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Ask HN: How do B2B startups sell to corporations?
427 points by ahmedaly 18 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 110 comments
Hi, I am founder of a chatbot startup... it's a b2b.. I am interested to know how to sell to corporate America? how does it work?



The advice I'll give is based on my experience as cofounder of an early online banking technology company back in the mid-90s. We started with three people in rented class-C space and over seven years did high six-figure deals with large and small banks including Fleet, Bank of America, Citi and others.

There's not really a "how it works" for this. If I had to tell you how it works I'd say: it works by you making friends inside a corporation and convincing them to buy your product. Did that help? :). Probably not, so here's a little more: you preferably start with a member of your founding team who is articulate, outgoing, amiable and enjoys meeting and talking with people. That person needs to know the product and competitive environment cold, and it helps if they are passionate believers in the value prop. They need to have an identified list of target companies. They need to start calling and emailing and working contacts to get meetings. Eventually, if you actually have a value prop, one of those meetings will result in a relationship with someone who is willing to champion the product internally.

You then work outward from that contact, meeting with their colleagues, eventually identifying decision makers who control actual budget that can be used to pay you for something. If you do all this skillfully then you may get them to commit to a purchase. They will then have to shepherd you through a potentially long series of internal policy and legal hurdles. You may need to get on a qualified vendor list, or meet certain business stability criteria. You will likely need approvals of the deal from different departments, and their legal team will review and try to negotiate any agreements you request them to sign. You can see why developing internal champions is absolutely critical. In every single successful deal we did, by the time we got to the second or third round of meetings our internal champions were doing most of the selling.

The last thing I'll say is that it can be powerfully tempting to think you can purchase success at this by hiring the right magic person who can work their little black book and make sales happen. I tend to doubt it, and it definitely never worked for us. A founding sales person can make this happen. That's the person I'm talking about above. But just bringing in a hired gun is unlikely to result in success imo. I think you need to believe in your own thing enough, and be good enough at talking about it, that you can land your first few deals. Then when you do bring aboard professional sales people you'll have some actual idea of why people buy from you and how to systematize the approach. Good luck with it!


> But just bringing in a hired gun is unlikely to result in success imo.

A thousand times, this is right on. Hired gun sales folk are generally going to follow the path of least resistance--they will try to get other people at your startup to do the boring/hard work they themselves ought to be doing. Or try to push through deals with lousy margins to get their revenue commission, or a dozen other pathological things. Plus, if you (founder) can't sell the thing, it's going to be super, super tricky to identify someone else who is even capable.


Quick point. If you set commission based on revenue then make sure you attach a minimum margin condition. Otherwise set margin based targets...


We tell our clients that they will always provide the last mile sales function (actually closing the deal). I say "people will always buy from the heart in the business over the hired gun outside the business. And the 'heart' is you."

If you are hiring for lead gen or biz dev then that's an investment like PPC or SEO...someone inside the building has to convert the sale.


This is all true, but tbh, OP is not going to make this happen.

Backing up a bit, companies have to pick their targets: smb, midmarket, or enterprise (say over $1.5B/annum). There is a vastly different sales motion required for each. Further, there are different sales motions (and different salespeople) even in the SMB vs midmarket world depending on price points: under $5k, under $50k, etc.

But the high level problem is actually really simple. Salespeople who are good at this -- really good -- can easily earn $1m/year in cash comp. That is not an exaggeration. A standard comp plan will have a commission north of 15% with accelerators after meeting quota. So they basically aren't hirable. They may be willing to be a cofounder, but most likely, they will want to work for a big existing company... because see the cash comp above. And unfortunately, to be the first salesperson, you need someone really good. Because they're going to be doing their own prospecting as well.

It is possible to strike it lucky with a salesperson looking for a break, but how do you evaluate that person? That requires sales skills. Just like you would never ask a salesperson to evaluate an engineer, an engineer is going to have a shit time evaluating a saleperson.


This is all good advice.

A note jumping through the legal/paperwork hurdles with large companies: be prepared for it to take a long time. A very long time in some cases.

