How a Startup Can Market to the Enterprise

How a Startup Can Market to the Enterprise

By Joel Barker

Innovation in business thinking, particularly in technology, comes from startups and growth companies. When the purchaser is an enterprise, do you speak to them in a way they can comprehend? In a way that will make them confident in you?

Setting the stage

A small cadre of developers get together to disrupt traditional processes. Or, an experienced technologist starts a company to deploy a tool she made that aids the evolution of her industry. Their offering is a game changer. Their target clients are enterprise companies. In order to execute (and get behind) effective marketing and sales, the startup needs to think outside of their innovative box.

The Startup

The startup or growth company values nimble, just in time, minimum-viable work. They ask “why” and “why not” a lot. Decisions are made quickly by individuals or very small groups. In meetings, they say “fail fast” with a straight face.

The Enterprise

The enterprise defines success with reliable, long term value. It wants durable solutions that are proven. The enterprise is already profitable, so risk is not necessary or desirable. The new way must not create problems or jeopardize a stakeholder’s standing within the organization. It takes sign off from multiple departments to make a decision.

The problem

In my experience, startups tend to unconsciously create business development strategy to target businesses in their own image.

  • Startup design and messaging appeals to the startup aesthetic.
  • Startup marketing and sales tends to act as if a single person (usually the C-suite) can make the purchasing decision on their own.
  • Startups do not have a visible footprint. Gartner has never mentioned them. Googling their name gets you photos from their company party.
  • Their advocates can not point to reputation or enduring clients.

Understanding the other side: A lesson from the distant past

Hands across the water

Back in the day, I made technology purchasing decisions for companies of all different sizes. It was a lesson in understanding. We are not all the same, and that is OK. When a small business needed a router or computer, they would buy the cheapest thing that did what they needed. The same feature set was usually available for twice the price from another source. “What fool buys that one?” they might say.

Answer: bigger companies.

The expensive one has:

  • Better technical support
  • A more rugged build — buttons, and switches, and an enclosure that will last.
  • Integration and management features
  • Expansion capabilities

The buyer does not feel the extra few dollars cost. If the device failed, however, they would feel a lot of pain and it would take a lot of effort to respond.

What a broken router looks like: small business edition

Don goes to Office Depot down the street and gets a new one. They are up and running in no time.

Broken router: enterprise edition

Hundreds of workers are idled. The cost is in the tens of thousands per minute of downtime. The IT department is very aware of that “cost per minute of downtime” number. The staff of the IT department might have to take a long walk to a director’s office to explain how this-will-never-happen-again.

Considering the cost and risk, each decision makes sense for that size of business. Both products belong in the marketplace.

How to market technology to the enterprise

When the marketing and sales of a startup is targeting an enterprise client, they need to shift out of the business environment they are sitting in and think about their target client.

The very first thing to do is to design an enterprise-class product. That means its robust, stable, and reliable. You best be prepared to pass a pretty intense security assessment, as well.

  • Focus your messaging on value, reliability, and return on investment.
  • Feel free to talk about price and innovation, but mainly to support explanations of ROI and value.
  • Speak to multiple audiences. The purchasing decision, particularly if you have an intrusive technology, will be made with the input of many voices with different interests. For the mono-culture within a startup, this is often a huge hurdle.

Shameless plug: Lion’s Way likes to help organize content projects so that we have a way to speak to all of these people.

  • Plan a sales strategy that allows for a long sales cycle and gives voice to all the expected stakeholders. You will have to have all of those conversations.
  • Think about the long game. Build out brand, content, and presence so that all stakeholders can see that your company is in it for the long haul. They don’t want to work with a company that seems more focused on quarterly sales goals or two-week sprints. Talk about what is in the five year plan.

Main image credit: *Lake Wales Public Library, CC*