Pabst CIO: Sales advice for enterprise startups

An innovative CIO offers practical tips for understanding business transformation in the cloud and selling into the enterprise.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor on
Ben Haines, CIO, Pabst Brewing

During a conversation with Ben Haines, the CIO of Pabst Brewing Company, we focused on cloud transformation and the impact on IT. Ben believes cloud software can drive both efficiency and innovation, which his approach to buying and deploying technology reflects. The discussion is part the CxO Talk series that I conduct each week with co-host Vala Afshar.

Enterprise startups should pay special attention to the conversation with Ben, because he provides valuable advice for selling into large companies. Ben is a genuine cloud guy; he gets it and understands both the benefits and risks of working with smaller companies. 

Inspired by the CxO Talk chat, here are six tips for startups that want to sell into the enterprise:

1. Prepare before you call. With all the information available on the web, in blogs, and in social media, it is imperative to learn the customer's issues and priorities before you call. According to Ben, failure to follow this simple rule means disqualification from any relationship:

If I can read about it on the web, don't bother coming in to talk to me about it. You are just wasting my time. I'm not going to spend much time telling you about my problems. I don't answer my office phone, because 99 percent of the calls are, "I'd like to know what your IT strategy is and how we can help you." I just delete those.

During my recent conversation with the CIO of Intel, Kim Stevenson, she echoed these remarks. Like Ben, Kim expects sales people to walk in knowing her agenda, goals, business environment, and strategic plans.

2. Keep the price low. This may sound obvious, but offering high value (meaning, low cost combined with a great product) is necessary to create a compelling argument when negotiating with a CIO. Maybe IBM can charge top dollar, but your startup is not IBM.

3. Engage the customer's team. Managers in large organizations are usually constrained by established processes, difficulty gaining consensus, and risk aversion. Allow your customer to help shape the product and seek their guidance on real business problems that existing vendors have overlooked or not addressed well. Engagement and communication are the keys to surviving difficult moments that inevitably arise during any relationship. Become a part of the family and the customer may well make you feel at home.

4. Present the value proposition clearly. If your value and goals are murky, the customer won't buy. Clarity is your friend and vagueness will drive away deals.

5. Sell rapid innovation and then deliver the promise. Working in a startup, it's easy to take the rapid pace of innovation for granted. Your startup can help a large company augment its own R&D budget by purchasing innovation less expensively, and faster, than they could build internally. On the other hand, if you screw up on execution and service delivery, then the enterprise buyer will dump you fast.

6. Be transparent and social. When evaluating a startup, Ben researches the founders to determine "their street cred." Being on social networks and writing a blog helps communicate what you are doing, where the company is heading, and what your team is thinking. All these activities bring transparency, which makes potential buyers more comfortable.


Among the cloud startups that Pabst works with:

  • Secret startup in stealth mode - data management
  • Jobvite - recruiting platform
  • Docusign - end-to-end document lifecycle and electronic signatures
  • Okta - identity management and single sign-on
  • Box - file storage and sharing
  • Tidemark - enterprise performance management


This video includes the entire Ben Haines conversation. If you want to learn about cloud transformation, the impact on IT, and the benefits of cloud then watch the whole thing: 

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