Enterprise Sales

#Enterprise Sales

“We didn’t present to senior management when there were wires and filthy circuits.”
-Edmand Sharita, Founder of Kamata, Africa Prize shortlist

Enterprise sales are at the core of many businesses. If enterprises say no, the business fails. Kamata, Totohealth, and Chura are three East African startups which all faced this problem. They learned that whether you’re partnering with a state owned electricity company, a university, or a major telecom, it’s essential to make sure you approach them at the right moment and in the right way to succeed.

##Establishing a Relationship with an Enterprise

“Number one, it’s always a hard sell without examples of what you’re trying to sell.”
-Felix Kimaru, Co-founder of Totohealth, Africa Prize shortlist

Totohealth, a company using text messages to improve natal care, quickly discovered that governments and counties are fairly conservative and were reluctant to invest in them before they had a proven product. This created a chicken and egg problem. They needed a functioning product to sell to governments, but they couldn’t create a functioning product without governments agreeing first.

They solved this by beginning with establishing a relationship with Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya. The university backing gave them enough credibility to work with local county governments and prove their product’s viability. Felix knew Strathmore were more likely to agree as they already working in natal care.

The connection Totohealth needed was already right there. So while contacting counties throughout Kenya would have presented a long road to proving to them this product was possible, Strathmore was right there and ready to listen.

Chura, on the other hand, had to deal with an even less accessible group: Kenyan telecoms. Their system of trading mobile money and minutes between carrier networks required the telecoms to work, but the telecoms weren’t going to simply agree right away.

Their solution was to just create their airtime-exchange network - using access that was designed for airtime resellers - and ask for permission later. Once the service was launched in its early form, there was always a risk that the telcos would shut them down. However, at the same time, this was the time they were using to prove their viability.

When Chura lauched, they were able to get good media attention, and build up a customer base.

“I’d say in terms of interacting with large organizations, for us it works when you already have a product rather than only an idea. Then it’s easier to get your idea to them and see what you need to work with them will be easier.”
-Samuel Njogu, Co-founder of Chura

One of the telecoms that had the most restrictive access policy got in touch. To Chura’s surprise, it wasn’t to shut them down, but to ask why transactions on their network had a lower limit than the others.

The Chura founders met with senior executives of the telco to explain. The limit wasn’t on Chura’s side, but on the telco’s. The execs, seeing the benefits Chura offered them, made sure that limit was lifted.

As the telecoms took notice, Chura was already successful enough to negotiate and establish a good relationship.

This made an enormous difference in establishing a more equal relationship with the telecoms instead of a classic ‘David and Goliath’ kind of setup. By starting things off this way, Chura was able to meet with senior telecom employees instead of having to move up the chain.

“It becomes difficult, you may have a good relationship with them, we were lucky to have a Senator coming to our office and that helped us be legitimate.”

  • Felix Kimaru, Co-founder of Totohealth, Africa Prize shortlist

For Totohealth and Chura, establishing a relationship with an enterprise began with starting their business first to establish legitimacy. This meant that they could begin their enterprise relationships as an established and legitimate company, and develop them much faster.

##Building a Relationship with an Enterprise

“You need quality, when you’re producing for a big company you need trust. If I lose the trust of my big client, I lose my business.”
-Edmand Sharita, Founder of Kamata, Africa Prize shortlist

Edmand Sharita and his team had a slightly different set of problems in working with an enterprise. That’s because their product, a device to detect theft of electricity, was designed to be sold only to the Ugandan national electricity carrier, Umeme Power. In addition, because of the technical aspects of this device, the cooperation of Umeme Power was absolutely necessary.

“They said ‘we don’t do R&D.’”
-Edmand Sharita, Founder of Kamata, Africa Prize shortlist

Sharita approached the carrier early on, taking a different approach than Chura or Totohealth had. He was told that Umeme Power doesn’t do these sorts of things and that he should approach building his device from a different angle. His first contact from Umeme was busy, and seemed to be pushing Edmand away, but still supportive in some way, offered advice. Edmand was told to go to an incubator and when he did, his contact at Umeme offered their time to help him develop a product which could work.

“Whatever stuff they were giving to us was confidential to them but was helping us to work further on the product. Giving it to us enables us to design a system to best fit what was existing. If they were delaying us they would tell us this is not workable and we would back off.”
-Edmand Sharita, Founder of Kamata, Africa Prize shortlist

Once again, the enterprise here was very conservative and only willing to give small bits of support until it was certain where Sharita’s project would go.

After several months developing his device to work in field tests, he was able to ask management of his university incubator to arrange a demonstration with Umeme’s senior management.

He may have approached the company early on, but he needed senior management to trust his legitimacy so they’d pay for a pilot project. The result was that the senior management team ordered 100 units on the spot. Sharita was only able to produce ten at that point, but that was enough and the relationship changed from advisor to customer.

##Starting from a Point of Legitimacy and Strength

In all three cases, it wasn’t necessary to know someone in the organization at first, but to establish legitimacy and start communicating from a position of strength and confidence. It also helped to always think about the variety of stakeholders in each organization. The Umeme employees that supported Sharita early on had very different goals than the senior management he talked to later. Even different telecoms that Chura worked with had different goals. Airtel, Safaricom and Orange all had different benefits for working with chura. Thinking about these from the beginning to make sure their pitches matched what each person in each enterprise was looking for helped these companies succeed.

Can you relate to the stories we told here? How is your experience different? We’d love to hear from you. Your questions and comments are what will help us make better lessons in the future.