It all depends on who you’re working with, how big the company is, and how much money the deal is worth.


I've been through deals with large financial institutions that have taken 2-3 years from an initial incredibly positive demo and PoC and strong buying signals, through to a signed contract.

IMO going through that successfully is also sending a signal that you have sufficient endurance - there's a large risk for a corporate to sign up for a long contract with a startup, they don't know how long you're going to be in business for. If the startup doesn't have the appetite to spend 2-3 years to get a contract over the line, then they aren't going to be a stable partner for the long term.

You need to also have sufficient numbers of small/medium scale deals so you're not 100% relying on elephant hunting.


Sometimes you can do a deal for a smaller dollar value, less intense legal / financial hurdle. Get on the approved vendor list, receive income while you negotiate a larger more complicated approval process for a larger deal.


Yes, this. I've had large enterprise deals that were 'closed' in days or even hours that then took weeks or months to get through legal.


While this is broadly true, how you sell also depends on the buying persona you are selling to. If you are selling to IT you absolutely need to have a deep relationship. IT people are generally risk-averse and hence relationships matter a lot. On the other hand, if you are selling to some business units like marketing, you can actually pull off a sale by just marketing (not surprising) to them. A lot of marketing folks are young, have budgets and are used to buying things online with CC. And if you are lucky, they might be owning the website and can get things deployed without ever talking to IT. This is the exercise you need to do. Understand your buyer persona very well. Accordingly, you need to decide to invest in hiring a traditional enterprise sales guy (high touch wine-dine selling) vs a marketing-driven sales process (emails, ads, inside-sales calling etc)


Interesting, this is also my experience. I would add that in addition to marketing teams what also worked for us is selling directly to innovation/digital teams, or even core business ones, because like you said young folks are used to buy SaaS online. The key is bypassing IT, because as soon as it goes through them you are in for that big sale process greatly described by the GP post.


Agree with this and it seems like a really hard process. How is it that every enterprise I have worked at then seems to have one of everything and so many redundant tools. Is it just accumulation of crap over time? Good relationships that cut short this process? Straight up corruption?


All of the above, plus vanity projects. If certain people want a system, in many enterprises everyone below will bend over backwards to get it for them.

I will give you an example. A few years ago every c had a BlackBerry. IT ran BlackBerry business server alongside Exchange. Everyone was happy. One day a non-exec got an iPhone from his other job and wanted his emails from your co on the same device. There is no way to resist these requests, they will have it. Need to upgrade Exchange? Do it then, need to turn on web services, do it then. Need to hire back that team from Cisco for the week to sort the router, do it then. Need to hire the compliance consultant to rewrite your policies...etc.

When senior people want a toy they will have it (as long as it doesn't upset the other board members toys).

I guess that suggests that being the toy is the way to shortcut the long enterprise buying pattern. That or being the missing link that lets an IT manager deploy said toy more easily.


How do these people become so powerful..? What do they have to give in exchange?


In the case of non-execs, they are often insisted on by investors. They are seasoned board members to keep the execs in order, that kind of thing. They have little operational interest in the company, and instead bring 'corporate governance'. They have a part to play in managing the board, not the company. They make investors feel better about investing in a company run by some technology upstart with no track record. In the UK they would probably be senior (perhaps semi-retired) auditors or corporate lawyers. They may also be people with a track record in that industry, designed to open doors.

Institutional investors tend to be pretty conservative, and these are their sort of people.


Got it - thanks for the helpful insight!


they decide on peoples bonuses, and who gets fired/promoted.


If you were talking about 20 different companies, would you expect all of them to use the same tools? Of course not.

A large corporation is like many small companies, under one umbrella with more or less cohesion, so they often have different tools.


and if you dont have any of these things dont pursue the idea!

if this is your only and big idea that you have to get married to so you can “ strike it big” then you are already playing at a disadvantage

The rest of us, your competition, have an idea every other week and just revisit them when they are economical

its not “strike while the iron is hot” its have 100 irons to begin with


Just curious: Did you ever strike on any iron?


