As a startup guy, I always seem to find myself selling against the evil empire. The empire is always changing (in my own career, it's gone from Microsoft to Google to Facebook) but the story remains the same: You're always outnumbered, and you're always outgunned.
Yet despite these facts, my companies have been able to win their fair share of battles for customers. One of the secrets, that most people don't realize, is letting the customer see you sweat.
As a startup, you'll never be able to compete on manpower, track record, or financial stability. What you can do is blow away the competition by demonstrating your willingness to make an effort.
Big company salespeople are working tons of deals, and whether or not they win a particular deal determines whether or not they get to take a nice vacation that year.
As a company founder, winning a particular deal may be the difference between success or failure. Even beyond the money, winning an anchor customer in a key market can be a game-changer.
Years ago, I needed to figure out a beachhead market for PBworks. After scanning our user base, I thought that ad agencies might be a good market for us. So I began networking and looking for opportunities. A few months later, I was able to meet in person with Toby Ward of Prescient Digital (who is the man to see if you need an Intranet!).
Toby recommended us to a major advertising agency, as a potential intranet vendor. When we got word that we had been picked to demo to their CTO and his staff, we pulled out all the stops. The demo account we built used their branding and assets, and included fake user profiles for all of the people scheduled to attend the meeting. We even recreated some of their recent projects to show how they could use our collaboration platform to do their work.
This did 2 key things. 1) They didn't have to imagine how we could help them--we showed them. 2) They saw how hard we worked and thought, "If they work this hard on the demo, imagine how they'll serve us as customers."
We won the deal over 16 other vendors, including Microsoft. They're still a customer today.
It's not always fun to let people see you sweat, but as a startup, it can be a major advantage.
This post was partially inspired by Patrick McKenzie's awesome guide to Selling Software to Large Businesses: