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Selling to Big Companies

Do you ever dream of the day when your customer roster includes companies like GE, Wal-Mart or IBM instead of Ma & Pa Inc.? If you’ve ever made attempts to crack into a large corporation, you know how tough it can be.

Plus, it’s downright intimidating. Those companies are so huge that you don’t even know where to start. You question why they’d ever want to do business with your small, no-name fi rm.

Enough already! Big companies can be virtual gold mines for savvy entrepreneurs. If they like your product or service, they’ll eagerly expand their relationship with you. But that can seem like an impossibility when you’re still on the outside looking in.

Here are eight fresh, pertinent strategies you can use to set up meetings with corporate decision makers and ultimately land big contracts.

Break big companies down into smaller entities. Unless you’re selling enterprise solutions, you’ll find it much easier to get your initial contract if you pursue opportunities in a small subset of an organization. Rather than being immobilized by the magnitude of selling to GE, you might pursue a relationship with the marketing department of the Fleet Services division of GE Capital Solutions. This enables you to find out the names of potential decision makers, conduct due diligence without being overwhelmed and implement a customized getting-in campaign.

Employ a foot-in-the-door sales approach. When most sellers go after big companies, they want their prospects to know the full range of products or services their company offers. Yet taking this approach to a corporate decision maker immediately creates objections such as: “We’re happy with our current suppliers.”

Instead, you’ll be much more successful if you focus on solving a small or overlooked need that your prospect is facing. This enables you to slip in under the radar screen of long-entrenched incumbents who own the account. Once you get your fi rst contract, you can prove your value and expand from there addressing related divisions with a targeted approach.

Pay the price of admission. Corporate decision makers are swamped. They have way too much work to do and not nearly enough time to get it all done. They protect their time at all costs; it’s their most precious resource. If you want a spot on their already overcrowded calendar, you have to earn it.

What’s the price of admission? Research the company, industry and marketplace. Gain knowledge of their business issues, challenges, goals and objectives. Acquire expertise on their processes, methodologies or critical success factors.

Busy decision makers don’t want to take time to update you about their business. Nor do they want to learn about your offering unless they know, from the outset, that you bring value. Do your homework before you make a call.

Speak the language of business. When you’re trying to set up a meeting with a corporate prospect, most likely the first thing out of your mouth is something like this: “Hi, Pat. This is Terry calling from XYZ Systems. We specialize in offering a full range of services for all your needs in [fill in the blank] area. Our products [or services] are top-notch and we’re passionate about meeting your needs.”

Wrong! That’s all about you and it’s going to lead to an objection. Instead, talk about the business results your company provides. For example, decision makers want to hear you can: Speed up time to revenue on new product launches. Increase sales to new market segments. Reduce supply chain costs.

That’s the language they speak. To capture their attention, you need to speak it, too.

Launch an account entry campaign. After four to five attempts to reach the decision maker, you likely conclude that they’re not one bit interested in your product or service. But, truth be told, that’s an erroneous assumption that could be costing you lots of business.

In today’s business environment, you should expect to contact corporate decision makers at least eight to 10 times. If you’re trying to reach C-level executives, expect to make 12 to 14 contacts before you give up.

Plan your campaign from the onset. Decide what business results you want to emphasize in your various contacts. Spread your value proposition over multiple voice mail or e-mail. Send interesting articles with short personal notes. Invite prospects to hear an industry speaker. Put on your own events, too. One to two contacts per week is appropriate, so long as you leave a business-focused message.

Focus on trigger events. One of the best ways to crack into corporate accounts is to leverage trigger events—those happenings that cause a sudden shift in corporate priorities. Internal examples are mergers, spinoffs, venture capital funding, new leadership or changing corporate direction. External triggers include industry trends, economic issues, competitive moves or government legislation.

Savvy sellers continually monitor the media for information about what’s happening in their targeted accounts. They’re constantly thinking, “What could this mean for the company? How can I use this information to create a new opportunity?”

Then they launch a time-sensitive account entry campaign to their targeted account, emphasizing the urgency and value of taking action soon. By doing this, they speed up the sales cycle and encounter minimal competition.

Pursue multiple relationships. When you’re working with big companies, you don’t want to have your entire future resting in the hands of a single person. This individual could change jobs, leave the company or even blockade you from meeting other decision makers within the organization.

Initiate contact with multiple people concurrently. Let them know you’re speaking to others in the company. Engage your contacts in helping you identify everyone you should know in the account. Most corporate decisions involve multiple people, so it only makes sense that you’d have relationships with many of them.

Use Sales 2.0 productivity tools. Use Jigsaw.com or NetProspex.com to find decision makers’ names. Check out LinkedIn.com to see if you have any networking relationships you can leverage. When you’ve identified people you want to reach, see if they’ve posted a profile online. Google their names to learn as much as you can. Use InsideView.com to be alerted to trigger events as well as possible dooropening connections. Set up Google alerts to be notified of changes in your targeted accounts.

Some of these Sales 2.0 tools are free. Others cost a small monthly fee. In every case, they significantly enhance your productivity and your expertise, making them a wise investment.

Don’t fool yourself, though, into thinking that landing big corporate clients is just a numbers game. Traditional sales gurus tell you to just keep dialing, smiling and making those calls.

That doesn’t work when you’re trying to crack into big companies. Lots of planning, creative thinking, research and persistence are needed. A strong business case is essential. Corporate decision makers demand that you come prepared—with valuable ideas, insights and information that can help them improve their business, reduce expenses or increase revenue.

By using these strategies, you’ll turn your entrepreneurial dreams into a reality. First you’ll land one corporate client, then another. Before you know it, you’ll have an impressive customer roster with lots of upside potential.

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