The Risks and Opportunities When Selling to Startups

Startup companies have a unique place in American business lore. There’s something quintessentially American about a couple of kids in a garage or dorm room working on what might turn into the next tech unicorn. For sales professionals, these companies represent a unique market, and if you get in early, there’s the potential to grow with them. With fewer decision makers and a shorter sales process, there’s much to make them attractive to sellers. However, as with large corporations and other small businesses, sales reps need to know how they work. Here are a few tips to help you sell to startups:

  • They’re Easy to Connect With

    As many startups are brand conscious and social media savvy, it’s easy to find information on the founders and other principal players. Almost by definition, entrepreneurs put themselves out there and want to be discovered. This access allows you to gauge their goals and objectives, determine their short- and long-range plans, and gain insight into their personalities. Consider their messaging in how you communicate with them to show you understand their vocabulary and speak their language.

  • The Decision-Making Cycle Can Be Quick

    With fewer gatekeepers and influencers to navigate, salespeople could find themselves one-on-one with the founder of the company soon after making their first phone call. This requires a different level of preparedness. After all, a single decision maker could have the power to say yes or no within seconds, without even the courtesy of a “We have to talk it over.” Come prepared with value propositions that provide an immediate effect. Although startups often have ambitious long-range goals, they often must, by necessity, focus on the here and now.

  • Flexibility is Key

    While the buying process can be quick, startups can change direction often on a whim. Salespeople must be flexible and prepared. Build contingency plans into your presentations and pitches to be ready for a change in focus or a realignment of the buyer’s needs. Of course, change is inevitable in the sales process, regardless of the client, but be prepared for the speed of change with startups.

  • Provide Turnkey Solutions

    Most startups are primarily concerned with growing their user base and building their business even if it means years without making a profit. This doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for value, but their main driver is purchasing a turnkey solution over saving money. For salespeople, again, this will require flexibility and a willingness to work within the startup’s budget with the hope they will grow into a larger opportunity.

  • Scalability

    For startups, emphasize customization of your products and services and show how they can grow with the business. While their immediate needs may be paramount, founders of startup companies are entrepreneurs with one eye on the future, and while they might not need the full suite of features you can provide right now, it helps to show that, if they pick you, they’re not just buying a product, they are gaining a partner that can scale with them.

Of course, all prospects are unique, and salespeople should do their research, but it helps to understand some of the things that characterize a startup and distinguish it from other small businesses. While not every startup becomes the next Apple or Tesla, they often take the lead in developing products that transform our lives and usher in a future we didn’t imagine. For salespeople, getting in with the right startup is an opportunity to provide solutions and build relationships with creative and innovative thinkers and be a part of their success, which is a little like finding a couple of shaggy-haired kids tinkering in a garage.