The Secret to Selling to Big Companies

You're smart; you're agile; you can do things the big guys can't. What's to worry about?

learn more about John Ruhlin

By John Ruhlin

Anthony Correia |
Mariano Rivera

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

When you pull up to the headquarters of a Fortune 500 company to make a pitch, you may feel a twinge of panic. That's completely normal; after all, landing this sale could be a big win for your company. The budget for just one of its side projects could cover your payroll for the year.

Related: Not Closing Sales? Look to These 5 Mistakes.

But there is nothing to fear. Just remember: You aren't selling to a company; you're selling to a person.

I am CEO of a high-level gift company. The first time I met with representatives from D.R. Horton, the largest homebuilder in the country, I presented in a conference room full of regional managers. I was terrified. But much later, after years of working together, grabbing beers with some of those managers and visiting others at their homes, I realized my fears had been unwarranted.

Here's the truth about big companies:

1. They move slowly.

Large companies have processes, procedures, meetings about meetings and committees overseeing committees. So, don't depend on a deal until the ink has dried. Treat these big opportunities as the icing on the cake, even if landing the deal would double your sales numbers. Once those company leaders know you can't succeed without them, you give them all of the power.

2. They hate risk.

The No. 1 priority for employees at big companies is not getting fired. Don't expect anyone to stick out his or her neck for you. If the decision-makers at the company smell risk, they'll either go dark or feed you excuses about delays. Make your proposal tight, and do not project weakness.

3. They want turnkey solutions.

These CEOs don't think like entrepreneurs; they don't value discounts over proven solutions. They'll gladly pay the premium to avoid a few glitches. Don't go cheap when building, and don't cut corners. Dedicate your resources to taking things off of their plates and executing them flawlessly. It may take forever to get approvals, and you may get unreasonable deadlines, so be prepared if you want to land the deal.

Related: Grant Cardone's 5 Tips for Closing the Big Sale on the Phone

4. Follow these tips in order to win big contracts.

Large corporations don't have to play the same games that startups do. Follow these tips to ensure you're putting your best foot forward:

Become the expert. When people want an expert, they look for the person who literally wrote the book on the subject. Your company may be small, but your expertise should be huge. Speak at conferences; and write articles in big publications and niche markets alike. This strategy has helped me snag speaking opportunities at Google, publish articles for major publications and land deals with 21 professional sports teams.

Give great gifts. Small companies don't have the resources of big ones. If you try to play their game, you'll lose -- so don't compete in traditional ways. When we wanted to sell to the executive vice president of sales at Aflac, we sent him an empty cutlery block, then a new knife every week with his name, his wife's name and the Aflac logo engraved on it. The knife set cost $1,300, but it saved us the $40,000 or more in expenses we might have spent at a trade show with no guarantee of a deal.

Make the process easy. By the time you talk to them, employees at major companies have experienced enough meetings and reports to last a lifetime. Go the extra mile to anticipate their needs. Write drafts of the emails they may need to send to their bosses. Think about all of the obstacles they'll face and provide solutions before they ask. Learn who the final decision-maker is and customize your service to please that person -- you won't make just yourself look good; you'll make your contract look good, too.

You want the large firm to think of you as its secret weapon. You're small, you're agile and you can do things the big guys can't. To a big company, a small budget commands full attention. Use that to your advantage and convince the people at the big company that you can do what no one else can, and you won't feel quite so afraid the next time around.

Related: Whether Inside or Out, the 4 New Realities of Closing Sales

John Ruhlin

Founder and CEO of the Ruhlin Group

John Ruhlin is an entrepreneur, international speaker and author of Giftology. More relationship and referral strategies can be found at Giver's Edge.

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