5 Tips for Winning Business as a Software Services Startup

by Jazib Zahir, October 22, 2012

When you are a software services startup, business development is your lifeblood. In a country like Pakistan, where the development of intellectual property in the software space is stunted by a variety of factors, including limited investment channels, software houses are often set up around services models. 

Business development is key for staying cash flow positive. While project managers can orchestrate the teams of software engineers to assure quality, your company critically must depend upon a dedicated team of business development and sales professionals who work to earn the company sufficient business.

This is a continuous process; while business development professionals often start with a very large number of leads, many fizzle out very early in the process. It’s important to persevere in order to win an acceptable number of projects. 

Based on my experiences in this space, I’d like to share a few tips for the many people looking to earn business in software exports from countries like the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom:

1. Develop a Niche. While you may believe that your engineering team is stellar enough to pick up new technologies and frameworks, the entire industry is gravitating towards more niche specialization. It doesn’t matter if you have the best iPhone engineers on the planet, if they’ve only worked on productivity applications until now, clients in the gaming space will be reluctant to award work to your team. Identifying specific genres, platforms and products in which your team wishes to specialize will make it a lot easier to target the right clients who are often spoiled for choice among the wealth of services setups across Asia and Eastern Europe. 

2. Increase Your Offerings. The truth is that finding new clients is always a low percentage business. You might be making dozens of cold calls over LinkedIn and sending hundreds of emails a month, with less than 10% of the people contacted even responding. The best way to expand business is to extract more work from your existing clients. One way to do this is to transform yourself into a one-stop shop offering all the related services: graphic design, project management, interface design and quality assurance. Another way is to remain proactive in your relationship with your client: hold regular calls to understand the client’s strategy and anticipate when its demand for services will grow. The client will appreciate the strategic role you are playing as a services partner and will always see more value in expanding its relationship with an existing partner than building a fresh relationship with someone else.

3. Nothing Beats Face-Time. While there are success stories of business development conducted entirely in the virtual domain, it is difficult to develop a long-term relationship with a client without ever meeting it in person. The most successful services setups regularly send their business development and sales people to attend relevant conferences and meet up with foreign clients in person. This is the best way to forge tangible bonds with the client and communicate how serious you are about serving it. The costs of traveling and attending conferences are quite low relative to the value of the business you might win by meeting a potential client in person. 

4. Takes More to Tango. Business Development novices often think that their potential success at winning the project is based on the initial call. The truth is that most contracts are won based on multiple calls between the client and services company, spread out over several weeks. The initial call might just be a chance for the client to put out feelers and understand the credibility of the potential services outfit. The same client would probably expect a follow-up call with a senior technical person on your team to grasp your technical ability as an enterprise, and they might expect a third call with individual engineers working on the project. Sometimes clients are hesitant to suggest so many follow-ups, but  they will feel more at ease if the services setup suggests it.

5. Do Your Homework. Ultimately nothing beats being prepared. When initiating a business development call, you should know that the client expects you to have case studies and references prepared in advance as a matter of principle. Many potential clients ask to see formal corporate presentations and lists of successful projects. It is always worth investing time and money in developing and burnishing this marketing material and having it at your fingertips when needed. 

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Jazib is an adjunct professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, where he teaches soft skills to engineers. He also works as a Business Development Fellow at d.light design in Pakistan, where he helps bring reliable electricity solutions to off-grid populations, and he also serves as the Chief Operations Officer at Tintash, an iOS and Android gaming software company based in Silicon Valley. He lives and works in Lahore, Pakistan, and can be found on his LinkedIn page or at @jazibzahir on Twitter. 

 
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