As a one year old social video advertising tech startup, our core target customer base is medium-to-large brands, agencies and media companies. In a lot of ways, we’re selling enterprise software products and video content marketing services. It’s been a blast so far, but at the same time we’ve definitely learned a few lessons over the past year as startup entrepreneurs serving the enterprise space that it would have been really helpful to know on day one. With the hope of imparting some wisdom that may help other current and future startups, here are 5 Lessons for Startups Working with Large Brands:
1. Expect Older Technology
“By the way, your [web]site keeps breaking in my browser,” an exec at a Fortune 500 company emailed me one afternoon.
Me: “What browser are you using?”
Exec: “Internet Explorer 7.”
Me [to myself]: *facepalm*
It was a particularly funny and pointed lesson that big, mature companies tend to use older technologies. Yes, I realize we’re all tearing through Github with our blazing-fast Macbooks doing epic, efficient things backed by cloud-hosting, but we need to keep in mind most of our big brand clients and prospects are probably reading emails in Outlook, working on PCs and using much different workflow tools than we are. Not only does this make product elements like backwards browser compatibility (and, *shiver* IE support) for your website important, but it’s also important from the standpoint of thinking about how your product might incorporate into an existing B2B user or department’s existing workflow.
2. Nothing Happens as Quickly as You Want it to
I’m going to preface this by calling this a generalization – in some cases I’ve seen big companies execute very quickly. That said, generally, there are controls, checks and decision-making hierarchies in place at enterprise customers that will never move at the pace of your lean, nimble startup.
Before you even start selling to most large brands, you’ll need to go through vendor approval. Rarely does vendor approval ever happen quickly. Sometimes vendor approval processes can completely stagnate, even if you have an internal champion trying to push your application through. If you’re selling a B2B product (unless it’s a low ticket item that can easily be expensed by a department manager with a small budget), add vendor approval timelines into assumptions about your sales cycle and revenue roadmap. It really matters.
Vendor approval however is just one example; others include invoicing, setting follow-up meetings, getting contracts completed and through procurement, and many more. As much as you want to come into a first business development meeting with a client ready to revolutionize their business, just realize their world is a lot bigger, safer, slower and more process-controlled than yours and set realistic expectations.
3. Most Big Companies Are Not Looking for the Next Hot Thing
Personally, I’m scanning Techcrunch and my Twitter feed on a daily basis trying to keep up with the pace of startup innovation and information flow. If you’re reading this, you probably are too. Most people are not like us. Quite the opposite, there’s genuine professional (and businesses) risk in adopting a new enterprise app that doesn’t work, doesn’t perform or doesn’t deliver its expected ROI. It’s a really good thing when your product or service makes someone at another company look good internally, or helps make their job safer. It’s a bad thing when it doesn’t. Build this thinking into your product development, sales and customer support process.
4. Always Go Into Meetings With an Agenda
A meeting with a Fortune 500 company is not a daily standup. When I’ve gone into meetings with a clear agenda and structure to run the meeting they typically go well. When I’ve gone into meetings with big clients unprepared sometimes it goes very not well. [Painful] lesson learned.
5. You Really Can’t Over-Communicate.
If you’re working with large brands (or agencies), chances are you’ve got stakeholders and points of contact in different business units, roles and teams. Unless you’re selling lower-priced, no-touch SaaS without much client-side customization or implementation, it’s critically important for your mutual success you try to ascertain what each contact is looking for out of the relationship, how each unit or stakeholder benchmarks their success, and how they like to be briefed or communicated to you. Moreover, there really is no such thing as over-communication with your larger clients. Quite the opposite, in many cases it can be really reassuring that at least one person on your team is a stable, available, friendly and transparent presence during the course of the relationship or engagement. It also re-communicates your brand and value. Even great inbound marketing companies with self-service SaaS products like Marketo and KissMetrics maintain consistent communication with customers via emails, blog updates and new product announcements (even if most of it’s automated). Again, to repeat, you really can’t over-communicate to your customers early on, particularly when it’s done on a person-to-person level.
What has your experience been as a startup or entrepreneur working with larger clients? Care to share your wisdom or war stories in the comments section?