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How to Successfully Build a Startup That Sells to Municipalities
There are many opportunities to better our world through working with municipalities. Many new startups see that opportunity during brainstorming sessions, however municipalities are notoriously hard to work with, and in many cases are unwilling to purchase a product that does not already have a large number of existing customers.
Selling to municipalities can be challenging for many different reasons, one of the biggest being that they are extremely hard to get in touch with. There are, however, many ways to get past the secretary and straight to someone who can help you advance your business. The first and the most reliable way to get in touch with the right people at a municipality is to connect with a municipal or regional councillor.
By definition these people are willing to open their ears and listen to whatever you have to say. Spend some time and do your research into which councillor you think you will connect the best with, take a look at their election platform and see if their views match your own. Would you vote for this person? Do they have any experience in the field your business is in?
Once you’ve selected the councillor call them, do not email a councillor. A phone call has much more weight than an email. In fact, many councillors don’t even read their emails, but have a secretary doing it for them. Try to setup a 15 minute meeting at their office or near it, councillors are very busy people so make it extremely easy for them to say yes. If you can’t get a meeting try to arrange another 15+ minute phone call.
If you have you done your research correctly then there is a good chance that your councillor of choice will be extremely excited about your idea, and connect you with some city staff who will be able to help you advance your business.
The second most reliable way to get in touch with city staff is to connect with your personal network; ask you friends, your parents, your mentors, your professors, or customers. Ask them if they know anyone who works for the city.
Once you get some names and numbers from your friends, call them - yet again do not email them. It is too easy for a municipal employee to ignore an email and not feel bad about it. Your goal with this meeting is to get more contacts. Chances are the people you first get a hold of, are not the people who will help grow your business.
And finally there is the email blast approach. Simply go onto the city website, go to the “Contact Us” section and send out a generic email. In this email try to sound as nonthreatening as possible; explain that you are not lobbying for your business and that you just want to collect some information on how the city and the municipality works.
If you sound like you are looking to get a contract with the city you will be pushed off to another secretary who deals with this businesses. If you are a student, or are young enough to be a student then you can pull the “student card” and say that you are a student doing research.
Sometimes dealing with a municipality can be tiring and frustrating. But keep in mind that municipal workers are not employed by the city so that they can serve anyone who emails them. Be kind, municipal workers don’t have any obligation to meet with you and if they do they are doing it only because they are very nice people. Good luck!
Founder at Catchr