How to overcome the “your startup is too small” objection

by Steli Efti
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You’ve managed to impress a roomful of enterprise-level executives. They love your product. They share your vision. And they laughed at the cat joke you practiced all morning.

But during the Q and A, someone says, “We’re not sure you can handle the work. What happens if you’re sick? Who’s going to take over?”

Many startups get asked this question, especially those with only one employee. Often, they pretend to be bigger than they are. They share photos from coworking spaces and change pronouns from “I” to “we”. Don’t do this.

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There are drawbacks to working with a small company, but there are also tons of advantages. So when a prospect objects to your size, how can you convince them that one person is all they need?

Start with these three advantages:

They get your undivided attention

Customers want daily access to an industry expert and that’s exactly what you can provide. You won’t delegate to junior associates and interns.

You might say something like:

“When you work with me, you’re getting [X] years of experience. Before I started this company, I was the [senior position] at [big company]. I’m a leader in this field. I’m the person you can rely on. I’ll be in every meeting. I’ll answer every email.”

Larger vendors can’t make that promise. The people doing the actual work are rarely the ones customers meet during sales pitches and status calls.

They get agility

Large organizations take forever to solve problems. They have departments and committees. They schedule recap meetings because Barry was out of town.

By the time a solution gets approved, customers have ninety other things to worry about.

As a one-person company, you don’t need departmental approval. You can make decisions quickly and solve problems in a fraction of the time. You can change course without ever consulting Barry.

Customers can be sure that everyone involved knows exactly what’s going on. There are no breakdowns in communication, like you often see with larger organizations. There’s no need to play telephone. Nobody misses memos or updates.

Plus, you’re flexible. They can call, text, email, or stop by the office. Whatever’s easiest for them. There’s no need to coordinate schedules. You’re ready when they are.

They get influence

You’re giving them an opportunity to create their dream vendor.

You don’t have a 100-page processes and procedures binder. There’s no rule against switching things up. You welcome new ideas because that’s how partnerships flourish.

Come right out and say:

“We’ll design a game plan that works for you. If there’s a certain way you’d like to see reports—or there’s a feature we need to customize—I’m all ears.”

Listen to their product notes and service suggestions. Use their feedback to generate a roadmap for success. They’ll be more invested if they have influence on the end result.

You don’t need to close everybody

In the early days, not everyone will want to be your customer. If they’re not comfortable working with a startup, it’s not a big deal. Reconnect once you’re more established.

For now, focus on pre-qualifying potential customers. Sell only to the companies who are excited (and culturally ready) to partner with a small startup. 

Make sure they understand the benefits discussed above. Ask questions like, “What characteristics do you value in a vendor?” and “What were some challenges when you worked with other companies?” to determine whether they’re a good fit.

Maybe a few enterprise-level prospects will qualify, but on Day 1, most are going to be small and mid-sized businesses. That’s okay. There’s always room to grow. You have to start somewhere.

Three tactical pieces of advice

As you think about your response, consider the following ways to project even more confidence.

Create an objection management document

You need to answer this objection in a few concise sentences. Be transparent about the risks, but spend most of your time highlighting the advantages.

Here’s an example: 

“I understand why you’re asking, but there are risks with any vendor—large or small. Here are three things larger vendors can’t offer you: 1) the undivided attention of an industry expert, 2) agility and speed, and 3) direct influence over our product and the way we do business. Together, we can create a streamlined, mutually beneficial partnership that’s ready for the future. What do you think?”

How you answer this objection is more important than what you say. Maintain eye contact and smile. Confidence comes with repetition so practice your response regularly.

Share your growth strategy 

Take the time to outline your own roadmap for success. If you’re planning to hire ten people in the next twelve months, let them know. Remind them that every company—even the one they work for—started with one or two people. For now, they’ll have exclusive access to your talents. One day, they might not be so lucky.

Offer a money-back guarantee 

You can always take risk out of the equation. Give them the power to decide whether you’re delivering value. If they’re not happy after 30 or 60 days, they can get their money back. This might be enough to convince early prospects to jump on board, after you’ve outlined all the other reasons they should be working with you.

There’s a reason why they’re at the table

Most companies won’t be surprised you’re a one-person operation. They do their research. They know you’re not traded on the NYSE. But they took the meeting anyway because there are good reasons to work with you.

When they say, “You might be too small for us,” they’re really saying that they’re afraid to make a mistake.

Just remind yourself that you have a place at the table, too. It’s not a mistake to talk to you. You have a solution. You have experience and expertise. You have skills. You have a way to get them what they want. Yes, you’re a one-person startup, but you can help their company succeed.

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