Most entrepreneurs would love to land large corporate accounts, but they often don't try for one simple reason: They're afraid. "Smaller companies get intimidated by them," says Guy Sohie, president of Global Insite, an Austin, Texas, consulting firm with annual sales hovering around $200,000. "So instead of trying to figure out how to approach larger companies, they just write them off as potential customers."
The fear is justified, says Sohie, who specializes in helping smaller businesses sell to bigger ones. Corporations tend to do business very differently than entrepreneurs. They're more hierarchical, more conservative and slower to react. In addition, it's not an easy market to break into--especially now that the trend at many bigger companies is to use fewer suppliers.
Nevertheless, Sohie believes entrepreneurs should still pursue corporate accounts. "It's not just the initial revenue you get," he says. "Once you're in there and do a good job, one division in the company can easily refer you to another."
Bill Kelley is an Arcadia, California, business writer and former editor of Sales and Marketing Management magazine.
The first step to getting a considerable corporate account is to spend time doing research. Since bigger businesses are, by nature, more complex, you'll conceivably need to do more research on those companies than on smaller ones. Through networking, communicating with suppliers and reading business publications, unearth all you can about a company. What are its plans? Short- and long-term goals? Marketing strategies?
Don't stop there, however. Follow through and take these extra steps toward landing that great account:
1. Focus on the company's current challenges and those it's likely to face. Then determine ways that your product or service can help the company not just meet those challenges, but overcome them. "Present a department head with a solution to a problem--don't just go in there and try to sell something," notes Sohie.
2. Find out where cutbacks have occurred. As corporations concentrate on core businesses, they often trim nonessential departments and outsource more work. This could be a chance for your company to supply them with a service that used to be done in-house.
3. Get the names of the managers in targeted departments. Talk to them about their jobs, particularly some of the obstacles they confront. Find an ally on the inside who can help facilitate a sale. Don't, says Sohie, concentrate solely on the purchasing agent. "Their job is to focus on price," he says. "You want to seek out the person who needs help doing his or her job."
4. Find a niche. Create a product or service that doesn't go head-to-head with that of larger suppliers. Rather, try to make a smaller inroad by offering something unique to a company. To help do this, Sohie suggests making a detailed list of all the benefits your product or service can bring to the larger company.
5. Keep in mind that big companies have suppliers calling on them every day. But if you're able--and ready--to provide something different that solves a specific problem, you'll stand out and, just as important, avoid a price war that you probably can't win anyway.
6. Use your size. Instead of being intimidated, emphasize the advantages of smaller companies over their larger competitors: speed, customization, service and access to top management. You're apt to be more eager for the business. Let the big boys know it.
7. Consider a partnership. Look for someone you can work with on this one sale--even if it's a competitor. Getting in the door is often worth the shared sale.
8. Be patient. Entrepreneurs usually aren't too keen on the slow, methodical way corporate America operates--in fact, it probably reminds them of their old job. Don't expect the quick answers you give or get from smaller companies.
Finally, be prepared to be scrutinized, probably like you've never been before. In a very deliberate, detailed manner, corporations are likely to go over financial and other information, particularly before committing an order to a company that, in their minds, is untested.
Global Insite, (512) 894-4461, firstname.lastname@example.org