Six Lessons on How Startups Can Sell to Enterprise

When Greg Malpass founded Traction on Demand in 2006, his goal was to make a bit of money and have some fun helping a small number of clients unite their sales and marketing teams.

Malpass toiled away alone at his small business for about four years before landing a big contract with CanPages, and was forced to hire a second employee on a short-term contract to help out.

Then the business exploded. More companies came calling, asking Traction to help set up and streamline their business on the cloud using Salesforce. Today, Burnaby-based Traction has more than 300 employees and is the number one Salesforce consulting partner in Canada.

The business has grown by no less than 60 per cent annually, Malpass says, with no outside investors and no debt. Traction has worked with more than 1,300 companies to date, including giants such as Bombardier, Telus, to name a few.

While the big contracts are rewarding and have been key to the company’s rapid growth, Malpass says the business plan aims for a mix of contract sizes.

“It’s not just about big deals. Big deals are risky. They take a lot of time and a lot of effort. It’s all about having them as part of a balanced portfolio,” Malpass told a crowd of entrepreneurs and investors at the BC Tech Summit this week.

Working with big companies can be daunting for startups. Malpass offered six lessons he’s learned as a small business selling to much larger enterprises.

Don’t forget about people

“People buy, companies pay,” Malpass says. He says startups need to think less about the sale and more about the person they’re selling to, and his or her needs.

“You’re trying to help an individual succeed in their role and function in that company. Usually, it’s more than one [person]. There are multiple stakeholders,” he says.

He urges startup sales teams to always be honest,transparent and have tough conversations early with the customer, if needed, to build trust over the long term.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

“One bite at a time,” Malpass says, adding that both sides need a bit of time to get to know each other.

“This is the beginning of a relationship. All great relationships start with dates. There is the occasionally the Vegas visit, but we all know how those typically turn out,” he says.

Ask for it

“So seldom do people ask for the deal or the opportunity,” Malpass says.

Even if you hear a “no,” ask what else there is and show a genuine interest.

Embrace your differences

Malpass says Traction is a bit “off the cuff” and not as buttoned-up as some of its competitors.

“We say it like it is and will be who we are,” he says. “That is a refreshing difference for our customers.”

Be predictable

Malpass says too often he’ll see business relationships start strong and then wane with missed appointments and phone calls.

“Every single interaction you have with the organizations that you are hoping to sell to are representations that are positive or negative,” he says. “Either you are demonstrating that you will follow through and meet every commitment that you have with that organization—or you will demonstrate exactly the opposite.”

Malpass says each interaction is an indicator to buyers of the kind of client you’ll be.

Never work for free

“We’re all good Canadians. We want to help people out and invite them to try our services and give us a shot,” Malpass says.

However, he warns that could devalue your services. It also changes the economic contract, often for the worse. Malpass says his business learned this the hard way when working with some nonprofits. Working for free cost Traction on Demand tens of thousands of dollars in time and resources. However, when they charged for their services, the cost plummeted.

Malpass says that’s because the work was taken more seriously, there was increased accountability and more time saved.

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