Pitching above your weight: How to win big business clients

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Getting a large company to sign as a client is a great coup for any small business. But it's not simple as big corporate buyers are often impervious to even the smoothest sales pitch. Matt Henkes investigates how you can grab and hold their interest.

Many entrepreneurs dream of securing that one massive big business client, but getting the ear of the person with the key to the kitty can be an arduous task. Having a bit of knowledge about the firm you're selling to and how to present yourself can make a massive difference.

Common mistakes when courting big business clients 
  • Talking about your product/service instead of making your value proposition.
  • Not doing your homework prior to making a call.
  • Trying to "close" too soon rather than going slowly and simply advancing to the logical next step.
  • Not doing anything to establish your digital footprint and become "visible" to the corporate decision maker as an expert in your field.

Large companies will often instinctively gravitate towards bigger suppliers and small firms need to work harder to get themselves into the radar. "Big businesses often perceive smaller firms as lacking in professionalism," says Philip Moody, senior member services representative at the Forum of Private Business. "But this is not the case.

"Larger firms have more resources to spend on creating the correct corporate image, so smaller firms need to appear professional and competent in order to compete," he adds. "Image is important in everything a business does."

The first step is to get yourself noticed. Position yourself as an expert in your field and make yourself visible. Have a great website that's rich in information, with lots of emphasis on how you help your clients achieve outstanding results. That means posting white papers, cases studies, 'how to' articles, analysis, webinars, podcasts and anything else you can think of.

Jill Konrath, leading sales strategist and author of 'Selling to Big Companies', says that this is the kind of material that grabs the attention of what she calls 'seekers', corporate decision makers facing specific issues and challenges that you just might be able to solve.

Create a digital footprint by using this content in a variety of different ways. Get your whitepapers published on industry websites. Raise your PR profile by commenting on industry issues and speaking at conferences. In short, it's all about visibility and the perception of your firm as an expert, so when these 'seekers' are looking for a solution that you can provide, your name comes up.

Straight to the hook

But however good your PR profile may be, you're still going to have to convince decision makers that you're the answer to their problems. Chief buyers for major companies are not the kind of people that lounge about their office perusing emails and having in-depth telephone chats with anyone who wants to bend their ear with their latest marketing chatter. No; these people have no time for timewasters, sales-speak or long-winded marketing pitches, and calling simply to introduce yourself is just going to irritate them.

"Larger firms have more resources to spend on creating the correct corporate image, so smaller firms need to appear professional and competent in order to compete."

Phillip Moody, Forum of Private Business

Save your sales pitch, they won't be interested and will hit the delete button or get you off the phone quicker than you can say 'cold caller'. Your sales people need to speak the language that will grab their attention; the language of the bottom line.

"Corporate buyers have no interest in your product or service. All they care about is the difference it can make for them," says Konrath. "Use a value proposition, defining the business outcomes a customer will get from using your offering."

For instance: "We offer a full range of products for all your chest-waxing needs," will immediately get rejected by buyers. Even if they have great interest in baby-smooth pectorals, they'll already have a supplier and you haven't demonstrated your value.

Whereas if you speak business language; "I have a few ideas on how you can grow your revenue on new waxing service introductions. One of our recent clients realized a 42.4% increase in sales in just three months," you're already demonstrating how you're going improve their business. This is what they want to hear.

In order to do this you'll need to have a pretty good idea of the challenges faced by you’re the company you're targeting. The value of being able to demonstrate your knowledge early in the conversation, "Mr. Prospect, in researching your firm, I noticed that a key strategic imperative in 2008 is to increase operational efficiency and drive costs out of your supply chain," should not be underestimated. But don't expect success immediately. Be prepared for knock-backs and persevere until you’ve got your meeting.

Who's the boss around here?

In any organisation, there will be certain people with the power to agree to your deal. There’s no full-proof way to ensure that you’re talking to the right person at this stage, but trying to subtly find out how decisions are made within the company will give you an idea of the people you’ll need to win over. Perhaps tell the person you’re working with that you normally talk to various departmental directors, and mention that you'll be contacting them during the course of your relationship.

Start the meeting by demonstrating how you've helped another firm. Outline the issues it was facing and how you enabled them to achieve their desired outcomes. Don't be tempted to talk at length about your offering. They still won’t be interested; keep focussed instead on how you're going to help their business. Prepare a list of questions, Konrath advises at least ten, about the firm that will help you gain a greater understanding of its objectives, issues, challenges and strategies.

"Corporate buyers have no interest in your product or service. All they care about is the difference it can make for them."

Jill Konrath, sales strategist

Don't expect anything to be agreed in this initial meeting. Big companies take time over their buying decisions, and it’s likely that several key people will have to agree before you can be given the go-ahead. Instead of trying constantly to close the deal, look ahead towards the next logical step. Perhaps you need to explain it to someone else; do they require a demonstration? Maybe they need your proposal drawn up as a detailed plan. Don’t rush things.

"Negotiating and closing techniques will only work against you; don't worry about them," says Konrath. "Just think about the logical next step and be prepared to suggest it."

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By simonraybould
15th May 2008 10:22
I'd second the comments about not expecting fast reactions: I'm currently negotiating something with a lead time of about six months! (And that's after *they* approached *me*!)

Something I've found useful in the past, which people might consider is a freebie. We do voice & presentation skills training and while everyone who takes the training raves about it sometimes it's hard for people to see why they should take it in the first place. Our solution? A free session so they could feel the benefits themselves with no (financial) cost.

HTH

Simon

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