There are some independent software vendors who have seemingly hit the jackpot and been able to leverage a connection or chance opportunity to sell early to an enterprise level client. While other vendors and start-ups may look on with envy, this type of aggressive move can be more of a curse than a blessing.
Vendors may quickly realize that they aren’t equipped with the resources to scale as needed or they may find themselves in an uncomfortable position where it becomes clear that they need to develop their product more before serving corporate clients. Even when big opportunities arise, the timing can be off.
The best way to successfully enter the enterprise market in a sustainable way that will lead to additional clients, is to begin with a clear strategy. Haphazardly entering the market or simply hoping for the best can be disastrous, especially in highly competitive markets.
Here is how you can build a clear strategy to successfully enter the enterprise market:
1: Start with Realistic Expectations
The goal should be slow and deliberate growth so that selling to enterprise companies is the natural extension of a long-term plan for organically entering the market. Ambition is admirable, but without a plan in place, shooting for the stars will only result in falling short.
2: Assemble an Experienced Team
Ideally, someone on the team should have experience scaling products or working with enterprise level companies. It is difficult and largely unheard of in the startup world for a vendor with no prior enterprise experience to successfully sell to such large clients. Having the right leadership and resources in place is key.
3. Ask for Advice
Use existing contacts and connections to seek out helpful advice. A willingness to share the product with enterprise executives can yield helpful insights into how to pitch the software, and other strategies for connecting with potential clients. It doesn’t hurt to ask the experts for advice. At very the least, vendors can get helpful advice. At best, they can receive recommendations and connections with internal contacts that can convert into sales.
4. Hone Sales Skills on Small to Medium Businesses
This isn’t to say that small to medium businesses don’t deserve a top-notch sales pitch, but there is simply a bigger pool of these types of businesses. For vendors who are still perfecting cold emails and sales pitches, it is better to make mistakes at this level, where there is room for recovery. Making the same mistakes at the enterprise level can take a more significant chunk out of a limited list of lucrative clients.
5. Target the End User
This strategy is especially useful for open source vendors. It can be hard to get the attention of buyers and decision makers at enterprise companies. There may be several layers of management and these key players may not even use the product during the course of their job.
Instead of trying to get the attention of decision makers, turn your target users into brand advocates. If the product improves the lives of end users, they are more likely to push management for full implementation. This bottom-up approach to sales and marketing can be highly effective if the product is truly useful.
6. Be Prepared for the Long Sale
Closing a sale can involve millions of dollars, several levels of corporate bureaucracy and months of negotiations. Vendors should be prepared to demonstrate a proof-of-concept and not feel disappointed or discouraged if a final decision doesn’t happen within a few months.
This is especially true if the enterprise is not using an all-in-one PoC platform to speed up the process.
Time and again, startups have shown that it is possible to go from a small-time operation to serving enterprise clients. The key is to have a strategy in place, understand what it is going to take to reach the next level and be patient to ensure the timing is right.