The 7 essential rules for successful enterprise sales for startups!

by Steli Efti

Enterprise_Skyscrapers

Enterprise sales is a very unique territory with its own playbook, and it's really important to get to know the rules of the game. Here are the seven essential startup rules for successful enterprise sales.

Rule #1: Expect long sales cycles

It can take 6 to 18 months between establishing the first contact and closing a deal.

Rule #2: Realize deals might fall apart (even if you do everything right)

In enterprise sales, you can lose a sale for a multitude of reasons you have zero control over:

  • the main person you're selling to leaves the organization
  • changes in the economy
  • changes in the corporate strategy
  • etc.

Rule #3: Sell to multiple stakeholders

No matter how high up the person is you're selling to, you need to sell to different groups of people within the enterprise, up and down the hierarchy, vertically as well as horizontally.

You need to understand different groups have different needs. And you need to cater to all these groups. Even if the CEO tells his team to buy your product, if you don't have buy-in from the IT department, you might make the sale but your product won't get implemented correctly and you'll lose that customer.

Rule #4: Don't underprice

Many startups breaking into enterprise sales want to offer heavy discounts or even do a freemium model. They (falsely) think that pricing will prevent an enterprise deal from happening.

Lowering the price of your product, or even giving it away for free, will diminish the perceived value and importance of the deal for the entire organization. "Free" isn't valued in the enterprise the way it is for consumers.

Rule #5: Decisions are made by employees, not "the company"

Employees don't necessarily make decisions that are in the best interest of the whole organization—they often make decisions that first and foremost benefit their own career. Keep that in mind when selling them on your solution/product.

Rule #6: Start doing enterprise sales before your product is ready

It takes a very long time to close an enterprise deal—so start as soon as possible. You don't need to present a perfect product.

All you need in the beginning is an idea. The first time you talk with them, you're not going there to make a sale, you're going there to get advice. Tell them you're developing something that could be really useful to them, and that you'd like their feedback and input as you develop things. 

Keep them in the loop and use the time it takes to develop your product to build a relationship and establish trust. That way, when you're ready to launch, some enterprise customers will hopefully be ready to buy.

Rule #7: Start mid-market. Move up

Gain some momentum in the SMB space and move upstream into the enterprise world as your product develops, your team grows and you establish the capability to service large enterprise customers.