My Take on Your B2B Sales Strategy: Don’t Start with Microsoft and/or Amazon.

I’m going to give you the answer to the test.  But first, lets take a walk down memory lane.  Earlier this year, in March to be exact, I listened to Bob Kelly, the corporate vice president of M&A strategy and business development at Microsoft, and a new advisory board member at 9Mile Labs, offer his perspective on trends in the startup market, noting that there is a “dirty secret” about the startups built in Silicon Valley versus those built in Seattle.

So, what’s the secret?  According to Mr. Kelly, “Silicon Valley startups typically gain early sales momentum because they sell to other startup or mid-tier companies in Silicon Valley.”  He continued, “but in Seattle — which lacks that sort of dynamic startup ecosystem and robust buying and selling environment —startups need to find real customers who fork out cash because the technology solves a real problem.” Details here.

On any given day, I meet a startup Founder & CEO who left his or her job at Microsoft or Amazon to start their own company.  More often than not, the startup Founder & CEO is solving a pain point in which they experienced at Microsoft or Amazon.  Name the problem: IT/security, HR, customer feedback & focus, enterprise technology innovation, sales and marketing disconnect, etc.  The list really does go on and on.

Now, lets fast forward.  The Founder & CEO understands the pain point and they have a solution that they are ready to sell into Microsoft or Amazon.  What they don’t have is a realistic understanding of the sales process, more specifically the sales cycle, and the time it’s going to take to actually close a deal with Microsoft or Amazon.

“If I only sell into Microsoft or Amazon, I’ll get lots of traction: feedback, introductions to channel partners.  I’ll close deals and be on my way!”

Think again.  The Founder & CEO has underestimated the sales cycle, which can be detrimental to his or her business.  The Founder & CEO continues to burn through cash like it grows on trees – primarily because they focused on the ‘big fish’ first.  Now they need raise outside capital, prematurely, because they’re running out of time.  The Founder & CEO put $40,000 into a savings account during their time at Microsoft or Amazon; they’ve burned through $5,000 a month for 8 months (doing startup stuff); their time is almost up because they’ve spent 6 of those 8 months trying to sell into one customer, and one customer alone: Microsoft and Amazon.

If you aren’t an ex-Microsoft or Amazon employee, good luck finding the decision maker in the enterprise, let alone finding the right contact who may or may not listen to your pitch.  I’d like to suggest starting smaller: Geekwire 200. The GeekWire 200 list is a ranked index of Pacific Northwest startups using publicly available data to identify the tech companies most popular and trending among key online communities. The ranking is generated each month from GeekWire’s Startup List, a comprehensive directory of the region’s tech startups (credit Geekwire).

Not every company on this list might be your customer.  That’s fine.  But utilize existing relationships to get introductions into these companies.  Remember, the less time it takes for your startup to close a deal, the better.  What does every investor want to see?  SALES!  The faster you can sell, the better.

Happy selling, my friends!

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