As a startup, you might not have the name recognition or client roster to attract enterprise-level business. You might not even be on the first page of Google. But winning enterprise deals can be a crucial step in making your startup profitable or driving it toward the next funding round.
How do you start? I’ve got 11 recommendations for you.
How to Get Enterprise Customers:
- Write for industry publications
- Try account-based marketing
- Partner with other vendors
- Participate in industry events
- Have an RFP ready
- Be prepared for a long sales process
- Work your way up the corporate ladder
- Prioritize in-person meetings
- Help champions influence decision-makers
- Don't bring up size
- Turn users into advocates
Get On Their Radar
1) Write for industry publications
Yep, you. You might be the CEO, the first sales hire, a rep on a small team, or all three. If you work for a startup, you wear a lot of hats -- but all of them should include writing.
Whether you’re working with a marketer who’s ghostwriting for you or submitting your own work, get content out there with your name on it. Target publications your prospects read, and you’ll become a name your potential future champion recognizes and respects when you reach out for the first time.
Build a list of industry publications and review their contributor requirements. Some blogs will want you to submit topic ideas before writing a full piece. Others will request full blog posts for initial review. Follow their directions and share published works on social media -- especially LinkedIn.
2) Try account-based marketing
Account-based marketing (ABM) is an increasingly popular and successful way for startups to attract and win enterprise business.
First, identify enterprise companies with good market fit, and work with marketing to create a custom strategy built around their business. Together, brainstorm blog posts that speak to their specific use case, share relevant news stories, and identify customers that would make powerful case studies.
As a salesperson at a startup, you may have to spend time in the marketing weeds to earn enterprise business. But the payoff can be huge.
Looking for more help using an account-based strategy? Check out our ultimate guide to account-based sales.
3) Partner with other vendors
Are there non-competitive vendors that already have an in with the enterprise businesses you’re targeting? See if they would be willing to make an introduction. Or try partnering with these companies to provide discounted or enhanced product/service offerings. This can give you an edge over larger, more traditional competitors.
4) Participate in industry events and committees
Participating in industry events and committees is key to increasing name recognition and authority for your startup. Research which events your prospects are attending, and submit an application to speak or attend. These events can be expensive, so get the most ROI by having a networking plan in place.
Develop a list of prospects you’d like to meet with and proactively schedule coffee dates or happy hour meetups. This gets you on their radar ahead of the event and ensures you won’t be shut out of their busy conference schedule.
Local or industry committees also allow you to work closely with prospects. Target highly respected committees in your industry, and invest time volunteering for meetings or events these committees sponsor.
Be Patient and Prepared
When you finally connect, be prepared for the differences between selling to SMB and enterprise prospects. Here are a few things to expect.
5) Have an RFP ready
Some enterprise clients will release a request for proposal -- an RFP -- when they’re ready to buy a product/service. Don’t waste time scrambling to pull together the extensive documentation RFPs can require.
Have a standard RFP prepared, and work quickly to customize it for your prospect. This ensures your business submits one of the first proposals. It also makes your startup appear experienced and organized in submitting RFPs -- even if it’s your first time.
6) Be prepared for a long sales process
Selling to enterprise prospects can take much longer than SMBs. Be ready for months of deliberation, instead of weeks. Be patient with that timeline. Enterprise businesses have more stakeholders and decision makers. You’ll likely need to loop legal, IT, or other teams into the process as well.
If you submit an RFP at the beginning of the quarter, don’t expect it to close by the end. Remain firm on your deadlines but work actively with your prospect, instead of being pushy or aggressive.
7) Work your way up the corporate ladder
You usually have one main contact when working with SMBs. This person is also usually the decision maker. Enterprise accounts, however, will likely have many points of contact throughout the process.
Ask your champion how decisions are made in the company and who you’ll be meeting at each stage of the process. If your champion’s knowledge isn’t comprehensive, fill in gaps using LinkedIn to research potential contacts.
This ensures you’re prepared for each meeting you have. It also allows you to establish use cases for each contact. At a large company, your product/service might be used by various departments in very different ways.
8) Prioritize in-person meetings
In-person meetings are still the best way to sell to enterprise clients. Make sure you’re getting face-to-face time with prospects -- even if it means stretching your startup budget and flying to meet them several times. The human connection and confidence in-person meetings build is invaluable to young companies.
Decide which team members should be in these meetings based on your prospect’s use case. If you’re selling a reporting tool to XYC International, bring your lead engineer along for your presentation.
They can answer questions and speak authoritatively with the IT personnel XYZ will likely include. This shows you’re prepared and gives them a glimpse of the careful attention their account can expect from your company.
9) Help champions influence decision-makers
Your contact is probably not the decision maker, so coach them on how to influence those who are.
Create a how-to guide highlighting steps and strategies your champion can use to guide the right people toward choosing your business.
This might include a list of benefits they can discuss with their creative director or a relevant case study they can share with a department head. Equip your contact with the tools and knowledge they need to make the case internally for your company.
10) Don’t bring up size, but if they do …
… use it to your advantage. If enterprise prospects are concerned you won’t have the headcount, capacity, or experience to handle their business, use it as an argument in your favor.
Assure them you are fully equipped to work with them, and explain that your size allows you to avoid bottlenecks, provide solutions and support faster, and adjust your product/service to meet their needs.
Your startup’s size makes you agile and hyper-sensitive to client needs. Use it in your favor.
Ensure Client Happiness
Your work isn’t done after they sign. Set enterprise clients up for success from day one and you’ll turn new customers into longtime advocates.
11) Turn users into advocates
You want enterprise clients’ first few months to be organized and easy. Don’t immediately remove them from your contacts list just because they’ve transitioned to an account manager.
Be available and happy to help, and check in periodically during their first three to six months. Ask questions like, “Are you getting the support you need?” or “How’s implementation and adoption going?” and offer support or solutions based on their replies.
If enterprise business churns after just a few months, it can mean a lot of wasted resources for your startup -- resources you may not be able to spare. Make sure new clients taken care of, and you’ll turn users into advocates and long-term users.
Attracting enterprise clients can be tough for startups. But once you have a few on your roster, you’ll have an easier time convincing others to join. As a salesperson, you may have to do a little extra legwork (blog posts, speaking engagements, etc.) in the beginning, but the payoff and company growth will be worth it.