5 Ways Small Biz Can Attract Big Clients

April 27, 2012. By Verne Harnish contributed to CNN Money
Winning business from the Fortune 500 is a great way to put your company on the map.
1. Lighten the load
Tackle unsexy jobs that big companies find inconvenient or, if they face high labor costs, unprofitable to manage. At Standard Functional Foods Group in Nashville, CEO Jimmy Spradley (right) attracts food conglomerates by offering to make new or smaller brands of foods like granola bars, helping clients avoid small production runs. By consolidating orders from multiple firms, he’s built a profitable business and expects sales of $150 million this year.

2. Understand how they buy
Aria Systems, a San Francisco tech company, lost an early deal because its sales team didn’t know that three departments of the target firm had to sign off. Founder Edward Sullivan (right) says that once his company created separate marketing materials for each group of “influencers” in prospective firms, it won deals from Disney and Ingersoll-Rand. Sullivan is using this approach at his latest startup, G2Link, which monitors customer creditworthiness.

3. Tap supplier diversity programs
If you’re a minority-owned business, big companies will teach you how to work with them. Says George Gendron, a board member at Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, a Boston nonprofit: “They don’t just help you find large customers but also help you make sure you have the capacity to deliver to them.” A corporation that likes doing business with you may help you expand, offering free consulting services, says ICIC vice president Steven Pedigo.

4. Stand out
Aware that big companies keep track of what’s said about them on sites like Twitter, Dyn, a 135-person tech company in Manchester, N.H., tweeted out wacky videos, like a musical pitch called “Dyn Loves Expedia,” to that firm and five others. It’s now talking with four of those potential customers. “It raised awareness about what we do and helped us get a conversation started,” says Ryan O’Hara, business development team lead.

5. Stay focused
Avoid getting sidetracked by a big firm’s requests to join time-devouring meetings and calls. Focus on numerical goals, like producing 1,000 new customers for the client — and speak up if you’re pulled away from your mission by new demands by executives. “Bring them back to their purpose for bringing you in,” advises David Rich, CEO of ICC/Decision Services, a New York City consulting firm. If you deliver results, you’ll win repeat business.

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