The companies I am targeting are big corps, mostly in California. I'm a small software startup looking to sell surgical simulator technology. As a first meeting, is it normal to play it super-formal, or OK to say "I'll be passing though CA in August, maybe we could meet for coffee"? I'm looking to start relationships, not go hard into a sale on day 1... so in my view a informal chat is appropriate rather than presenting to a room full of suits.
Thoughts... especially from anyone who knows CA and corporate people.
Keep it informal and build relationships. You're right, relationship building isn't going to happen in a board room opposite a bunch of suits. The people you build relationships with might not be able to help you directly, but they may know someone... you know where that goes.
Remember though that you are looking to take up their time and you want them to listen to you. Make them feel wanted by saying you are specifically interested in meeting them, as opposed to 'just passing through'. But definitely keep it informal - that way they are more likely to want to help you. Especially when they expect to be pitched at - and you surprise them by playing it a bit lower key.
Understand really well what value you bring to them specifically. Don't use the same generic blurb you used on the last guy - tailor it to each meeting. Make it obvious you've put some work into it. Don't make the mistake of coming across as if your tech is going to be their biggest saviour - yes be passionate about it but don't make any assumptions.