The life-blood of any small business is its clients. And when those clients can afford to pay top dollar for your services — and buy from you again and again — it puts your business in a position of strength.
That’s why, for many small business owners, selling to Corporate America is a game-changer. According to the Women’s Business Economic National Council, within two years of adding their first corporate client to their small business, female entrepreneurs experience an average increase in revenue of 266.4 percent. Presumably, it’s about the same for male entrepreneurs, too.
The even better news is that about 60 percent of large companies in the United States are actively looking to increase their spending on goods and services purchased from small business owners, particularly those that are certified as women-, minority- and veteran-owned enterprises. In fact, just last year, powerhouses like IBM, Walmart, Chevron and Macy’s, among many others, announced publicly their intention to set aside more spending dollars for small businesses, providing a greater window of opportunity.
That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that it’s not always easy to get your foot in the door with the big companies, even with their greater commitment to buy from small businesses. So here are five strategies to help you find greater success in less time.
Have a plan, work the plan
There are approximately 18,000 companies in the country that have 500 or more employees on their payroll — and these same companies are responsible for generating about 60 percent of all the revenue produced by American companies. That makes for a very attractive, albeit a very large, target market.
For a small business owner, approaching a market of this size in random fashion would be expensive, time consuming and inefficient. So the first step toward building a full pipeline of corporate clients is to develop a clear marketing plan and then work the plan. Given today’s insanely busy work environment, it can take up to 12 touch points with a prospect before getting to a meaningful sales conversation. Map out the companies you’ll target and when and how those 12 interactions will occur. Your persistence will pay off in spades.
Focus locally first
Renowned success coach Tony Robbins often points out that “proximity is power,” and when it comes to marketing and selling your services to corporations, that couldn’t be more true. For starters, it’s a lot easier to get face to face with key decision makers located in the same city as you, where networking and relationship-building opportunities abound.
It’s also much more likely that you’ll know someone who knows someone at the companies you’re trying to penetrate. Don’t underestimate the power of the warm introduction. Not only does this reduce the time it takes to reach your desired point of contact, but it also humanizes you, so you’re no longer a pestering “sales” person. Suddenly, you’re a friend.
Most importantly, a recent study showed that corporate decision makers put considerable weight on vendors’ proximity to their office location when making a buying decision.
Be the architect of your personal brand
A lot of importance is given to branding. But as a small business owner — especially if you are one that provides professional services — I encourage you to focus first and foremost on your personal brand versus your company brand.
When it comes to hiring outside experts, such as consultants, coaches and speakers, these types of sales are typically closed not on price or even deliverables, but rather on relationships and reputation. The more you establish yourself as a thought leader in your field — through speaking gigs, media coverage and content marketing — the more likely a corporate client will be to buy from you.
Take the road less traveled
One problem for small business owners trying to sell to Corporate America is that there are many more of us than there are of them. So you can bet that whatever service or expertise you provide, you’re not the only one — nor are you the only one in your field pitching corporate clients.
Sometimes, the best door into a corporate client is the one that no one else considers. Pretend for a moment that you’re a health and wellness expert, and you’d like to sell your services to a large company. Who at the company would you contact?
Common sense might say the human resources department. But guess what? A hundred other wellness experts are thinking the very same thing — and have all knocked on that very same door.
Sticking with this scenario, the road less traveled might lead you to the head of the company’s customer service department. Research shows that happy, healthy employees treat customers better, which can lead to as much as an 85 percent increase in corporate profitability. That means that the head of the customer service department may be quite happy to hear from you.
The bottom line here is that decision-makers exist all throughout corporations and you can often rise above the noise when you find the more creative points of entry.
Break the rules
If there’s one sure thing I’ve learned about selling to corporate clients, it’s that there’s no one right way to sell to corporate clients. Don’t get me wrong: There are certainly some very wrong ways. But at the end of the day, you have to follow your gut instinct.
If a door opens, walk through it. If you have a creative idea, give it a whirl. Some of the most lucrative corporate deals I know of have been closed through chance encounters, off-the-wall marketing tactics and, yes, sometimes even a bit of luck. The only thing that’s certain is that if you don’t put yourself in the game, you stand no chance of winning.