How To Sell To Startups

Solve the marketing challenges of new companies by pitching the right ideas and products.

Government data shows about 450,000 companies are born each year in the U.S., yet half of those firms close their doors within five years of opening. Among the main reasons why: poor or unfocused marketing efforts. Here, as experts outline the promotional struggles that startup companies face, we offer up advice for combatting those challenges.

Cristian Worthington, CEO of MondoPlayer:

“Most startups focus entirely on product development before they pivot into marketing and brand-building. This is a mistake. Building a following for their mailing list, social media presence and blog takes a lot of time, unless they have a lot of money. I recommend they start these processes immediately, even if they don’t yet have a product to sell. It takes creativity and effort, but they’ll have a much more viable presence when it’s time to launch. It’s like compound interest: You make small deposits of time as you build toward a big payoff.”

The Solution: Focus on inexpensive but impactful items for startups still working on building their brand: colorful pens that match their brand colors as well as thermal drinkware and protective device cases they’ll use on a daily basis.

Sam Ahmed, PR & communications manager at Startupbootcamp:

“For many startups, budget is certainly the biggest challenge when considering investing in merchandise. Early-stage startups often operate with non-existing marketing budgets. They optimize their marketing outreach on activities that can be easily scaled and analyzed and require minimum monetary investment.”

The Solution: For startups that want solid results from their branded merch, choose inexpensive giveaways that include a call to action, such as a special promo code to use when contacting the company or requesting a product demo. It could also be a specific hashtag along with a request that recipients tweet or post photos using it.

Mandy McEwen, founder of Mod Girl Marketing:

“Startups don’t spend enough time and resources on a professional brand image. Competition is fierce these days. If their brand image doesn’t resonate with people, they’re fighting an uphill battle. They should spend the extra few hundred dollars and hire a professional graphic designer with a proven track record of modern branding.”

The Solution: Encourage small businesses to invest in a professional brand aesthetic, and make sure all products match that identity. Products should be PMS color-matched and sport their exact logo, with consistent contact information and social media handles. Pitch functional tote bags, fashion-forward fitted T-shirts and executive-style journals.

Brad Breininger, partner & strategist at ZYNC:

“Small businesses have to make sure their digital footprint is branded well. More and more people are going online to look for a product or service. Companies have to make sure their website is up and running, prospects can easily find them with search and their social media accounts are active. They have to drive potential customers through digital channels.”

The Solution: Make sure prospects and leads are headed to the right place with branded items they’re likely to use while online. Think device chargers, USB drives, speakers and headphones that have the company name, URL and social media handles.

Matt Osborn, senior marketing manager at Apruve:

“Lead generation and subsequent conversion for a small business are very large expenses. From Google AdWords, to list purchasing, to print advertising, it all costs a company thousands of dollars. Once a lead comes in, they need to be nurtured thoroughly to convert into a sale. After the initial contact or sale, companies should reach out with a unique gift of gratitude. Even if it’s small, it will generate positive feelings toward their brand and the business relationship.”

The Solution: Help your client turn leads into customers and retain current clients’ loyalty with quality branded gifts. Imprinted candy boxes keep the brand front-of-mind, while a personalized wine bottle with a message of appreciation generates goodwill. Also suggest including a spec sample of a new product in the gift package that could spark an eventual reorder.