How do you sell to corporate customers when you are a start up?


Our software product is sold to be intalled on the client side We are targeting large companies who can truly benefit from it and see the ROI. The challenge is the long sales cycles and being a start up? Is their any way to shorten the sales cycle? (ie let's say by bringing your price under a certain bar or talking with someone specific in the company) How do you overcome the fact that you can't provide references yet?


asked Apr 22 '10 at 06:03
484 points
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3 Answers


There are a lot of company's that have done exactly what you are trying to do: sell a new product from a new company without a single success story. The biggest challenge is to last long enough to ramp sales so that they support your overhead. The most important thing is to get positive cash flow ASAP so you can survive for that period. Here are some thoughts, in no particular order, that might help:

  1. Find a high profile customer and give them the product for free. It won't actually be free to them because they are still going to have to assign resources to integrate your product into their business, so you have to understand that this is probably still a tough sell. But if you can do it, you could shorten your cycle by having a high profile reference. Consider the cost of giving your product away for free against the marketing and opportunity costs associated with the longer sales cycle, and I bet you will find it will save you money in the long term.
  2. Look at your internal core competencies and find some kind of service you can offer that fits them. For example, if you developed a web product, offer web development services in the interim to get incoming cash to pay bills. This is the number one way many product start-ups survive.
  3. Read "Art of the Start" by Guy Kawasaki. It is a must read for any start-up, esp tech start-ups.
  4. Cut your operating expenses to the bone. Nice desks and chairs are great for profitable companies or companies with rich founders that can foot the bill, but if you are neither, you cannot afford them. Always work a man short. Labor costs will kill you. If you need to do layoffs to get your labor costs in line with your cash in-flow, do it now. Don't wait.

Survival is all about cash flow. You can have the best product in the world that every person China needs, but if you spend more than you make, you will die before you succeed. If you cannot find a way to make your cash inflow larger than your outflow, you won't make it. Whether from sales or investment or loans, you have to bring the cash in. Of the three, sales is the best way to get it so work very, very hard to bring in cash that way and only look to investment or loans as an absolute last resort.

Hope that helped a little. If nothing else did, you should at least get some help from the book I mentioned. It is a must read.

answered Apr 23 '10 at 03:49
Steve Montgomery
179 points
  • Thanks Steve, will definetely get the book, question though if you have a market image for your company that is all about your software how do I find projects for web dev services to hold us over? DO I have to start creating an image etc.. how do I get start finding these contracts? – Stacey 14 years ago
  • One thing you might do is to look at sites like ELance. It is great for start-ups. It is basically a site where people post projects and providers bid on them. I use it all the time for graphics, copy editing, and the like. You can also use it to provide services. Sign up as a provider, take their qualification tests, and start bidding on projects. There is another site like it called I have actually hired some programming projects there. Take a look at a book called the Obsolete Employee for advice on Virtual Service Provider market. Outta room here, but there's more. – Steve Montgomery 14 years ago


You definitely need some early adopters. Until you have several customers using your product, it will be tough to grow your pipeline.

Now, regarding the price & sales cycle:

Price: I'd stay away from touching the price. If you price your product too low, you'll send out a perception that your product is not that valuable. Also, low prices will hinder your ability to grow the company, and you'll have less R&D dollars to put into improving the product, and you'll be overcome by competition and out of business too quickly.

One thing you can consider is to create a segmentation that allows you enter new accounts with a "low fee" and then scale inside the account. The pricing threshold should be a value that does not require your buyer to go into the long and bureaucratic purchasing cycle (if the customer can buy the product using his credit card, then he doesn't need to ask "permission" to anyone)

Shortening the sales cycle If your product falls in the "complex sales" category, then it will be very difficult to shorten the cycle.
My experience tells me that, instead of trying to shorten the sales cycle, you should invest in making evaluation as easy as possible.
If you can, make your product available online for people to try and experience. Give them all the information and resources they'll need to evaluate the product.
What this means is you're putting all the pre-sales effort on the customer side and when they're ready to buy they'll tell you.
This is a switch from the traditional outbound marketing & sales (where you chase prospects, call then, send emails, go on sales callas to do demos...), to inbound marketing (where you get prospects to find you, evaluate the product, and then buy it - all in a self service mode).

The result is that, although the sales cycle is not reduced, you'll have a better stream of prospects - this makes your sales cycle look (virtually) smaller.

Hope this helps


answered Apr 23 '10 at 19:46
825 points


Is such early stage you need to get Early Adapters to buy your product. This solves the problem of providing references.

Going cheaper than the competition is not always the best way to differentiate your product. Companies will doubt its quality.

Shortening your sale cycle depends on the product. In enterprise sales, this is common because the price tag is higher.
Can you sell the same product as a limited edition to smaller companies? That will bring the quick sales you need.

answered Apr 22 '10 at 06:19
Stefanos Tses
981 points
  • Yes we could but my concern is the ROI is measured against their current cost of documents which typically the larger the org the bigger the ROI. – Stacey 14 years ago

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