Corporate clients can make or break a startup struggling towards profitability. Logistics providers can struggle for months building a big enough user base for their on-demand delivery platform. But all it takes is one major retailer to take you on as a service provider and you can ride that partnership all the way into your Series A.
So how exactly can a B2B startup successfully secure a corporate client? Three startup founders share their tips to help you help seal that deal.
1. Ensure that your business model is suited for B2B.
First things first: assess your business and conclude if it’s really suitable for B2B. If B2C allows for a business model where customers can learn the product by themselves, corporate clients will expect full service.
With this in mind, it’s necessary to take extra steps such as hiring account managers who can really focus on your clients and preparing technical support for your users. These may be challenging, but it will pay off big time in the end.
“It’s hard to get a client, that’s true, but once they’re in, they’re in for the long-term,” said Rio Ilao, founder and CEO of Tarkie, a field force automation solutions platform.
“Based on our experience, B2B customers are not promiscuous like B2C customers, who will switch brands just because of the price.”
“So long as the service is reliable and they’re happy with you, and it’s within the budget, they will not easily switch clients.”
2. In finding initial clients, maximize your own network.
Sometimes what you need could be right in front of you. The right connection could be a former colleague looking to address a particular pain point, or even a friend whose business needs a little boost.
“When you’re in the B2B space, it’s not easy to get clients as opposed to B2C. You can’t just walk into a company and then have them use your product the next day. The sales cycle for B2C is very long,” said Ilao.
“So when you’re a new startup and you don’t have any case study yet, your best bet of getting your first client is really through your own network. Make sure that you exhaust that.”
3. Tailor your presentation to your market…
Not every client is the typical portrait of a polished businessperson. For Au Soriano, co-founder and CEO of online bus booking platform PinoyTravel, she had to deal with a lot of traditional companies whose leaders couldn’t understand why they had to include technology in their operations.
Soriano understood that they had a different culture, so she decided to speak a different language. She used printouts instead of Powerpoint slides and even spoke their native tongue whenever possible. This way, she made her business appear more accessible, and established a deeper level of trust with the client.
4. … but first, find out who the decision makers are.
However, you also have to be strategic about whom you spend your time with. Chino Atilano, founder and CEO of virtual queuing solutions platform TimeFree Innovations, believes there are three types of people that you come across when doing sales: the zombie, the influencer, and the king.
When shown the product, the zombie will tell you that they like it, but they’re probably just doing it out of politeness and therefore have no interest in pushing your services within their organization. The influencer will delve deeper and ask how your product works. This is the person that you want to meet with.
Through the influencer, find out more about the business so that you know how to pitch to the king. Ask if they’ve tried similar solutions before and what pain points they badly need to be addressed.
“If you have that ammunition and you go to the king… [they] will not spend one hour talking to you about how your system works,” said Atilano. “They just want to know, ‘How much does this cost?’”
5. Offer a risk-free way for clients to experience your product.
Presentation is one thing. Execution is another thing entirely. When you finally get a foot in the door, it might be better to show rather than tell. And if possible, try to do so without demanding a fee.
“Back then, we were offering an obligation-free trial,” said Tarkie CEO Ilao. “We needed actual test cases, feedback, and a way to get in, we were offering these things. And it worked for us.”
6. Fix your accreditation documents.
As in relationships, wooing a client is only partly romance. Once the fireworks of the presentations are over, it’s time to deal with the inevitable: tons of paperwork for the accreditation of your startup.
Given this, it’s wise to work on these documents as early as possible. Small partners may require only a simple proposal, but these requirements will get more complicated the bigger the companies that you work with become.
By being organized and prepared with your accreditation documents, it’ll make the process as smooth for you and your client as possible. And that’s sure to help set the tone for your partnership, one that will hopefully last for the long haul.