Whilst most startups are used to rapid iteration, when it comes to clients you need to be prepared to take it slower
One of the brilliant things about working in a startup environment is you can move very quickly. If you’re one of those companies that follows the startup mantra of ‘fail fast, fail often’, you can make huge strides in weeks or months that larger companies would take years to accomplish.
The truth is, however, that when you’re a company that, like Dressipi, depends on selling to other companies to grow, you can only progress as quickly as your customers. Even if you might be able to create a whole new product or refine an existing service in a matter of days or weeks, your customers probably can’t. It’s a challenge we’ve come up against time and again when working with big retail partners. Large companies have to move more slowly than startups – they have existing customer bases to keep happy and complex IT systems, that have been assembled over the years, to unpick.
It’s very easy to find this frustrating if you’re someone with an entrepreneurial frame of mind. By inclination, we are the kind of people who like to overcome obstacles – give us a problem and we’ll want to plough right through it in the minimum time possible. This could include finding neat solutions for applying metadata tags to every garment, collecting customer data in a way that makes them want to volunteer it or using data to help retailers predict purchasing and returns behaviour. Unfortunately, what a startup thinks is just part of their can-do attitude can come across to their customers as being pushy and impatient.
If, like us, you’re selling a service that needs to be integrated into an established business, you will need to learn to be patient. Sales cycles in the retail sector can be incredibly long. For Dressipi, it’s not unheard of for there to be a 12-18 month gap between starting talks with a new partner and going live with the service.
During this period, there can be an incredible amount of back and forth. You need to establish what is and isn’t possible with the customer’s systems and build relationships with the various bits of the business that will be using your product or service. And it is really important to find a champion for your service within each partner. It’s vital to build a partnership that truly works for both parties: that is much easier if there is someone on the other side who cares about its success as much as you do.
Showing patience also means learning when is the right time to push and when to leave things alone. You could, for example, make a hot lead go cold if you’re constantly on at them to move things forward when they need time to sell your idea to the various decision-makers in their company. If you make working with you seem like too much too soon, then they’ll back away, even if what you’re offering promises to benefit them in the longer term.
What we’ve learned is that good things do happen but they take their time to happen. We’ve often been in situations where our pipeline looks amazing – but none of those customers have been in a position to move forward for three or maybe six months. And then, like buses, three come along at once. At times like these it’s a question of sitting tight and finding the right balance in between being pushy and being keen.