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How startups should sell to the enterprise

CIOs sound off at DEMO Fall 2013 about the best – and worst – ways to establish business with them.

By , Network World
October 18, 2013 10:23 AM ET

Network World - DEMO is all about startups pitching their new products, but a panel discussion on Thursday turned the tables, with CIOs telling startups what they can do to win business in the enterprise.

The panel was moderated by CITEWorld editorial director Matt Rosoff and featured Dish Network CIO Mike McClaskey, BDP International global CIO Angela Yochem, EchoSign co-founder Jason Lemkin, and Workday strategic CIO Steven John.

Citing the growing reach of technology into new departments of the enterprise, Lemkin warned that buying decisions for technology all eventually come back to the CIO. Even though other areas of the company may make small or even moderately sized purchases, CIOs may take note of the vendors that circumvent them when making the sale, and could block them from any future business. What seems like a short-term win could turn out to be a long-term problem.

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However, some startups have been able to sell to enterprise customers after taking an alternative route. Yammer, for example, was mentioned during the panel as a company that gained traction with lower-level employees, often without the knowledge of the CIO. Once Yammer started to attract attention from executives, it embraced CIOs and scaled to meet their needs, satisfying both an enterprise customer’s users and decision makers.

Similarly, McClaskey mentioned the opportunity afforded through consumer technology outlets, such as the Google Play and Apple App Stores. Almost all CIOs use multiple devices that access these outlets, and if they come across a potentially useful enterprise technology while using a personal device, they’re more likely to seek more information about it later on.

Flexibility was mentioned as a key aspect for startup companies that are lucky enough to land large customers early on. McClaskey cited two cases in which Dish opted to work with startups. One of the most important aspects of the relationships was the younger companies’ willingness to incorporate Dish’s input on the product. The startups’ product development teams worked directly with Dish to help adjust aspects of the product to accommodate their needs. This is important not only to sustain business with early customers, but to help attract new customers in the future. 

Lemkin cited the importance of use cases and references when trying to attract customers as a young company. Those that are willing to adapt in order to establish strong relationships early on will be more likely to build similar relationships with new customers.

The panel also discussed the importance of maintaining trust with customers and other connections throughout the IT industry. John cited trust as a main factor in all business decisions, from engaging in new business to hiring employees. Decision makers in large enterprises are more likely to side with people who they can trust, whether that trust comes directly from previous business or from word-of-mouth recommendations from others in the industry.

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