Yes and because of past product launches and revenue numbers and exits people pay me to hear what I have to say

So the economical nature of that reality became the idea behind our “advisory” business, exhibit a


Thank you for your reply.

For me it's unfortunately the case that I have lots of ideas and don't execute on them. Mostly, I think, because of doubts about getting to something profitable.


I've been there too. Lots of unknowns. The biggest jump for me was when a startup I was working for folded and I realized I didn't have to interview somewhere immediately because my side project at the time had enough promise and I needed the time to meet with people about it.


I am the CTO of a “unicorn” B2B tech company that focuses almost exclusively on the global 2000. Sales are 95% about relationships and 5% about Product. If you want to sell into Citibank, you go hire the one guy or girl who previously sold $20M of X to Citi, who golfs with the VP of Procurement and goes to Billy Joel concerts with the VP of infrastructure operations. Once you hire this person it feels like cheating, like playing super Mario brothers hitting warp zones, but alas I learned this is how business gets done. To get a PO you have to build a coalition: procurement, architecture, operations, finance. You almost certainly will also need a reseller who has an MSA (master services agreement) with the firm, so you don’t have to spend 6 months in due diligence with their lawyers. You have to give up ~15% to the VAR just for that facilitation, but it’s part of the cost of doing business.


I think most people would agree that this is how the game works. Even corps like Citibank would agree that this is the right way to do it, because if you hire someone that is so integrated into their world they also don't have to worry too much about him f*cking them up just because you are his current employer.

But the problem still is, how do you get that guy. There are so many people who claim to be that guy and few who actually are (and would be willing to switch).

Smart people won't switch companies just to earn a more money. Strong relationships are worth more than a bigger paycheck and while you might retain many relationships you certainly can't retain all when switching companies.


"Sales are 95% about relationships and 5% about Product."

Seen this so many times - not just in sales but also in acquisition. Guy from startup joins MNC in decision making role, then proceeds to acquire startup.


> You almost certainly will also need a reseller who has an MSA (master services agreement) with the firm, so you don’t have to spend 6 months in due diligence with their lawyers.

How exactly does that work with the reseller? This is a person you pay ~15% to, and then technically your product is sold under their brand to the big corp? If so, how are they found typically?

New to b2b and figuring things out.


You don't need to find them, the decision maker in the corp tells their procurement people they want to buy your product, the procurement people tell their approved reseller to reach out to you (someone like these fine folks https://www.trustradius.com/value-added-resellers-vars) for the purchase order. The VAR gives you the PO, you bill the VAR, and the VAR just hands over the license key or whatever to the corp, and deals with things like renewals (if they're good, and sometimes that's up to you). The VAR probably has no idea what your software does.

The corp still uses your software, not some whitelabeled version. This broken-telephone purchasing game is solely there because in a big corp it's really hard to write a check to a new unproven vendor, you'll just be a little line in the invoice they pay to the VAR each month.


Was surprised to find out from that page that CDW is a VAR. I used to buy network equipment from them. https://www.cdw.com/


100% this - seeing it first hand. It's truly like magic or some kind of cheat code.


People don’t realize that big orgs are not markets, they are planned economies. There may be 500k people there, but 6 make the decisions for any particular thing.

You need the magic salesperson or lobbyist because they know the right 6. Some things get sold to the CEO, other things can’t be because the people downstream have another agenda.


And why would that guy work for you/me and not for another big corp with deep pockets that can hire him for top dollars?

I mean I get it that sales are all about connections but let's not pretend that everyone in here can go sailing with a 10M sailboat in order to meet the guy who knows a guy who knows a guy.


you don't need to start selling to Citibank to suceed. there are many smaller corrporations, where man to know is just CEO and maybe 1 or two others.

And then build from there.

Edit: Also your existing clients are your best "comercial". If you can get one CEO/CTO/(...) to make a phone call for you, this can help a lot. For above your product kind of cant suck (90% of IT related stuff getting sold to enterprises is overpriced crap)


> Some things get sold to the CEO, other things can’t be because the people downstream have another agenda.

