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5 Strategies Startups Use to Win Over Major Clients

Startups in any industry have advantages due to their fresh industry perspectives and agility. Entrepreneurs enjoy the passion of these smaller businesses and partnerships. However, they often start at a disadvantage when pitching their services to major clients.

Startups lack the track record and stability compared to larger companies with proven reputations. What can startups do to win over company leaders? Here are a few strategies to close on major clients.

1. Carve a Niche

The first thing a startup should do is identify its niche and use that to wow the client. What does your small business do that the larger companies cannot? While established organizations typically have more employees and resources at their disposal, these companies inevitably have deficiencies that startups can take advantage of.

Research is necessary to find these gaps, but it can be a tremendous selling point to win over clients. One way to find gaps in the market is to see what works in other countries but hasn’t arrived at the startup’s location.

For example, bubble tea’s rise in the 1990s is an excellent example of entrepreneurs finding markets for existing international products. Entrepreneurs brought this drink from Taiwan to the U.S. and saw its rise in popularity nationwide. Boba has risen to a $3 billion market value in just three decades, with experts projecting $5.4 billion by 2032.

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2. Deliver an Unforgettable Pitch

Winning over major clients will require an unforgettable pitch, as startups must hit all the right notes when selling their services. The presentation should contain thorough market research and data points to provide facts and actionable insights for the company leaders.

One way to win over a large company is to focus the pitch on their organization. The company leaders will care less about what the startup has accomplished in the past because they want to know what services their new business partner will provide. While a startup’s recent accomplishments are noteworthy, the client will want to see what you can do for them. Emphasize researching the large company and becoming an expert on their operations.

Research will give startups a clearer idea of a company’s priorities and where they can best offer their services. For example, find the client’s goals for the near future and determine where the startup fits. A 2023 Gartner survey finds 14% of CEOs are prioritizing cost management — a 69% increase from 2022. This finding opens doors for startups if they specialize in this area.

3. Go the Extra Mile

Small businesses need big gestures to seal lucrative deals, so startups should go the extra mile. Demonstrating a desire to work with a particular client will wow them and make them more likely to accept your services.

One way to charm these future business partners is to surprise them with a gift. The startup should do its due diligence on the client’s leaders and look for clues what they like in company bios and professional publications. For example, the company president could mention their passion for food and beverages. Use this interest and gift them winery tour passes in your area to get them on board.

While this strategy might not pan out, the startup has established a solid relationship with the client. The company will likely seek another contract someday, so the startup can help itself by getting on the client’s good side now.

4. Leverage Innovation

Company leaders often look for the next big thing in their industry and want their business partners to do the same. Boldness stands apart from the crowd, so startups should leverage their innovation as much as possible. What technologies are you using that competitors don’t? Touting these tools gives startups a leg up because they make the client look better and inspire them to incorporate similar technology into their operations.

For example, a logistics company may seek new trucks for their fleet. A startup specializing in electric vehicles (EVs) could leverage their machines as the best solution for the delivery company. Their pitch would include EVs’ absence of tailpipe emissions, energy security and lack of maintenance. Their lower operating costs would help the bottom line and emphasize sustainability, making the startup a more attractive selection because of their innovation.

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5. Boast ESG Scores

Environmental consciousness is one way to leverage a company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) scores. While an ESG rating might not be a big deal to a startup, this metric demonstrates corporate responsibility and makes a company more palatable to investors. Financial institutions want solid environmental policies, diversity and responsible governance from startups before making critical decisions.

Startups should aim for an ESG score of 50 and higher to stand out among the large companies selling their services. While an ESG score of 70 is preferable, only a few companies reach this mark. Scoring 60 puts a startup ahead of Intuit, Cintas, Paychex and other large corporations on the stock market. Startups with solid ESG scores help the large company’s image of working with diverse suppliers and business partners.

Small Businesses Winning Over Big Clients

Pitching services to marquee clients is an uphill climb for startups, considering their limited track record, fewer resources and perceived instability. But entrepreneurs in any industry improve their chances if they employ the correct strategies.

The pitch should pull out all the stops and strongly demonstrate the startup’s unique value proposition. What can you do to help their bottom line? What technology separates you from competitors? These questions will go a long way in winning over big clients.

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