I recently spoke to a group of entrepreneurs in Minneapolis, where I shared strategy, tips and techniques for successfully approaching large organizations with their inventions and cutting-edge breakthroughs. The group was made up of inventors, investors, serial entrepreneurs, corporate business developers and others who support the incubation of innovation.
As we were gathering, I introduced myself around and listened carefully to their challenges and frustrations. What was striking was how much grassroots innovation was present, and how hard people have worked to find those in larger organizations who might benefit from their work. Most had worked hard to get a first meeting, and most had not met success.
In my Fortune 100 background I had opportunities to bring in, build organically and spin out products and processes. Out of that experience came a group of tools, techniques and practices that are useful for internal practitioners as well as those who need to find stakeholders from the outside in.
Why Organizations are So Resistant
The foundation of a good discussion about this topic starts with one question: Why is it so hard to sell a great discovery, product or piece of intellectual property to a large organization? In this day of open innovation, leaner organizations, and social media, why are most organizations stubbornly resistant to even having the conversation?
Here is my Top Five list of reasons why organizations are resistant to you, the entrepreneurial thought leader:
- Fear of Litigation. The number of lawsuits and disputed intellectual property claims is at an all time high. This is a very expensive and time-consuming risk for large companies, and they have responded to it with training that encourages company leaders to avoid having any discussion that could later be interpreted as commercial interest or intent.
- The Wrong Fit. Large organizations have extremely well-developed product development processes with road maps and strategy that run months and years into the future. Products have very specific milestones and hurdles that must be met to be able to “proceed to the next gate.” Your idea, while well formed, is likely not up to “gate review” level, and doesn’t “fit” in their process.
- Asymmetrical Views. Particularly in the case of small shops approaching large multinationals, the gap between them can quickly become a chasm. Vocabulary, protocol and fear of “giving away” their hard-won market insight and research keep large organizations from entering dialogues with smaller and potentially valuable partners.
- Skepticism. In the current environment, with some work, the Internet has made it possible for just about anyone to have a 10-minute discussion and sound like an expert. With it becoming increasingly difficult to separate out the posers from the players, and with so few precious minutes in a day, operating executives have erected a high barrier in their minds to any outside input.
- NIH Syndrome. The “not invented here” syndrome is still very much alive and well in large organizations. Accepting product technology from the outside tacitly invalidates the creative work of potentially tens or hundreds of people. You may well have developed a very unique and insightful approach and product, but the age-old issue of “We didn’t come up with it, so how good could it be” is still a core problem.
So, in this sea of resistance, how do you undertake an effort to get noticed and close a deal? The short answer, is by using the same rigor that you would use in approaching any other large customer, tailored to the specific organization you wish to approach. With this in mind:
- Get a clear understanding of your potential customer and the pressures of the world they live in. Take advantage of the amazing transparency demanded of today’s organizations.
- Do your homework to identify your potential internal champion by function and title, then by name. If you can’t identify a champion, stop and do not pass go, as there will be no positive outcome.
- Develop a careful plan to obtain the introductions that will lead to you meeting the champion, which is almost always a multi-step process. Plan the work and work the plan – this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Business development is serious work that is played at the strategic and tactical levels. In this case, success seriously favors the prepared.
Which of the above issues do you see as the most challenging? What other barriers do you see to approaching an organization with a fantastic new product or technology? Drop me a line, or leave a comment below.