This describes why the vast majority of sales pitches for relatively good products fail. In many companies the agenda of the cliques and players and internal politics of the firm is the major hurdle.


Most big corps have anti-corruption policies that prevent decision makers or key influencers from letting sales people take them to golfing or to concerts.


I don’t know about that. I am think they call it a business meeting, and they’re all set...

There are certainly some restrictions for audit purpose, and a bunch of loopholes to make sure business people can keep doing business stuff the way it as always been.

Most places have no alcohol on premise policies, but that doesn’t include the CEO suite.


No they have policies against paying for those concerts or golf games.


IBM's BCG for example has very strict rules about giving and/or receiving gifts.


Never underestimate the capability and connections of a good sales person.

There are lots of ways to waste money on sales, but if you are careful to avoid them, a single experienced professional sales person can work wonders, even for a startup that is still a few pivots away from its final shape.

This may not be the most HN-compatible opinion, and there are certainly many additional ways to sell to big companies, but I worry that a lot of founders, especially technical ones, overlook staffing sales until later than they should.


Wish I could offer more votes.

Having the right sales (not marketing) person can be the difference between success and something else. The right sales person can target and create a relationship the wrong person will just waste resources.

The most successful companies founders I've seen combo of sales and technical. If you are a technical solo founder get an experienced sales vp and give them 20%.

Marketing is usually a team effort so a more junior team can help. Don't hire someone to do both.. hire for sales first.

Sales before tales.


Just curious because I've come across differing definitions of this. How would you define the differentiate between sales and marketing ?


The way I was taught is that Marketing is really about communicating the value that your product creates for the customer, and then capturing the company’s portion of that value created. Some textbooks call this Dual Value Creation.

Sales is a part of marketing, in the theory, and they actually do a bit of both, communicating and capturing value. Communicating when they talk to prospects, capturing when they close deals.

The typical responsibility of Sales is to guide prospects/customers through the “sales funnel” or if you want to be really snazzy, the McKinsey “consumer decision journey.” Actively pushing new clients closer and closer to a deal, cross-selling and upselling current clients, etc.

But you wouldn’t expect salespeople to be writing advertising copy or making webpages, that’s the job of the broader marketing team


Correction : * How would you differentiate between sales and marketing


> There are lots of ways to waste money on sales, but if you are careful to avoid them

Do you have any tips?


I do. Don't shop price when hiring sales people. Hire the best available at the market rate.


Reward them extremely well when they over perform. One sales person can easily create more ARR than 3 or 4 average ones. Make sure you pay them accordingly, and you can save yourself a lot of headaches and wasted hires.


Agreed. In most cases, you can afford to not hire the absolute best tech talent (assuming you aren't trying to break ground on new tech frontiers), but you should get the best sales talent possible, almost always.


I do this for a living for other companies (no I do not want your business) but the most overlooked aspect of B2B selling is patience. Your prospect has many suitors vying for their attention, many bosses that must sign off an the sale, and a legal department and IT department that all want to feel included. Measure your pipeline/sales by quarter, not month. Patience. Patience. Patience. Build rapport, be useful and valuable. Be prepared to do this for a long time.

That's how it works.


Depending on how big they’re talking, year long cycles are not uncommon.


12 months from first contact to first dollar--nevermind first dollar above recouping costs--seems a deliriously optimistic goal in certain industries.


It has been roughly 2 years for us to get first dollar with corporations, and will probably take 3 more to recoup the costs. The good thing is that once you get in, it is pretty hard for competitors to get you out. They really need to have a superior value prop.


Absolutely.


I took a peak at the OP's post history (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20945426), it seems this is their chatbot (for FB): https://mapletechno.com/landing.php

Unless you have moved the chatbot to a different website since then, based on the product as is, it would be better to focus on a) translating the website into English and b) finding some beta testers and users.

I guess most of the replies here are based on your use of the word coporation, hence they're sharing advice about lanfing multi-figure deals but realistically, the target market for FB chatbots are small to medium business owners.


