By Josh Ferris. Ferris is an interactive marketer with a background in real estate and web technology. Find Josh on Twitter at @joshferris.
Corporations can be scary. First, they’re described as ‘entities’, which just sounds monolithic and unfriendly. The truth is, corporations need your innovation now more than ever and most would be happy to talk with you about ways that you can grow their business.
Step 1: Get your foot in the door. What do you do next?
Know Their Dress Code
Before you go to your first pitch, start by finding out what the company culture is like. Are they business casual, conservative suit and tie or do they wear t-shirts every day? The first impression a corporate client will have of your business is the way you dress to represent it.
If they’re suit and tie and you show up with messed hair and a t-shirt, what does that say about your business? Further, what does that say to your prospective client about how you feel about THEIR business? It’s all in the details. When in doubt, go business casual.
Bring Everything You Need To Make Your Presentation Anywhere
This might seem obvious but don’t assume that your potential customer has the technology you need to effectively communicate your ideas and value in their conference rooms. What if a promised conference room is unavailable and you need to have a meeting by a blank wall in the cafeteria?
You could bring paper copies of your presentation but then you’re butchering trees for no reason. Instead, consider bringing an iPad or a portable projector that you can use to convey your points no matter where you are.
Prepare To Answer Tough Questions About Funding And Vision
Corporations are scoping out ways to lower in-house costs by outsourcing specific needs to entrepreneurs like you but they’re careful about who holds the keys to their castle. If they don’t see the deal being valuable for them over the long term or if they don’t think you’ll make it to next year, they will be hesitant to do business with you.
Alleviate this concern by being open about funding, what your goals are and how you see your product evolving over the next two years. Most companies are willing to give you a chance but they want reassurance that they’re making the right decision by seeing that you have all your ducks in a row.
Consider Alternative Licensing Models
This affects each industry differently but you should have an open mind to more than one licensing option for your product. Cost per user, per month seems to be a popular tech business model these days but it shouldn’t be your only model.
Imagine if a corporate customer wants to work with five startups that all have different values and services. If all five are on a $5 cost per user, per month business model and the company has 1,000 employees, it’ll cost them $25,000 per month or $300,000 per year to use all five services. That’s no drop in a bucket.
Taking it a step further, startups are getting better and better at tailoring their products to a niche. As this continues, the competition to become the next “$5 per user, per month” company grows significantly.
Explore alternative models like one-time cost licenses or an annual tick up (clearly outlined for your customer) of cost per user, per month, as you add more features.
Companies are receptive to the idea of “test driving” a service at a lower cost and you’ll get the benefit of that customer’s feedback as you build your product.
Be Receptive To Feedback And Changes
Your product is your baby. You probably couldn’t quantify the number of hours you’ve slogged through code, networking events and the like just to get your foot in the door.
Still, in the end, no product is flawless and you should be open to feedback and suggestions. You might find tailoring a product to a particular customer opens your business up to servicing their competitors as well.
Stay In Touch
Lastly, stay in touch. Most corporations don’t turn on a dime and decisions aren’t made overnight. Not even over two weeks or two months.
Look at it like this: if they operate on quarters (Q1-Q4), you have four opportunities to reengage them about your product each year. Use the time wisely and share new updates and enhancements you think they would like. Ask for feedback on ways to improve what you have.
Above all, start by building a relationship and then keep it going. Even if you don’t get their business, they might refer you to someone that does become a customer.