Now we want to approach various businesses to sign them up as our customers.
What is the best way to do so?
Which forums are the best place to get in touch with them?
I am sure many entrepreneurs here must have done a lot of leg work. Any advice/help will be very helpful.
When you have product/market fit -> you'd do the 'traditional' thing - ie Gartner reviews, trade shows, marketing etc - All that requires big money - significant investment
The interesting part though is when you are in the early/seed stages - and that's the hard problem to solve for. You are iterating, trying different things - perhaps testing different verticals.
The way we've solved that at Kormox is doing it through 'insiders' - we'd build a spreadsheet of target companies (say 300, focused on a specific vertical), then identify who we'd want to talk to (say, Johnnh Smith, CIO) - then, identify internal people in the company that have nothing to do with the CIO but you have a good change in getting 10 minutes of their time. We particularly used alumni networks - e.g. Wharton, McKinsey, Stanford GSB, etc etc.
Then you reach out to those insiders asking for 10 minutes of their time - not to sell anything, rather to get their advice/pick their brain on how you can reach out to relevant person to get opinions on your startup (you can mention you think Johnny Smith would be the right person).
It has worked really well for us. Typically those insiders would do an intro - and Johnny Smith would be happy to meet with you in that way.
We've been able to do this at scale pretty successfully.
Also, do you think that contacting Fortune 500 companies will be a better way to go. If not, do you know where to find a list of SMBs that we can target?
I am not sure where to get a list of SMBs that we can talk to - to get initial reviews & feedback. Will look around.
Again - thanks a lot for your advice.
Start with 'small enterprise'. If you have even one smallish company that you can get in the door in, use that as a resume booster for a slightly larger company, and keep parlaying that success, each time seeking a slightly bigger customer than the one you just landed.
As ams6110 mentioned, don't expect a short sales cycle, and factor that into the cost of your product. Also, the sales process if VERY high touch. If it's an expensive product, expect to have to schmooze clients with dinner and repeated meetings with growing audiences. Don't mistake progressive meetings and schmoozing for progress. Do understand the cost of buying dinners and hiring sales people to chase one big customer for 6 months at a time with the expectation of not landing the customer.
Simply put, it's elephant hunting. You have to be very patient, invest in very expensive tools, and will likely come home empty with each expedition. This is also why Enterprise software tends to be so expensive, in that it has to recoup all the costs from failed sales on every successful sale.
Lastly, expect to be nickeled and dimed (especially if you're talking federal enterprise), and don't expect to be paid promptly.
If that's what you're saying, then you've already failed. The fact that your application is for both SMB and enterprise customers means you lack customer-based focus and probably don't know who your customer is. Pick a smaller sub-set of customers and focus on that.
From what I know (mostly reading rather than personal experience) selling the Small business and selling to enterprise are very different and require different approaches. Ie, SEO and a landing page with pricing and sign up vs. a sales team, no pricing anywhere on your site and long sales cycles. You may need to pick whichever one you think you can be most successful with at first and concentrate on that.
I agree that selling to SMBs and Enterprises are very different approaches.
We are still in the customer development phase (http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2008/11/what-is-custome...) and really want to "get out of the building" to start learning about whether our assumptions are right.
I am not really sure how to approach the organizations. Is face-to-face a better option or online networking is better?
You'll learn one of three things: a) your product could be a good fit for them with some iteration or b) your assumptions about the types of customers you want is wrong or c) your idea stinks.
Deciding between these is up to you :)
However, phoning them up generally connects us to their customer helpline. What is the best way to reach the right person within that organization of >50 people?
Frankly you should have done this before you started building anything
Otherwise, you need a way to sell to the Executive level folks (ie. sell like IBM and Oracle). If you operate in or have access to the social stratum of corporate bigwigs, use that. Otherwise, you can hire $$$ salesfolk who have that access, or target mid-level managers and play the procurement game.
If you are interested in government... Find a lobbyist with a clue.
Some organizations have had very good success with marketing channels such as SEO, cold calls and trade shows. I can also tell you stories of people who are very disappointed with the investments they've made in all of those channels.