Bagging the Elephant
This is my site Written by Alora on January 19, 2010 – 10:40 am

Recently on VentureBeat, author Jacob Brody reported on an entrepreneur’s Meetup in NYC where the founders of several successful startups discussed a common sales problem for small businesses: how to get larger, established organizations to take you seriously enough to be able to close a deal.

Entrepreneur Evangelist Disclaimer BadgeIt’s not surprising that this was such a hot topic at the event, because for many small businesses, a single large deal with a big company can be a make-or-break opportunity.  And while small businesses must always be careful not to rely on any one customer for too much of their revenue, one can never dismiss the fact that a single big job with a large, well-known, respected big company has great potential for opening doors to other opportunities.

The highlighted a few critical elements to accomplishing this potentially lucrative goal:

  • Build a relationship with someone on the inside who can be your evangelist.
  • Be patient, and don’t try to rush closing a deal until you’ve built some credibility.
  • Approach them as a strategic partner whose input will help inform your final offerings.
  • Tailor your pitch to both the specific company and the specific individuals in the company.

Most of these are common sense, but the one I found the most interesting was about building a relationship with someone inside the organization who can help be your cheerleader.  The consensus among the group was that the C-level was the wrong place to start.  This is actually a valuable strategy for entrepreneurs, because the demographic that they recommend looking for are the people lower in the organization, who are doing the hands-on work.  And, quite often, this group of people can be easier to access.

One of the things that often happens is that like congregates with like: entrepreneurs tend to network with entrepreneurs, and employees tend to network with other employees.  In many ways this is illogical and counter-productive, but it is still a common trend.  So, for entrepreneurs who are looking to find opportunities to build relationships with larger companies: find professional networking events to attend that are employee-centric, not entrepreneur-centric.

Pick you niche: do you sell an IT product?  Find a tech professional networking event to attend.  Do you build or design websites?  Find a marketers event.  If you handle outsourced operational functions, take a look at what events you can find for HR, administrative or HR professionals.

Sites like LinkedIn and Meetup are a great place to start looking; as are professional associations such as WITI, Project Management Institute, the American Marketing Association, International Association of Business Communicators, the National Human Resources Association or community organizations, such as Rotary, Active 20-30 or Kiwanis.

Sales people at large companies take this approach all the time, and they do it for a reason: it’s often the best way to learn about a potential customer.  An employee will often give you great insights into the needs of a large company; and if they are in a position of expertise, they can make valuable recommendations or connections that can come in handy.

Of course, the other advice that’s important is to be patient.  While your entry point into a large organization may be a specialist or a manager, sometimes they aren’t going to be the ones who can approve a purchase.  So you’re going to have to invest some time into building the relationships you need to ultimately be in a position of trust.  But as long as you’re sincere, helpful and can genuinely provide value, your patience can really pay off.