Leila Blacking is the senior strategy team leader for innovation at Publix Supermarkets, a Fortune 100 grocery retailer. She has been on the receiving end of hundreds of pitches by small businesses seeking Publix’s business, including food businesses, logistics companies and tech startups. Her advice can help a small business present their best case when pitching for the business of any enterprise company. Let’s hear what she has to say.
So you have a great product and you have some success under your belt. You want toyou’re your product or service in [fill in the blank large company]. How do you get that meeting?
While some of the advice may seem obvious, Blacking says, she sees the same mistakes being made again and again. “So it’s all about getting the blocking and tackling right so that you’re ready for that touchdown,” said Blacking, who shared her advice at the Synapse Converge Florida conference this week. I attended the presentation and will share some of her best advice for our GrowBiz readers
She said the first thing to remember is that many enterprise companies are bombarded by cold calls – not a good approach, she says – and emails every single day. As innovative as you might think your product is, they have likely seen something like it – or already have something like it. So they’re going to be asking themselves, why should they take a chance on you?
Unless you have a super differentiated, unique product – which is rare — you need to be able to make the case that you can execute to their scale and you will make it as easy as possible for them.
IS IT WHAT YOU WANT?
If you have a product that they want and significant executions under your belt to show that you’re ready to execute to their scale, or you have something so differentiated and unique that they’re willing to spend the time working with you and make concessions to their typical vendor pipeline, congratulations. But the next question to ask yourself is, is doing business with a large enterprise company the right step for you? That’s because you’ve got to be strategic with your time and you’ve got to choose companies that are a good fit. So how big is the company you’re planning to pitch to and are you ready to go to their scale because if you’re not, maybe you should try somewhere else first in order to fine tune your operations.
PREPARE, PREPARE, PREPARE
If you’ve determined you’re ready to go for it and you are the right fit, nothing beats the hard grind of thorough preparation, Blacking said. First impressions are everything, and it’s all about credibility. So now you have to set about establishing your credibility. You need to be google-able and you need to have a great website and LinkedIn profile because chances are your enterprise company is going to check you out before it even agrees to meet with you, she said.
Next, know your audience and who you’re going to be pitching to. Speaking from personal experience, she said she has received many emails and first approaches that lacked even basic research. Don’t do this.
Make sure your product is ready. If you’re a tech company, it helps to have ready made integrations with all the big players, because chances are your enterprise prospect uses them. And it’s always great if you can be named called by Gartner and other credible IT publications. You also need to think about getting your product ready if it’s a food product. And the more stores, you can support the better. It takes pretty much the same effort for Public to put a product into 10 stores or 1,000, she said.
And as for Publix, she said, that’s not to say it doesn’t take products that can only go into a handful of stores. “Remember, if you can’t do scale, you need to do differentiation. So typically, the more stores you’re able to serve up front, probably the better.”
Publix has a vendor portal that already provides a lot of the comprehensive info on what you’re going to need to do to prepare for a meeting, especially for new products. There are no shortcuts, you really do have to fill in all of that information. But the more that you can do up front, the more that shows that you are serious about doing business with Publix or any other company.
BE PITCH PERFECT
So you got a meeting? Congratulation. Now the real work begins — preparing for the pitch itself. It’s likely that there are going to be scheduled alongside other companies presenting the same day so you are likely not going to be able to get into the meeting room to set up. Your presentation needs to be plug and play.
She also advises, always have a plan B for technology fails. Minimize the likelihood of anything going wrong. “I personally recommend that you don’t have any live links or URLs in your presentations, eliminate the need for WiFi unless you really have to because you can’t depend on guest WiFi.”
“As for video, my personal recommendation is don’t use them,” she said. There’s almost always issues with playback, and it eats into your presentation time. “I would say bring great quality business cards and handouts — some kind of leave-behind always helps, whether it’s a handout from your presentation or a brochure. to remind them of what they saw. They may have seen 10 pitches that afternoon.
“If you’re presenting a product, always bring it packaged and shelf ready. We want to see what it’s going to look like on the shelf. And if it’s not ready that also tells us that you’re not game time ready,” she said.
Practice, practice, practice to stay within the time limit for your pitch, leaving at least a third of the time for questions and making those important personal connections. Practice everything from your 30-second elevator speech right up to the 20 minute pitch (or whatever length they request).
ARE YOU THE BEST PERSON TO PITCH? BE HONEST
So here’s the $64,000 question, are you really the right person to pitch your product? You might be the CEO, maybe you invented the product and you know more about it than anyone else, but do you present really well? So, it’s all about self awareness. If you are not the best pitcher,, maybe you need your second in command or business development person to do the talking.
Practice your pitch, get honest feedback from a mentor, and if you don’t have one find one. There are great consultants at Small Business Development Centers (such as Florida SBDC at FIU) and small business incubators and they can help you fine tune your ask.
Know your numbers backwards — current sales, your volume capabilities, how much can you scale your margins, your pricing versus your competitors, etc. It’s really important to be honest in the meeting about what you can and cannot do.
CASH FLOW IS KING
Also be honest with yourself about your cash flow situation. Do you have access to fast credit because if you suddenly do get a big contract, you may need to go to scale up quickly. So if you’re pitching a product to Publix for example, think about where and how it could be merchandised in the store. Think also about the investment that you can make in marketing support your product to introduce it to customers. Can you sample it in the stores? How are you going to help market your product to make it stand out? Another really important question to ask is how are you going to deliver your product? Ask yourself if you need, and if you can afford, a broker or distributor and be prepared to discuss that, she said.
Finally, maybe it’s all gone spectacularly well for you and the answer is yes –, that’s fantastic. But if the answer is no, be graceful and respect the decision because no today could become yes later on. Whatever you do, don’t try and reach around your contact to get a different answer. Enterprise companies are big, but they’re also small — you don’t want to do that. Ask for feedback and grab yourself a mentor to work on your challenges – and the next time could be a “yes.”