Friday, September 9, 2011

Lesson #90: Proper Business Etiquette for Startups

Being a startup requires you to pay extra special attention to proper business etiquette, to build trust with established companies and increase your odds of closing the deal.  Below are a few suggestions to help present you and your company in the right light.

Know Your Audience.  Whenever you are pitching somebody, you want to make sure what you are pitching is relevant to that business and that person.  For example, if you are selling a $200,000 CRM package, that is most likely only affordable to larger companies, so don't waste your time pitching it to smaller companies.  Or, if you are pitching cash management services, it is best to pitch that to a CFO, not a CEO.  And, in that cash management example, the CFO would be right for a smaller business, but maybe you would have more success with a Treasurer in a bigger business, that is closer to that topic in their day-to-day job.  Prioritizing your company calling lists, and your optimal executive targets therein, will save a lot of wasted time, both for you and your prospects.

Don't Harass Prospects.  There is nothing more annoying than the pesky salesperson that won't leave you alone, or is calling every other day looking for updates.  That is the sure way to kill a deal.  Understand the normal pace of business, and that getting a deal done can take months, or even years, depending on your product.  So, be sensitive to how frequently you are reaching out to a specific individual.  And, if you don't get any response from them after three tries (perhaps spread out over 3 to 6 weeks), move on to the next person.

Listen More Than You Talk.  Often times, the biggest mistake an enterpreneur has is having "diarrhea of the mouth", sharing their vision and rambling on about the features and functionalities of their product or service.  It is much better to go into a meeting with your ears wide open, not your mouth.  Ask probing questions that will help you better learn the exact needs of your prospective client.  Then, once you know exactly what they are looking for, pound home the key assets of your business which directly address their sweetspot.

No Bravado--Be Respectful.  Yes, I know, us entrepreneurs are all changing the world with the hottest new product or service that is going to revolutionize the way business is done.   It is good to have excitement and confidence.  But, sometimes, that gets dangerously close to arrogance or a know-it-all attitude, which can immediately put off the other party.  You need to respect that the person across the table has years of experience in their industry, does not want to be perceived as being stupid or out of touch on current trends and certainly does not want to be embarrassed in front of their boss (in case they are in the room).  You got the meeting for a reason, they must have liked what they saw at first glance.  So, ease up on the machismo and focus on learning and serving their needs!

Work Towards the Middle.  The worst negotiating position a startup can have is "take it, or leave it".  As a startup, you really don't have as much leverage as you think you have.  The bigger company always has the best cards at the negotiating table, and they are pros at using them.  And, they want to think they are getting the best deal they possibly could (just like you).  So, always do your best to negotiate towards the middle, and only dig in on the really important things.  Be sure to re-read Lesson #39 on The Art of Negotiation.

Manage Your Social Footprint.  Companies will research everything and anything about a startup before they cut a deal, since they don't want to make a mistake or "get in bed" with the wrong player.  That includes researching the executives' social footprints on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and otherwise.  So, keep your tweets and posts clean and professional at all times, and consistent with the image you have presented to them to date.  As an example, I have shut off my wall on Facebook, so I won't be associated with anyone posting inappropriate information that is not in line with my personal brand image.  So, no crazy pictures of you engaged in drunken revelry with your friends!

Dress The Part.  Always research the dress code of the other party and dress equal to or better than they do.  You never want to show up in jeans to a company that works in business casual.  The better you dress, the more professional you will come across, increasing the confidence of the other party in doing business with you.  So, hide the tattoos, take out the piercings and polish up your wingtips.  Remember, intangibles, like the way you present yourself, really matter.

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