Recently I was fortunate enough to attend a meeting between my startup and one of the largest logistics companies in the country - so that we could pitch our new service.
The size of this client would almost be sufficient to reach sustainability and profitability in one go. Obviously landing a whale in your first pitch as a new startup is the ultimate dream come true, but it can be hard to turn it into reality.
The meeting went ok, but there were some hard lessons learned about how to pitch big corporate clients that my partners and I took away from the experience.
Unlike smaller clients who are able to make faster decisions more easily, large corporates have more complicated considerations to take into account. This makes pitching to them proportionately more difficult.
Hopefully what I learned about pitching big companies will help you avoid the basic mistakes we made, and take you that one step closer to landing that all important first contract.
1. Ensure expectations are aligned
I think the first problem we hit, right from the outset, was that we were there to pitch our startup project, which, as it turns out, was only one aspect of the solution they were looking to implement.
As a result, the first question asked after we delivered our opening presentation (elevator pitch) didn't make sense to us.
We approached the meeting from our own perspective. Similarly, the client came to the table with their own perspective and set of requirements. There was a disconnect between the two.
It took us about ten minutes to get on the same page. Essentially, the client had to explain their requirements and the problem they were looking to solve before we were able to even address the issue of what our startup could do for them.
Before any future pitch to a large company, we're going to make sure we get as much information about what they need so that we can tailor the pitch better.
2. Understand the client's market
Once we were all talking about the same thing, it became important to be able to talk intelligently with them about their business. In other words, we had to be able to understand what they were telling us about what they needed.
This is harder than it sounds because often startups don't necessarily have the resources to see beyond their own workloads. But, if you want to pitch successfully you need to be immersed in the industry as a whole.
This means not only knowing what they do, it also means knowing who they work with, how they fit into the market as a whole, what competing products and services they are already using or might be considering, and more.
A good client will help you out by clearly indicating where they stand, and where the gaps are that need to be filled. But, it's up to you to be able to capitalize on the information they provide by showing how you can fill these gaps.
3. Pitch at the right level
Another problem we ran into very early on is that we focused on our own technology way too much.
Client's aren't interested in what you've done, and the innovation, creativity, and skill it took to do it. They are interested in knowing how what you've done works for them. Period.
Don't waste time talking about intricacies and technical details. Focus on the relationship between what you offer and what they need. A great strategy is to listen to what they say (I mean really listen) and use that information to demonstrate how your offering helps. Think on the fly.
Remember that corporates don't only consider whether your pitch will do what you promise, they also have to consider a number of other factors - like how your offering fits into their existing technologies and processes.
You absolutely need to be able to demonstrate how and why it is cheaper/better/more efficient to implement what you offer. It's no good having a great pitch, if your offering doesn't fit into their business properly.
4. Build bridges
Finally, I think it is important to treat a pitch as an opportunity to build a bridge. Not every pitch you make can close a deal. But every pitch can still be turned into a success.
Use the opportunity to make a real connection with the client's people. Often there will be quite a few representatives from various departments sitting in on the meeting, so there is scope to build plenty of solid relationships.
Just because a pitch fails doesn't mean you should lose those connections forever. There might be scope to re-pitch later down the line, or, if they really liked you, they will want to work with you on other projects.
Think of a pitch as an automatic win from the point of view of having the opportunity to meet the right people in the right industry - even if they don't decide to go with your startup initially.
We're still waiting to hear back. Fingers crossed.