For social enterprises looking to scale, there is no better fuel than revenue. There are multiple opinions on the best source of revenue, but we maintain that partnerships with the corporate sector can provide a better path to growth than impact investing or direct to consumer models. Earlier this summer, we shared that the COVID-19-triggered recession presents an opportunity for the corporate and social sector to partner in new, innovative ways to usher in a more sustainable and equitable economy.
Our S-GRID program (still accepting applications) empowers social enterprises to benefit from these opportunities and help build “a new normal.” One pillar of our program is sharing insights from the corporate sector and earlier this month, we heard from a sustainability leader at PepsiCo.
Jeff Halvorson is a Sr. Manager of Sustainable Agriculture Partnerships on PepsiCo’s Global Sustainable Agriculture team, supporting trained agronomists working directly with farmers and suppliers to source materials for different products. As a company supporting an array of brands, not just a well-known beverage, PepsiCo sources over 25 products from over 60 countries.
It has spent billions of dollars developing “Performance with Purpose” with an aggressive 2025 sustainability agenda, which it launched in 2016. According to former CEO, Indra Nooyi, “Our success — and the success of the communities we serve and the wider world — are inextricably bound together.”
Jeff provided the following guidance in his presentation to S-GRID on the best ways for social enterprises to develop corporate partnerships:
1. Do research to identify a real need
You can’t simply say, “I’m going to sell to Company A.” Do enough research to reframe it as, “I’m going to sell to Company A which has these specific problems/goals that my organization is uniquely positioned to solve, and I will accomplish this by talking to two people I have warm connections to via Conference/Event/LinkedIn.” How can you do this?
- Research the company on its website, sustainability pages, hiring page, employee pages, and more. As an example, if you look at PepsiCo’s sustainability page you will understand its focus areas, and when you review its recent annual report you’ll see where it spends more.
- Start with the Chamber of Commerce (or similar entity) within your country. You can start by looking at the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives to find one in your region. You’ll be able to figure out who is doing business with whom and the types of projects they’re working on. From there you can look at the events your potential contacts are going to and make connections. Make multiple contacts at each company as one person can’t accomplish as much as a group can together.
- Note the types of sustainable development projects – often funded by groups like the World Bank, USAID, DFID, Gates Foundation, and other major organizations – being funded in your country and follow the capital to different organizations with already-established interests. Doing a Google search for “Development Projects in ___” will show you results. An organization already working on similar issues in your area will likely be open to a pitch related to their existing work.
Use your connections to get introductions to other connections, which will be more successful than cold calling via non-personalized LinkedIn emails. You’re working with busy people who get any number of requests for introductions so a personal connection will help your request stand out. And, keep in mind that each person handles connection requests differently – some talk to everyone, others don’t. Put in the effort to engage your audience personally at the outset.
2. Focus on the business case for your social enterprise
Your future relationship with a company is primarily commercial as you are providing a solution to a problem the company has. You need to convince the company to spend their time, energy, and resources on you versus another social enterprise with a similar story. Think critically about how your social enterprise solves the problem you found above.
3. Approach the right organization and people
Not all businesses operate the same way, some take a global approach to sustainability while others prefer a regional approach. When evaluating a corporation as a potential partner, also look at its foundation, its suppliers, and its distributors, as those could be a better match for your social enterprise than the corporation itself. Once you have the right entity, find the right person within the organization. You may think you should sell to the Chief Sustainability or HR Officer, but this is probably the wrong person. Continue your research from step #1 to find the individuals doing the work and experiencing the problem that you can solve.
4. Become a sales pro
When you’re in front of a potential connection, let them talk. Listen to what they’re saying and make sure you’re responding to that, rather than proactively promoting your product. Sales frameworks like the Challenger Sales Model and the Solution Sales Model are useful, especially in the social impact space. No matter what, frame your product as a solution to the problem they describe to you, as opposed to the solution to the problem you want them to have. It’s a dialogue so you’re not just explaining why your product matters, you’re framing it in how it matters to them. And remember, you’re more than a salesperson. You’re working to make the world better, and your insights and connections provide immediate value to help companies become more impactful.
5. Keep your message simple but specific
If you can state in a few sentences how and when a problem will hurt the business’ profit-and-loss statement and when, and what you can do about it, you’ll make an impact. To put it simply, pitch with the corporation’s need in mind, the “job to be done” or the “problem to be solved.”
6. Think about the work of the future
There’s a lot happening in sustainability right now, and there’s a lot more to come. You will see companies invest more in removing plastics, reducing water, and improving agriculture. Companies will also do more to create more green supply and distribution networks. This represents a market opportunity for social enterprises to create products that solve these problems.
Interested in receiving more insights from global corporate and social enterprise leaders? Check out our S-GRID program and reach out for more information.