In episode 8 of the Start it @KBC podcast, we unravel the secrets of successfully selling to corporates. How should startups approach large companies and what’s the key to closing a deal? Our community manager Magali invited two entrepreneurs who know all about it: Brecht Kets of Play it Safe, the game based learning platform for safety and prevention, and Steven Everaert of retail data platform Impaqtr.
Brecht is co-founder and CEO of Play it Safe, an online platform that uses games to effectively educate employees about safety and prevention. Brecht still remembers the first sale he made with Play it Safe: “It was a very fast sale, that happened through one of our partners. We had worked on that partnership for over a year and the first client deal was closed in about 3 weeks. It was a big corporate, with about 1.000 employees.”
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The first step: building a relationship
Both entrepreneurs agree that convincing a corporate about the benefits of your product starts with intuition. “Your intuition tells you how to approach a potential client”, Brecht says. “You need to talk to them in order to find out about their problems and needs. Ask questions and see if you can solve those problems.”
“It’s mostly about building a relationship, and that takes time”, Brecht continues. “Find out how the company works, what they struggle with, who the stakeholders are and so on. Build a relationship so that they can trust you. I think that’s the biggest issue with corporates.”
Steven agrees that building a relationship with corporates is crucial: “There’s not one person that represents the entire company. Some people are in favour of your product, some are against, they have different opinions and visions. It’s important to get the right person in front of you, someone who’s on the same level as you and has the power to makes the decisions. You have to do your homework.”
“One of the most difficult processes in sales is defining the budget, the decision makers, the need and the timing”, says Brecht. “Your idea may be interesting, but when there’s no sense of urgency, there’s basically no project. If we look at ourselves, our biggest mistake was we were afraid to ask the right questions.”
There’s no step by step guide to make the first contact with a large enterprise, Brecht explains. “We prefer a first phone call, before a meeting. And we always try to arrange a meeting with all relevant stakeholders there. At Play it Safe, we ask for someone from prevention, the CFO or someone with decision power on financials and the head of HR. From there on, it’s case by case.”
Match or no match?
Startups are ambitious and tend to be very eager to sell to big enterprises. But sometimes you have to be honest with yourself and admit that there’s just no match. “It’s a mistake many startups make”, Brecht says. “And so did we. One time, we thought we had a deal but in the last minute it bounced. They weren’t ready on a technical level. We saw that from the beginning, but we kept looking for solutions. Eventually we ended up losing way too much time, without a deal.”
“Expectation management is crucial, especially for startups”, he adds. “Corporates want to see corporate things, like timelines, a clear budget, references and credibility. But startups need to define their expectations too. After a meeting, tell your client what the ideal next step is. If you’re not getting there in the next two or three meetings, don’t let them keep you busy.”
Underpromise and overdeliver
If you want to sell your product, you have to be your own biggest fan. “You have to be confident”, Steven says. “Believe in your startup and tell your client why you do so. Show them how it will help them to do their job better. With Play if Safe, we can train people 4 times faster and they will remember it 30% better. Our mission is to save lives with games. That’s very clear. We give clients our roadmap, we show them our vision. We’re very transparent. It’s our baby, our future, and they can be part of that future.”
“In the first phase of a startup, your co-founders are the best people to sell your product to, because they strongly believe in it” Brecht says. “When you are selling your idea, don’t just talk about people what you have built so far. Show your confidence and tell them what you will be building in the coming 6 months as well.”
Brecht: “You need to gain your prospect’s trust, but also be trustful yourself. Promise what you deliver and deliver what you promise. Or even better: try to underpromise and overdeliver. Try to be harsh on your team. Tell them where you are going and what needs to be better, because you want to overdeliver. Start with your own attitude, by being very critical.
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This podcast was made possible thanks to our strategic partners – KBC, Telenet, Cronos group, Accenture, Mobile Vikings, Flanders DC, Joyn, Imec and Universiteit Antwerpen.
Subscribe to the Start it @KBC podcast now and don’t miss a single episode! Have you listened to the previous episodes? In episode five, we invited Peter Wellens, ceo of the contextual messaging app Chestnote, to listen to his remarkable startup story. Episode six was all about digital marketing for startups, with Bert Van Wassenhove, managing partner of The CoFoundry and founder of Think with People, and Anneleen Hansen, marketing manager of Apicbase. Episode seven, with Koen Schrever (Bolero Crowdfunding) and Peter-Jan Brone (SettleMint) was all about Funding.