Paradoxically if this is the OPs business, in my experience they should greatly, greatly increase price to increase chances of selling to an enterprise.


If you haven’t come across his writings already, you might be interested in the insights from somebody named Mark Suster— he has experience has done a lot of thinking out loud about this kind of stuff

Check out his thinking about “elephants” vs “deer” vs “rabbits”: https://bothsidesofthetable.com/most-startups-should-be-deer...


We sell to a very narrow segment. I've got Google alerts for loads of phrases and trade show names. We try to attend as many shows as we can. Sometimes with a booth, mostly without...just rocking our own gear and handing out cards. Some have a cheap way to add your logo somewhere to get awareness going.

Once you get a fish on, you'll need a professional sales person to carry the deal forward. Meeting, review, reply, next meeting, follow-up, etc.

Cold prospecting from directories and trade-orgs is another channel. Call,call,call. Then call some more.

And keep pumping the newsletter, opt-in only, keep content fresh.


This is the way to go. People will know they are taking a calculated risk with a startup, if you get to know their industry you will gain a better intuition about their use cases (and in particular ones they haven't thought of yet).

Definitely avoid highly regulated verticals at first as they will drown you with security/governance requirements before you even get to their lawyers. Meanwhile get to know these frameworks and what will be expected of you if you want to approach them in the future.

From a feature-set perspective, any large company is going to want to see management interfaces with single sign-on, at least basic roles (read only, billing, ops). Customer should also be able to do everything via API that they can via UI. You should have good audit logs and be able to push them or let the customer come get them. If your architecture supports it, most large customers would like the option for a dedicated tenant instance.

Good luck!


Oops! We're in a heavily regulated space. Upside is that it keeps competition out. Your 3rd paragraph is 100% accurate IME


Hello!

I too am working on a chatbot startup, that's b2b: https://insideropinion.com/

The path I'm working:

1. Identify a clear problem / use case

2. Determine inside of a corporation who makes purchasing decisions to solve said problem / use case

3. Search LinkedIn for contacts at companies that fit into that role

4. Reach out over LinkedIn and / or use system such as Hunter.io to connect over emails

5. Goal is a video demo / discussion, pitch the product and show them how you think it can help

6. If you make a connection, ask if they know others that may be interested

7. Attend trade shows for your segment if possible

Main thing is follow up, follow up, follow up. Sometimes on my 3rd or 4th follow up I'll get a hit. Ask questions about their business and be as clear as possible. Conversions should be anywhere from 1% - 20% depending on the market segment (I'm not sure what yours is).


Some terms to get you started:

- outside sales executive (e.g., the person who visits the customer, they typically work from coworking or home-offices)

- inside sales executive (e.g., a sales support person, typically doesn't travel and works at coworking or home-office full-time)

- outside sales engineer (e.g., a customer-facing technical person who answers questions and helps sell solutions with the sales exec)

- master agreements (generally-agreeded terms and conditions)

- Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)

- Letter of Intent (LOI) - before final quote & contract

- Purchase Orders (PO's)

- Request For Proposal (RFP)

- Request For Quotation (RFQ)

and lengthy sales cycles that often take 6 months to 2 years, depending on the product or service

Another way to get in is start immediately under a master agreement and do consulting-ish tasks, and gradually sell more solutions and temporary staff roles as they come up ("building a beachhead").


I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about the RFP process. For a small product (maybe Jobs would have called it a feature) like a Chatbot, your best hope if you want to hit the enterprise elephants is to find a “digital transformation” RFP, give a really strong reply for the inevitable chatbot feature in round 1, then get rolled in as a “joint proposal” for future rounds with one of the big boys (Accenture, IBM etc). They get to look modern and open to teamwork, you get your foot in the door and the proposal has better chances. Then if it goes well, you’ll get roped into future deals


This is interesting. How do you find open RFPs in your area of interest?


Trade publications/newsletters, word of mouth (useful to know people, even low level), and of course for anything regulated or public, they’re published on dedicated directories


I've built and sold a few companies doing enterprise sales. Now I run a small course teaching founders the basics of early stage sales.

