, wants candid honesty from a startup when working with them. Ultimately, he and his peers are putting their reputation on the line when bringing in a startup and expect to know exactly what stage the business in. If a startup tries to act bigger than they are, they will get found out and that reflects badly on him as much as it does on the startup.

There is always risk working with a startup but there is also a large potential upside. Startups can provide acceleration to a solution and knowledge to a problem that a corporate could solve themselves.

By understanding the position your startup is in, your internal champion can support you, whether that is linking you to internal expertise or setting manageable timescales. However, at the same time we are all time limited so ensuring your startup isn’t going to be a time suck or as Steve puts it ‘can I afford to be mum and dad to help them grow’ is a big consideration.

Opportunity Cost

Sales cycles when selling to corporates vastly differs from that of SMEs. As a start, ensuring your business can cope when sales cycles take months to close rather than days is crucial.

Neil Ryland, CRO of Peakon, says that your biggest blockers in enterprise sales, is usually legals and security.

Early in the conversation you want to validate your proposition with their company and ask what the procurement process looks like. Knowing this will help when deciding to go for the deal rather than hitting an unmovable roadblock at month 8!

Having a deal that far in and falling apart happens all too often, and is a huge burden on resources. Often one which many startups cannot recover from.

Neil also reiterates the importance of honesty. Corporates need to manage risk and setting expectations early will help the deal be more of a partnership. Show them where you’re at, your roadmap to where you expect to be in the short and medium term as well as how your startup can add value now.

These are just a few tips taken from the full panel discussion, which can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bvUbmGguv0

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