Start-up Hub Problem Page: How do I pitch my business to corporate clients?
It’s not going to be easy, and there’ll likely be a whole bag of nerves involved, but pitching your business needn’t be the stuff of entrepreneur nightmares. It’s a chance to show off both the fruit of your labours and the best aspects of your personality that have got you to where you are today.
The perceived all-or-nothing moment of the investor pitch is something that all start-ups will experience, but perhaps just as important is the ability to convince prospective clients to buy into your product or service.
This is a challenge that one of our Start-up Hub alumni, SPARKL, has faced – and overcome! – in trying to explain complex technological solutions in a way that’s easily digestible for enterprise customers.
While similar, pitching to investors is not exactly the same as selling in to corporate clients. After receiving your requests for advice on the subject, we reached out to some of the experts in our Start-up Hub community for their top tips.
Read on for a range of key insights and perspectives from Rob Moffat, partner at Balderton Capital, Annette Kramer, PhD and our very own Ged Fitton on how to secure interest and convert curious prospects into loyal clients.
The pitch doctor’s perspective
Most entrepreneurs new to business walk into meetings hoping to close a deal. This is a mistake because they probably won’t: no decision maker chooses to work with complete strangers, no matter how good the product is.
Forget selling. The goal of any first encounter is to start a conversation listeners want to continue. After your first meeting, the aim is to continue the conversation until you either close or walk away.
Because business is about relationships, be curious about the person or people in front of you. Focus on their language, their pain points and even challenges that seem unrelated to what you want to sell.
Avoid using slides unless there’s something you can’t communicate without them. Slides can take the focus off your personal interaction, especially in a first meeting.
Observe: what would make it a no-brainer to meet again?
Talk less than you listen and, when you do engage, ensure that what you say has maximum impact. Your product or service will be judged just as much by your understanding of what they’re looking for, and how they think, as by the innovation itself.
Annette Kramer, PhD is a business advisor for emerging technology companies and corporate executives in leadership and communication strategies. Annette’s expertise includes teaching executives to tell their stories with impact as well as developing innovation programmes in the UK, US, Europe and Asia. Annette is a thought leader in innovation and leadership, perhaps most notably as the advisor to the Cambridge Centre for Social Equality and one of nine Fellows at St. George’s House, Windsor Castle.
The investor’s perspective
In an entrepreneurial environment, money coming in is generally the last thing to happen. This leads to an almost paradoxical situation for start-ups: do you accept this as a given and focus on the logistics of running and building a business, or do you fly in the face of it and chase down VC funding from wherever you can find it? Needless to say, whichever option you go for, you’re probably going to need at least a bit of one to support the other.
Today, with a start-up, there are so many numbers that you can track and so many measurements you can take – from economics to acquisition costs – that it becomes pretty clear as to whether there’s really a viable business there or not.
As a result, investors and prospective clients can afford to be quite demanding before even considering putting any money on the table. First and foremost, you’re going to have to prove the viability of your model. This is both as obvious and important, though not always as straightforward, as it sounds.
Aside from this, however, it’s the experience you have that gives you the greater chance of success. Whether gained from working for a big tech company or within other start-ups (or both), your experience will help to both fuel and demonstrate your ambition.
It’s a cliché, but at this early stage companies will be buying into you as a person just as much as they will be a product or service.
You need to think of your experience as a kind of capital in itself. Use it to attract interest – whether that be in the form of investors, potential clients, customers or collaborators.
The great thing about London and the UK is that we have a lot of success stories – the likes of Skype or King.com spring to mind – and the result is that a lot of other entrepreneurs, VCs and prospects will coalesce around this.
What’s changed with this over the last few years is that the increased competition has made growth and progress become more visible. So as an entrepreneur, if you keep your head down and you’re building a good business and bringing in customers and users, the right people are going to find you.
Rob Moffat is partner at Balderton Capital, where he works both at finding new investments for the firm and developing existing portfolio companies. His particular sectors of interest include Fintech, Martech, Gaming and Marketplaces. Prior to joining Balderton Capital, Rob worked for Google in London, as a manager in the European Strategy and Operations team.
The Cisco perspective
Ged Fitton, Senior Business Development Manager at Cisco – @gedfitton
It’s the moment of truth. You’ve battled your way through, and earned your place in one of the next generation of post accelerators like IDEALondon, and they’ve started putting you in front of customers. Big customers, with big brands.
Before you start your pitch – probably one that has been fine-tuned a hundred times – it’s worth taking a step back and understanding some of the challenges that corporates face, and how you can become part of their change.
They are being disrupted, and often at a pace that frightens them. That fear is borne out of very little experience of innovating in the way a start-up does.
Your whole approach and the agility you demonstrate inspires them to think and engage differently – I call it ‘Innovation Osmosis’.
By engaging with a corporate you aren’t simply showing them your proposition, you’re helping them to understand what fast, agile innovation is all about. Remember that the way you engage can be as powerful as the innovation that you are showcasing.
As you showcase your innovation, it’s also worth considering that you are helping them to reduce risk and accelerate an outcome. In times past, innovation was inside the company, and it often had to conform to all the rules because of this. With innovation happening at the edge of corporates, you can conduct pilots or proof of concepts without impacting the infrastructure of the corporate.
Innovation roles are springing up all over corporates, often reporting into the senior positions. This presents a great additional opportunity for start-ups to engage with corporates and have their innovation rapidly brought to the attention of the most senior customer contacts.
Corporates are hungry to innovate, so it’s worth spending time understanding how they do it, what their short and medium term goals and taking a little time to make sure that your pitch follows the SCIPAB methodology.
Always remember, that a lot of what got you to where you are today is a softer set of skills that is just as valuable to the corporate as your innovation.
Ged Fitton is a senior business development manager at Cisco, where he is responsible for supporting and developing an ‘innovation-led’ program to identify next generation start-ups. He assists with their development by aligning Cisco investment, resources and products to support their growth.
We’ll be hearing more from Balderton Capital, Annette Kramer, PhD and other members of our community about this issue. If there’s a topic area you’d like us to cover in more detail, or if you have a question you’d like to ask, please let us know in the comments below or drop us a line at email@example.com.
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