The following appeared on the Virgin Startup blog in July 2015:
At Virgin StartUp we proudly celebrate female entrepreneurs. Through our commitment to diversity and events such as Virgin #WOW we’ve seen the number of women receiving loans increasing and increasing – in May, we reached a point where we the number of women receiving Virgin StartUp loans was the same as the number of men.
However, the gender gap is still a problem generally across the small business landscape. If women were starting businesses at the same rate as men, the UK would have an additional one million businesses – a sobering statistic that shows there’s still lots of work to be done to level the playing field. A vital part of this is giving female entrepreneurs resources and training.
WEConnect International is a corporate-led non-profit that helps build economic growth by empowering women business owners to succeed in global markets. Here’s their advice for female entrepreneurs looking to pitch to a corporate buyer. And if you’re interested in learning from experts at Marks and Spencer, Ocado, and more about how to get your products stocked by them, why not find out more about our Doing Business With Big Business event?
The common advice given to entrepreneurs when pitching to a corporate buyer is to be confident and persistent. However, this is only part of the equation. Confidence must be informed by research and preparation, and persistence is only a virtue when an entrepreneur has a relevant solution.
Before you pitch your product or service to a corporate buyer, you must evaluate what specific problem you can solve for the potential buyer. What does the corporation do? What does it need? How is your product or service unique, and what is the value-add – cost savings, customisation, excellent after-service care? The answers to these questions will provide the basis of a 60-second pitch to be shared with a potential buyer.
During pitch meetings, if you’re confident and demonstrate that you’ve done your research, you’re likely to engage a buyer and start a broader conversation. This does not mean that you’ll make a deal on the spot; instead, it’s an opportunity to hear directly from a buyer about what they think is needed by their corporation. The buyer’s feedback is a very important opportunity to ensure the solution pitched is as relevant as possible. Business is about relationships. If you’re persistent at the expense of listening to what a buyer has to say, you may be turning a “No for now,” into a “Never.”
After the initial contact with a buyer is made, it’s time to prioritise and follow up. You must ask yourself: is this a good lead? If yes, make sure all materials are polished and up-to-date before sharing them with the potential buyer, and follow up as the buyer requested. It is crucial that you track progress with the buyer. You can also ask for feedback from the buyer on how to improve the solution in order to meet the needs of the corporation. By being open to feedback and putting follow-up dates in your calendar with notes, you can ensure that you’re contacting the buyer in a constructive way that can also improve the pitch for next time.
An example of this in action is Anna Louise Simpson who turned Mama Tea, a pregnancy tea brand, into Simpsons Tea. In its early stages, Mama Tea definitely piqued buyers’ interest but they also found it to be too niche. Through WEConnect International corporate member buyer connections, Anna was encouraged to develop a new product line that would be more attractive, specifically to hotels.
She did just that. Simpsons Tea now offers designer tea blends and provides tea ranges that feature in some of the world’s top hotels, including Marriott International branded hotels.
“The Marriott Group has transformed my business and their ongoing support and business will push it to high growth this financial year,” says Anna. “We supply some of the top Marriott hotels in London, including London Grosvenor House Hotel and West India Quay.”