Getting “Techcrunched” or “Mashabled” can be a great thing for a startup – more signups, more traffic, and more interest from potential customers. From an entrepreneur’s perspective, it also means he or she probably won’t be answering the phone for the next few days or getting anywhere in the vicinity of inbox zero for the next few days, because every sales guy out there is moving in with a slick powerpoint and a reason why they’re a critical “partner”. It’s hard not to get lost in the shuffle, even if you execute perfectly.
I’ve been on both sides of the fence, and I understand how you feel. This post is my attempt to help you deliver a more compelling message. The truth is, most of the approaches we entrepreneurs get suck hard. It’s critical to get into your prospect’s mindset. If you haven’t read what startups are really like, I strongly suggest you do so. That said, here are three things I’d suggest you keep in mind as well when you do approach a potential startup like ours:
1. “Gatekeepers”. I hate to break it to you, but you’ve been mislead when it comes to gatekeepers. You’ve been told to “be nice” since they’re there to protect the CEO from you. Don’t kid yourself; you’re not that important. They’re really there to support the boss’ decision making. I guarantee you every CEO you’ve pitched has asked his assistants what they think of your message. Not what they think of you as a person, but what they think of your message. If the response is “it’s stupid”, you’re done. Said another way: sometimes you’d be surprised who is really making the call to work with you. Be useful and helpful to them instead – give them good info. Connect them to others who can help. And of course, do your homework first.
2. Work for me. This probably sounds odd, but the most successful deals I’ve struct with biz dev or sales people are those where they’ve indirectly worked for me. The best way to sell me is to introduce me to customers who buy from me too and introduce me to analysts who cover my startup. In short, be an extension of my sales team as well, which makes it very comfortable to deepen a relationship.
3. That said, you’re not here to “partner”. It’s like that oh-so wonderful feeling of sharing an elevator with a person wearing too much cheap perfume. “We want to partner with you” sounds cliche and ridiculous. If you’re pitching me, you’re not trying to partner, you’re trying to convert me into a paying customer. Nothing wrong with that, but man up to it. I’d far prefer “I’d love to have you on board as customer if and when it makes sense. Just keep me in mind if you ever run into <insert problem you solve here>”. Play it right, and I won’t try to avoid you next time I see you. That’s a great first step to a “yes”.
In summary, don’t pitch us, bro. Instead, quid pro quo: help us startup guys succeed and we’ll help you succeed.
Best of luck!