Lessons from Greentown Launch: How to Build Partnerships with Complex Customers

Greentown Launch—Greentown Labs’ flagship corporate partnership accelerator—has a simple purpose: to provide a proven, structured framework for corporates and startups to work together. What can otherwise be a complicated and convoluted process—startups and corporates finding ways to partner and work together—is distilled into a structured, six-month journey that keeps both parties accountable and sparks innovative collaborations. Through programs such as the InNOVAte 2019 Challenge with Saint-Gobain, the Circularity Challenge with BASF and supported by Stanley Black & Decker, and the 2018 and 2020 Bold Ideas Challenge programs with Schneider Electric, Greentown Launch has shown that when startups and corporates work together, amazing things can happen.

Greentown Launch’s impact extends far beyond the specific cohorts of startups that are selected to participate in each accelerator. Each program brings with it one or more corporate partners that have shown clear commitments to innovation and climate action in a given industry or subject area. These partnerships provide opportunities for all Greentown member companies to gain access to networking opportunities with corporate executives and attend workshop sessions that are open to the entire Greentown community in addition to the cohort participants.

A Bold Ideas 2020 Workshop Opportunity

One such example of this: a Bold Ideas 2020 workshop session, made possible by program partner Schneider Electric, that focused on selling to complex customers. In “Navigating the Sales Landscape with Complex Customers,” Doug Golden, one of the general mentors for the Launch program, walked his audience through the key steps that a startup should follow when first meeting a potential customer—particularly large, complex organizations.

Greentown’s member companies—and most climatetech startups—are largely B2B. For startups operating in this space, one of the biggest barriers to scaling up is customer acquisition—particularly with large, complex customers that are difficult to navigate. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that we had many Greentown member companies attend Doug’s workshop session. With Doug’s background leading sales to Fortune 1000 organizations for Eco Engineering, Inc., and nearly 20 years of broad customer-facing energy market experience, a lively conversation ensued.

Key Takeaways 

One of Doug’s many tips for meeting with new, complex customers is to leverage the first meeting to gain a solid understanding of the decision-makers within the organization. Who has to sign off on new deals? To drive this point home, Doug explains, consider making a small monetary ask (of about $2-5K) up front to verify if the person you’re meeting with has the power to sign off on it.

Doug also explains that laying out key milestones with a potential partner drives accountability. Startups should consider presenting a roadmap toward a mutually beneficial outcome with actionable steps that each party is accountable for. This tests a partner’s seriousness and drives a productive conversation about expectations and end results. Once aligned, Doug says, the parties understand what they are each responsible for and have ensured they share a common vision.

In fact, this sort of roadmapping is exactly what Greentown Launch is built to accomplish. Part of our proven, structured framework for corporates and startups to work together includes a Development Plan – that is, an actionable roadmap with key milestones and steps drafted by startups and corporates at the beginning of each program, which keeps both parties accountable during the six months of working together. From the very beginning, both parties understand their roles and work toward a mutually agreed-upon outcome. 

Successful partnerships are worth working for. From investments, to pilot projects, to joint development agreements, corporate partnerships can provide B2B climatetech startups with unparalleled access to capital and scale, while connecting climate-focused corporates to the cutting edge of innovation. Relationships between startups and corporates are certainly never one-size-fits-all, but through Greentown Launch, startups in the Greentown community are learning to build these partnerships one program at a time.