Don’t tell Santam in pitch that you’re the first, unless you really are first

So you have a great product you want to sell to a big corporate but sometimes you feel like you are number 1365 in the queue. How are you going to get that big company to notice you? When you talk to other startups you realise this is no easy process…. or is it?

As Santam’s head of digital business, I’ve been working with startup companies for a number of years now. As a large insurance business, we recognise that innovation has become the only constant in a world where we’ve barely begun to comprehend the full implications of accelerated change.

Influenced by advances in science and technology, the world is undergoing significant change, modifying how and where we live, as global climate change becomes a certainty.

As insurers, it’s our responsibility to anticipate what’s ahead and ask the right questions. This entails using new technologies to measure and mitigate risk in ways that would have been unfathomable just a decade ago. And that is why it’s so important that we are open to new ideas when it comes to figuring out solutions for the challenges we face.

‘Don’t tell Santam in A pitch that you’re the first, unless you really are first. We’ll do research to find out if your product or service is the only one out there. ‘

In our business, we see innovation as a part of our culture and we expect all our employees to think about ways in which they can improve what we do. But we recognise that sometimes these ideas will come from outside of Santam.

To demonstrate our commitment to new ways of thinking outside our business, we run programmes and initiatives that foster exactly that.

One example is our Safety Ideas initiative, which launched in 2015/16 in which we invited anyone with a good idea or product that makes South Africa safer to pitch to us with the opportunity to have it (the idea) leverage our capabilities to grow.

In the short-term insurance sector, we face challenges like making homes safer, fraud prevention and catastrophe management. That’s why we also participate in initiatives like hackathons to really get our hands dirty and work with designers and developers to build prototypes for challenges we have in our industry.

Internally, we have a process for figuring out solutions to challenges as well. Since our business focuses on risk management (think about insuring your car, home, possessions) we assign a group of people from different parts of the business internally to review proposals we receive from startups, which specifically focus on how we can help our clients manage their risk a bit better or how we can improve our insurance offering.

We see about two to five businesses per month.

Here is my advice for startup businesses who would like to start working with large South African corporates:

1. Let’s start with the easy one — the hygiene factor. If you manage to get to get a meeting with someone, get the basics right. Be on time. Be prepared. Make sure you asked what you need to present your great idea, for example a projector, a whiteboard, etc. As an entrepreneur, you should understand the value of your time as well as the time of the person you’re meeting. Getting the hygiene factors wrong can cost you in the long run. So get it right.

2. Who you get to speak to is quite important in a big company. Speak to the right person and things start to happen. Try your best to track down the right person to talk to in an organisation. Use your network, friends, family, braai time, events, LinkedIn…. anything. Determine who the best person is to have that important conversation with. It will make all the difference.

3. Don’t think you’re the first, unless you really are the first. Think about it. We will do the research to find out if your product or service is the only one out there. We will. We have to. We have things like procurement policies, the Financial Services Charter and a great number of other compliance and regulatory matters to comply with. It would be good to understand what makes your product or service different from the rest.

4. As a corporate business, we have a few processes we have to follow in order for ideas to get put into place. These processes tend to take time, which means that sometimes you have to adjust your expectations around timing. We understand that this means things tend to happen at a pace we may not be able to match. Cut us some slack as we try to match your pace.

5. Get to know the business you want to pitch an idea with really well. Santam’s integrated report is available online, and this presents the most accurate and detailed summary of the work we do, the challenges we face and how we’re tackling them. In general, our website offers quite a bit of information about us as well. Most corporate entities avail their annual reports for the public to read online. Study them – it will help crystallise your idea further still.

Lastly, we are always open to ideas, products and services that will help ensure the safety of people, businesses and their belongings or assets. We’ve made a decision to be open to new ideas from outside our business.

Now you need to make that decision about whether or not you want to reach out to us with your idea. Good luck!

Want to learn more about pitching to corporates? Read Ventureburn’s series of Q&As below.

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Nathan van Rooyen is Santam’s head of digital business

Nathan Van Rooyen


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