Won't plug that here, but I think you'd get a lot out of this interview I did with Stephanie Hurlburt, cofounder of Binomial, where she explains how she learned to close 6 and 7-figure deals as a technical founder with no business background: https://anchor.fm/sales-for-founders/episodes/How-to-close-7...


Thanks for sharing.


Contrary to the main sentiment in this thread I've done B2B sales with no prior connections whatsoever. My approach is threefold. Build something that either doesn't exist or is considerably better and cheaper than competition. Give amply time for demoing, like six months free with no strings attached. Be patient.

If I had to choose one approach I'd say demo your service for months so they can get accustomed to it. Most companies I know give demos for very short time-spans. If you give a one month demo the client might not even get the chance to look at it because he has fifty other things to do. Let him get accustomed in using it, making it a part of his workflow.


I guess this assumes that the product can be used by a single person, or a small group of people, and don’t require a lot of setup. For example systems monitoring, or a group-wide collaboration tool, makes things harder.

I still like the idea though!


Counter point: I've been doing integration for system monitoring things, this can be fully integrated in a few days.

The new trendy (and really great tool) is datadog, a HN company. They went out the window when the trial expired after 1 week and their asshole sales were at war against any extension. How am I supposed to demo the tool and sell it internally when it can't even be accessed?

As if it were not enough, they kept calling day after day to try force the sale. Then they got banned soon afterwards, after some mid level folks got a hold of both of these practices. Nobody wants to deal with that.


Across the plethora of system monitoring apps who all claim they can do everything, how do you decide and identify what fits?


There are no apps that can do everything, there are different use cases that require at least 3 different tools to cover logs, system metrics, application metrics, alerts and performance instrumentation.

If you've never worked in that domain, you can trial the tool and figure out what they're about. Short version is to go for ELK + Datadog + NewRelic.


Interesting. What does Datadog cover that NewRelic doesn’t?


Yes, that's true. I should also mention that it applies to product/services in the region of a few hundred bucks annually. I guess you can't sell a $30k/year contract just by showing a demo.


Agreed on the demo time.

If it takes non-trivial infrastructure (firewalls, AD integration, what have you), it can take 2 or 3 months just to get the demo running. If your demo license only lasts two weeks, no decision maker ever sees a running instance, but sometimes somebody in the chain is too embarrassed to admit it took so long.


This was a pretty good video on selling B2B from startup school: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZi4kTJG-LE

1. Prospecting 2. Conversations 3. Closing 4. Promised land(revenue)

Slides of the talk: https://www.dropbox.com/s/v9zlx72t9b4yk8d/Tyler%20Bosmeny%20...


Go on LinkedIn, find contacts, email/call them to explain why your product would help them and their business, set up a demo over video chat. Pitch them your product, why it would benefit them and try to secure a deal.

After you've got some sales under your belt, sponsor a booth at a tradeshow relevant to your market. Demo your product in-person, collect leads and follow up for more sales. Rinse and repeat.


Skeptical about LinkedIn these days as it might be overused. Even I tend to receive lot of pitches these days and generally distrust the medium.


Like you, I distrust cold linkedin (and cold emails).

But - we are not everybody.

If you're targeting someone you think has got a specific pain that you can credibly help with - a well crafted, unique and relevant pitch, with appropriately timed followups does work for a significant amount of people.



Not sure why this is so low on the page, as it was incredibly helpful. I even went to the author's archive directory [1] so I could read his other posts about sales and life running/selling a SaaS company. He is candid and knowledgeable. Definitely bookmarking — thanks for the link!

1: https://training.kalzumeus.com/newsletters/archive/


Yeah Patio11 is a champ. Also a long time hn user btw.

Probably low because I was in a rush and didn't explain the content at all.


All great answers thus far. First, it is not for faint of heart. Second, if you get in door, learn how to say no as not every corporate customer is a good one - some can suck you dry and have you customize feature after feature so you need to be strong.

