Peo Persson is the co-founder and EVP of Sales at DanAds, the leading Swedish adtech scaleup. The company has seen rapid growth, thanks to a strong focus on landing US-based customers. DanAds now counts Tripadvisor, Bloomberg, Hearst Magazine, The Washington Post, Expedia Group and Roku among its clients. In this column, Peo explains his strategy for success.
Finding gold in the USA is not a new dream. But to be based in Sweden and be the partner of choice to some of the leading American companies on their home turf is no easy feat. The journey to signing a contract requires a lot of engagement and hard work. As a tech entrepreneur, the road to success has been far from straightforward.
How do you land a contract with an American Fortune 500 company? The short answer is that there’s no simple strategy, but I have made a few learnings along the way:
1. Find your unique niche and a clear gap in the market
It’s important to clearly demonstrate to the prospective client that your product and knowledge are assets that they can’t do without and can’t easily produce themselves. Show that you’re the only alternative available. Be clear about your role in the client’s ecosystem. As with all entrepreneurship it’s about making hard choices. If there’s an established American competitor with a similar offer, then it’s likely that you’ll lose the contract to them. Clients are looking for the most effective and least complicated solution.
2. Make sure the hygiene factors are in place
The deal will go nowhere if you need to expend too much effort convincing the client that your company is reliable, has the right knowledge and is the leader in your field. Make sure that the right competences and experience are established in the company before the first meeting even takes place. If you don’t have all the competences that you need in-house, don’t be afraid to contract some consultants to give your team some extra strength.
3. Tailor your offering
Many SaaS companies have a “one size fits all” philosophy, with the ambition of reinventing their client’s whole business from the ground up. Few Fortune 500 companies need or want that kind of change, and fewer still are open to the suggestion. In reality, companies that show how they can work with the client’s established business model and grow with it, those companies have a better chance of success. To use an analogy: everyone knows what a suit looks like, but it’s not possible to make one suit to fit every client, with the same measurements, materials, buttons, etc. Make sure to tailor your offering instead of convincing the client to change their mindset.
4. Do a deep dive into your client’s business and challenges
As important as finding your niche is finding your first client. The mistake many make is oversimplifying the problem and the reality of the client. Avoid narratives that explain to the client why their industry is doing badly and how you can save it. Your offering must build on more universal truths, like that the future craves a digital transformation and optimisation. It’s crucial to understand the client’s reality and their business in depth, ideally with concrete data.
Do the homework: learn everything about the client’s products, services, and the direction of their industry. Build a needs analysis with strengths and weaknesses: a clear case with what can be achieved. To be informed is key. It doesn’t work to go in with the plan to “demo your product” and focus on your own company in the first meeting. Instead, build your pitch with what you can do for the client and ask the right questions. Read annual reports, show that you know the business’s challenges, costs and how they have developed over the years. Make sure to understand how contracts are built, how they work and the steps in the process you need to take.
5. Invest serious time in each opportunity
Fortune 500 companies don’t take risks. They don’t want to see missed deadlines or find unpleasant surprises. Don’t promise more than you can deliver. Be aware that you must always deliver on your promises even if it can affect you negatively in the short term. Large companies place great importance on efficiency. They want direct answers to every question they send your way. Above all they want you to keep your end of the deal. As a company from Sweden you need to build a strategy for working during evenings (to bridge the time gap) during negotiations and information sharing.
6. Don’t underestimate the legal process
Large companies have their own legal departments that need to sign off on all contracts that the company agrees to. It can feel like you’re across the finish line, but in reality this is often only the start of a new process that can last several months. In the long run you’ll benefit from employing a consultant from the country where your prospect is based, and if you have the opportunity to do so it is wise to build several agreement templates for different countries and laws, especially in the UK and USA. Most large companies will want to include clauses that give them the right to cancel the contract without reason, which makes it important for you to include cancellation reimbursements.
Don’t expect immediate success. To understand a large American company is to understand that there are several decision makers in every stage of the negotiation process. Don’t be surprised if a long list of questions shows up, even after you’ve answered those same questions earlier in the process. Behind each person you meet, there are multiple teams affected by your product or service. Be patient.
If you do manage to sign a deal with a Fortune 500 company, you’ll be rewarded with a reference client, and that alone holds greater value than all the advice provided above in your next negotiation. Good luck.