How to pitch big clients as a small startup

by Jun Loayza on September 8, 2011

pitch to big clients

It’s a chicken and egg problem that all startups face: we need case studies to close clients, but we can’t create case studies because we don’t have any clients.

First movers are of course important, but when your target market consists of established companies with over $20M in annual revenue, you’ll find that there are very few first movers – if any at all.  How can a small startup pitch big clients with no case studies?

My company faced this problem and overcame it.  I’ve outlined the steps we took below.

Who should read this post: Startups who target an established customer base beyond the small to medium-sized market.  Small companies are easy to close; it’s just a matter of who has the most resources to make the most calls. For larger firms, it’s all about the quality of pitch rather than the quantity of pitches.

What you will learn: How to present your startup in a way that makes your youth and small stature an asset rather than a weakness.

1. Do your homework

Do research on the person you’re meeting with: LinkedIn, company bio, blog (if applicable).  Key attributes that you’re looking for:

  • Does this person have an MBA?
    • If so, then it is very likely that the person is very analytical and will feel superior to you because of your youth. Your presentation will need to have clear, crisp numbers to back up all your claims; furthermore, you’ll need to become his ‘equal’ from the very beginning: dress the part, build rapport, move the conversation to your expertise
  • Do you have anything in common?
    • This will help you build rapport
    • Example: A potential client and I went to the same university – very easy start to a conversation
  • Recent company news
    • Has the company recently hired someone, promoted someone, fired someone?
    • Example: A potential client I met with recently hired the CEO of a very large company that recently went bankrupt.  I tailored my pitch to how my product can position the company to NOT suffer the same fate as the previous company
  • Industry news
    • This goes without saying; become an expert in your industry because showing expertise is a sign of higher value

2. Dress the part

Full suit and tie shows that you’re there for business and that you’ve done this a million times before.  A nice watch on your wrist shows that you have money and are successful; if you’re successful, then it means that the product you’re selling is successful.

Chances are that you look young.  Young means inexperience; young means unproven.  You need to get the potential client away from the former mentality and toward a new mentality: young means innovative, flexibility, and energy.

3. Build Rapport

People do business with people they trust and like.  Get on the potential client’s good side and you’ll be a step closer to earning their trust.  Now the question becomes, “How do I get the potential client to like me?”

The easy way: Find similarities to talk about: sports, college, investing, music; it can be anything that you enjoy.  Dig this up during your research or figure it out during the first few minutes of speaking with the potential client.

The hard way: Learn to tell stories and add humor to your pitch.  The topic of ‘telling stories’ and ‘adding humor’ is well beyond this post; we’ll revisit these topics later on future posts.

4. Set a timeframe

No pitch should last longer than 30 minutes – including Q&A time.  Your potential client hears pitches everyday – at a certain point, information goes in one ear and out the other.

At the beginning of the pitch, clearly state the following, “We’re excited for our meeting today.  My pitch is 20 minutes in length, giving us 10 minutes for Q&A – lets begin.

5. You are the prize

I’ll write a longer blog post for this specific topic later.  For now, all you need to know is that this is a mental game.  You need to walk in there knowing and fully believing that you’re the prize – not them.  Though you’re desperate for a customer because you’re a small startup, you can’t let them know that.  If they feel you’re desperate for their money, then they’ll get scared and pull away.

You need to draw them to you.  How to do this in a few quick steps:

  • Don’t thank them too much.  Saying “Thank you for your time today” or “I know you’re busy…” shows that you prize them.  Avoid saying “thank you” excessively
  • Ask them why they deserve your business
    • Example: At the end of my pitches, I usually say the following, “My company only works with rapidly expanding companies.  How much growth do you expect in the next 3 years?”
  • Make the expectation for them to call you
    • Example: “When you’re ready to move forward, give me a call and we can set up a time at my office.”

Play like the big boys and use your youth, energy, and flexibility as assets.  My future posts will cover several of these topics in more detail.  Good luck!

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  • Ström

    Jun,

    I’d strongly suggest attributing some content from this article to it’s originator (especially points 4 and 5). It’s only fair.

    -Ström

    • http://junloayza.com JunLoayza

      Thanks for the suggestion.

      Points 1 and 2: Little Red Book of Selling by Jeffrey Gitomer

      Point 3: Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini

      Points 4 and 5: Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff

      A lot of techniques can be attributed to many books out there – many books share common techniques and call them by different names. I have tried many techniques and above I have highlighted the ones that work best

  • Randolph

    How do I get the potential client to respect me and see me as an equal? I don’t understand how a young startup can position themselves to play with the big boys?

    I’m 25 right now and meet with 40-year old white men who have decision making power. I just can’t seem to fit in.

    • http://junloayza.com JunLoayza

      Randolph, it’s all about how your carry yourself. First impressions count for a lot, so if you dress professionally, speak to them as equals, and are an expert in your area of expertise, then they will respect you.

      From the very first moment they meet you, they need to know that you’re all about business. Since you’re young, they’ll immediately classify you as immature and inexperienced; surprise them by taking control of the conversation and teaching them things that they don’t know.

      They’ll buy from you because they respect your knowledge and respect the product that you’re selling.

  • KrisDunc

    Are you in Silicon Valley? Would be great to meet up some time over coffee.

    I have a startup in the digital photography and mobile sharing space. Do you think the area is too crowded right now?

    How do you find a good idea in a market that is ready for action but is not yet saturated?

    • http://junloayza.com JunLoayza

      Sure, hit me on Twitter anytime! @JunLoayza

      That space is very very crowded right now; even a well-funded startup like Color couldn’t break in.

      That’s why some entrepreneurs/CEO’s are visionaries – because they can see the trend before it gets here.

      Is it something that you can learn? Perhaps. You can try to chart out all of the hot startup since the 2000’s and how the progressions have occurred – perhaps you can find a pattern.

      Let me know if you do :)

  • http://www.lookbeyondresumes.com/ shyam

    “We believe that making a difference in one person’s life far outweighs the number of facebook likes or fans or followers. At “Look Beyond Resumes”, we help people find the careers that fit their personality and NOT just their skills and education.Stop being defined by a piece of paper and get your voice heard.”

    • Saswati

      Could you give a bit information on what exactly you guys do differently on look beyond resumes?

  • http://www.earlynet.net Lawrence-pn

    Hi Jun

    Thank you for the post.

  • Pingback: How to get your first customers to pay for your product - Become a Young Successful Entrepreneur()

  • http://thefoundersblog.com Ryan Critchett

    Good stuff. Interesting way to leave them needing to call you. I’ve always done the opposite and pitched the follow up. I’m impatient! But, your way makes sense. Hmm..

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