As a previous commenter mentioned, understanding what your product is and your go-to-market motion is super important. Are you a bottom up developer or user-led adoption with ideas to expand or are you going pure top-down enterprise? Either will take time but I've worked with many a company that successfully went from bottom up and generated significant enterprise sales like https://Snyk.io.

If you choose to go top down, find advisors or investors who have relationships at some of your corporate prospects. Going top down super early requires relationships to get in the door. Second, you have to figure out exactly who in the organization you need to get to and understand what is their pain and how you can uniquely solve it. I've seen way too many early stage founders get in the door to explore and they end up hunting for dodo birds - they're extinct and don't exist.

There is so much more on this topic and one method I advocate is focusing on enterprise design partnerships vs. selling which has more of a partnering model than a transatcional one. More on that here in a SaaStr podcast I was on - https://www.saastr.com/saastr-podcast-190-ed-sim-founder-gp-...


Cold emails work. Find the best use case for the company. Attach a link or screenshot why/how it would help them. Take a screenshot of their site or chat box, then edit it with an example of your bot in action.

Follow up once. Not too many times. Sometimes people ignore the first time because they're in their emails looking for something else.

Some people prefer cold calling, but I find the success rates are much, much lower and you can't convey the same information. I think cold calling is only popular because it's easy to monitor failure rates.


In my experience, you should follow up 4-5 times. In many instances, we receive positive responses much later in the follow-up cycle. For context: Selling to 100-plus-person SaaS B2B organisations.


I see some companies doing this, especially if it's something with a trial. So I assume it works. But it seems like if you try too many times, you end up getting people who are not that interested, but have some free time, and aren't willing to pay much. Which is fine for larger companies who have to sell to late adopters.


I’d love to see stats that this works. I don’t believe it.


It seems unbelievable unless you’ve done sales. I used to do B2B sales for a VAR when I was in college in the 90s.

I’d spend about 30% of my time doing cold outreach. I’d get a conversion 2-3 times a week. One day I sold about $250k of high margin training vouchers (it was MS Office user certification iirc) through a single phone call. It literally paid for that year of college.


A little anecdotal, but I get about 50% response rate. This includes selling weird stuff, like once I tried to sell brownies to wedding planners.

In terms of job hunting, I got about 2 out of 4 responses this way, so it's still a 50% rate. This actually landed me my first job.

This was from a few years back though. It might be harder now that everyone has automated messaging and CRMs designed to look like they're from a human being (probably illegally without an unsubscribe button).

It depends a lot on how you do it. I think the message has to hit well, it has to look personal enough, hence the screenshots have to be designed for that specific company. But done wrong, it can look a bit desperate.

You also have to find someone who can make a decision. A lot of people are terrified of this, but higher ranked people can actually forward you to the right VP in charge. We've cold contacted the CEO of the biggest media company in the country this way, and he was very happy with the meeting.

Some people prefer a wider net, like 1000 messages a day, with a 2% success rate. That's fine too. Sometimes it gets better results, because you end up with people more desperate for a solution. I just think the personal cold email method works better than cold calls, and it's a lot more fun.

For founders, personal emails help, because you can ask them why they rejected you, and that helps in improving the product or strategy.


This actually landed me my first job

I'm late to the party, but thanks for reminding me. I got my first job out of college (engineer) because of a cold call to a business.


As someone who gets sold to a lot, don’t under estimate the power of non decision makers in the process. If you can get the person who admins the website or leads the support team to buy in, you’ll have way more of a chance of convincing a VP to buy something. Just remember when you talk to these people, they aren’t the ones who can sign off and that’s ok. Give them tools to help pitch internal and be patient


Reading answers on this thread makes me wonder are those sales techniques really healthy to industry as a whole? No one questions that, and yet normalize probably unhealthy ways of selling utilities. "who golfs with the VP of Procurement" .. that's how corruption works as well, isn't it? Is that natural?


