Recently I co-developed a workshop at the C2 Conference in Montreal with Norm Malloch from Deloitte and Steve Currie from Communitech. The goal of the workshop was to help small B2B startups sell to large enterprises. It was a rewarding 90-minute session, with 36 participants and three entrepreneurs brave enough to let others critique their pitches.

As workshop facilitators, we learned a lot, specifically how startups view their own businesses and how they solve the problems faced by their clients and prospects.

Startup founders often have endless passion for their products and businesses, and that passion is one reason it’s so exciting to work with them. But, in many cases, this passion actually gets in the way of them effectively communicating the business value they provide. The value proposition, the story they are trying to tell and how they ask for the sale are often glossed over because of the founders’ passion for the product they have created, not the problem it solves.

Today, the Nimble Hippo explores how startups hungry for enterprise business can focus their pitches on three important aspects: the value proposition, the story and the ask. This targeted approach will help you catch the attention of your prospect, clarify why they need your product, and finally, address how to buy it.

I want to thank Norm Malloch, who runs the d { } lab for Deloitte out of the Communitech Hub, and Greg Barratt of Communitech for contributions to this post.

Value proposition

Founders need to ask themselves some key questions about the problem they are solving and how their product addresses that problem. Does it solve the entire problem or just part of it?  Who has the problem inside the organization? Often multiple departments are involved and the startup needs to speak to all of them, adjusting the value proposition based on the needs of each one.

Regardless of who is in the audience, the founder has very little time to get their attention, so they need to get to the point. The founder must be bold, clear and confident that the product’s value is strong enough to capture their attention. If the value proposition doesn’t grab the audience early on, their attention might be lost for good.

Tell a good story

Once the founder has the audience’s attention, their job is to bring them along on a journey. A great story is memorable for a reason. Maybe it’s an interesting or exciting character. Maybe the moral of the story really resonates with the audience. A great story also doesn’t try to do too much early on. Rather than give away everything in the first chapter, it builds as the author ties things together in a logical way, with some surprises. There is also a main character to follow on this journey.

Startup founders need to think of their sales presentations in the same way. Capture the audience’s attention with a great value proposition, then spend the next few minutes painting a clear picture that shows them why they can’t live without the startup’s product. Whether it addresses a particular pain point or creates opportunities the larger company otherwise wouldn’t have, you have drawn them in with a memorable story. Don’t say too much, but say enough to keep them wanting more.

The ask

Now the founder needs to tell the audience how the story ends. Startups often miss this step in their sales presentations.

In many cases, the type of product you’re pitching will be new to the large company. Maybe you sell a subscription service but the company is used to buying perpetual licenses and paying maintenance fees. Maybe you add your product to their existing sales channels but their agents don’t know how to sell it.

The founder has to close the presentation with a clear explanation of how the large company can buy, pay for and resell (where applicable) the startup’s product. Don’t ask them to think about it, or get them to imagine the future with it; you’ve already done that. Make clear what they are buying, how to pay for it, and what to expect after they buy it.

Enterprise executives are usually in meetings all day. They are often thinking about the next meeting while they are in the current one. The founder needs to grab their attention, tell a compelling story and then tell them what’s next.

If you make your presentation their best meeting of their day, you’ll have a better chance of landing the big enterprise client, because you’ll have made them feel they’re a part of your story.

Photo: So hungry by Chris DiGiamo is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The Nimble Hippo looks at how large organizations can build innovative cultures and disruptive strategies by taking the best lessons from startup ecosystems and applying them in a big-company context.

About The Author

Craig Haney
Director, Corporate Innovation, Communitech

Craig is leading the charge for corporate innovation in Canada. His work with Canadian Tire Innovations helped launch the LeanLab project at Communitech, helping large, non-tech companies become faster and more innovative by engaging with startups. As Director of Corporate Innovation at Communitech, his focus is to grow the ecosystem by exposing small companies to big problems they can solve for some of Canada’s largest players. Craig has an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario and a Masters of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Technonogy (MBET) from the University of Waterloo.