How startups can win corporate clients

Around 70% of fast-growth companies are B2B. Which means those businesses depend on securing contracts from larger companies to pay the bills, scale and give investors the exits they are looking for.

I’ve worked both sides of the fence. I spent most of my career at Unilever, where in 2014 I set up The Foundry, its global platform for collaborating with startups. After leaving, I started my own agency, Co:cubed, which has worked with businesses like Adidas, Vodafone and Sainsbury’s.

So, I know exactly what it’s like to be in the seat of power, running the rule over an eager startup. And I know exactly what it’s like to pitch a proposition to a company much bigger than you. 

Give a why-what-how pitch

Meetings and presentations help to define your reputation and ultimately grow your business. Nail it and a world of opportunity opens up. Fail and investors ask hard questions, cash gets tight and employees get nervous.

I sat through hundreds of startup presentations at Unilever. Many resulted in businesses piloting their technology with Unilever’s billion-euro brands. The most powerful pitches followed a similar structure: why, what and how.

It’s such a simple framework, yet you’d be amazed at how many pitches fall short and fail to show the true potential of the idea. So here’s a model for your future pitch success:

Why

The big brands will want to know why your startup or tech exists – not just what it does. You need to tell the story of a consumer or brand, and communicate how the change you’re inspiring will help to solve that problem. Telling them about the human challenge that exists provides context that people can relate to. 

What

So now you’ve got them interested. At this point, explain your idea or solution. Give them the detail they need to understand whether it will work and provide value for them – but don’t overwhelm them. They can always ask questions if they need more information.

How

In the last section, explain how your idea applies to the real world. In other words, how will it solve the consumer or brand challenge you’ve presented? 

Hopefully, they will want to hear what your journey together will look like. They will need confidence that you can succeed and that you have the capability, team and partners to provide everything you’re promising.

Ultimately, corporates need to be excited and recognise that what you’re offering will bring something to the business that they don’t have. As an end goal, it needs to deliver shareholder value through revenue growth or cost and time-reducing efficiencies. 

Startups are often great at the “what”, but struggle with the “why” and the “how”. For me, those elements are just as crucial as the tech or solution itself. Don’t neglect them or your idea might be lost on your audience

Look out for startup perks

Many corporates have innovation hubs, which can help you to understand a bit more about the company. Once you’ve found the right person to talk to, ask about their onboarding process and payment terms. 

The good corporates will have simplified contracts for smaller businesses and startup-friendly payment practices. I’ve heard so many horror stories, so find out what you can early on. That way, you know exactly what you’re getting into. 

In summary, the why-what-how approach to pitching helps to give the context that corporates are looking for. You want them to leave the room understanding the problem that millions of people are experiencing, what your startup can do it about it and how exactly you’ll do it. 

Jeremy Basset is CEO of boutique innovation agency Co:cubed, which launched GoPartner.com for startups to rate and review their corporate partners.

Jeremy Basset

Jeremy Basset

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