I don’t think it’s quite as bad as the thread suggests. Keep in mind that most people are talking about relatively small deals here. Anything big will go through such a complex and regulated RFI/RFP process that Golf plays no part whatsoever. I doubt there is much golf going on between VW and Bosch execs


Humans are social. Golf (or whatever it is that floats the VPs boat" can only get you a foot in the door.


1 Call up your old Ivy classmates, they work in corpos

2 let your VC do the above

3 crowd favorite, let your VC force other companies he already invested in/sits on board to integrate your product and then do number 2

But in your case number 1 should be change your name and language, unless you are looking for government (NSA/CIA) contract.


Usually some combination of marketing and high-touch sales. Marketing makes buyers want to buy the product[1], and sales converts interest into a contract.

For B2B it usually takes three months from first contact to closed deal. That means you need a healthy pipeline of deals to keep the cash flowing.

Crossing the Chasm[2] is a must-read and classic book about marketing and selling B2B software.

[1] As I say, make buyers want to pay: https://www.gkogan.co/blog/buyers/

[2] https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000FC119W/


Getting connected with some VARs (value added resellers) can be helpful. If you can provide some piece that enhances their package, you can often get included in as a part of some big deals that you might not otherwise have any shot at, and build up some connections that way. Once you're in, and people know you as somebody that does work in X niche, they can start coming to you to do additional customizations or follow-on work in that area.

It's not all roses; sometimes the extra layers of indirection between you and the actual customer can be a little onerous.


you need content. if you're not sure where to start, checkout this article on movement first content: https://www.animalz.co/blog/movement-first/

Wistia's CEO recently posted about mistakes made early on, and a better approach to building affinity vs awareness through relationships. https://twitter.com/csavage/status/1180148970825437191

Sales matters, patience matters, but content brings people already seeking a solution to you...and/or agitates a pain point they've forgotten.


Don’t think of sales as a “funnel” process. Think of it as a process of education and patience. Your job in sales is to get to know the right people at all the customers you want to sell to and to then nurture them patiently until they are ready to buy from you.

Big companies can be sold to by tiny startups. Finding the right person is a grind - no easy way about it. Once you’ve found them, it is truly about building the relationship and then letting them guide you through their purchasing process.


Like many have told , hiring a good sales person is going to work wonders. If you must sell stuff yourself , do yourself a favour and ingrain this [0] before you go wasting time on folks inside a megacorp. We wasted 9 months focusing on the wrong person in a big sale ..

[0] https://blog.hubspot.com/sales/identify-sales-prospects-infl...


You already got some great answers. If you need more book recommendations:

Major account sales by Rackham is a classic

How to sell from Entrepid is an algorithm you can follow https://static1.squarespace.com/static/57daf6098419c27febcd4...


I'd recommend taking a look at G2.com (where I work), the world's largest B2B Software and Services review platform....they've almost got 1 million reviews on the site and is a great way to get your product out there in front of buyers, alongside trusted reviews from users.


You will have easier time if you narrow your market to a more uniform group, like "large hospitals", or "small law firms" - approaches that apply to one group will not work for another.

Connections are important but in some areas you may have to hire a lobbyist to get them, while in other areas you just need to show up at a trade convention and chat people up.


As a related question to this: we're successfully selling into corps but it takes 6-12 months. Has anyone figured out the under $500 credit card thing with seat pricing or know good examples of it (where the ACVs are still high)?

We'd like to land-and-expand since our product has to be used by teams but I'd love to get the sales cycle shorter.


From my friends who’ve started B2B SaaS, most startups leverage connections and introductions from their investors.


Should have intimate connections in the Industry

https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/10/25/amazon_fails_to_sto...


Find a partner.

Big companies or .gov are too expensive to for you to work with unless they are coming to you.


This is my chatbot sign up and support me :) https://mapletechno.com/landing.php


One tip that I see folks use. Encourage or enforce business email addresses for your trial accounts. This helps you target your cold emails (especially after trial expires).


Curious question: what's the name of your chatbot and how does your chatbot offering differ from what's offered by big players like Microsoft and Google.


Use all possible contact methods to approach the finalist! Like "The third door"!


>chatbot startup

Dead man walking.




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