Building a successful business requires acquiring the right customers. Acquire the right customers, and lots of things will fall into place.

But identifying the right customers is often difficult, and many times, entrepreneurs and small business owners are under the impression that 'large companies' constitute the ideal customers.

In many cases, selling to large companies is a logical step in the path to bigger and better things. But selling to large companies can be difficult for smaller companies. Here are seven tips for going about the process in the right way.

Don't be afraid

Approaching a large company can be intimidating. For that reason, many entrepreneurs and business owners give up before they even start, believing that they have no chance. The result: you may be surprised to find that there are a lot fewer businesses similar to yours approaching the company than you might think.

Do your research

You may only have one shot at getting your foot in the door at a large company, so you'd better make sure you're ready when your opportunity comes. That means doing your research before you make an approach.

What specific problem does your product solve? Does the company have certain vendor requirements, and do you meet them? Are other products similar to yours already in use at the company? Is an established buying cycle in place for the kind of product you're trying to sell? If you can't answer these types of questions, you probably don't know what you need to know to achieve a successful outcome.

Know how to play the game

Dealing with large companies isn't as difficult as it might seem, if you know how to play the game. Understanding the decision-making process, legal issues, etc. is a must.

For instance, a company may require a senior executive to approve and sign a contract valued at or above a certain amount, say $100,000. If you know this, you might be able to make your life a lot easier by pitching a $95,000 deal instead of a $100,000 deal.

Develop relationships, before you need them

Products and services rarely sell themselves. To sell to large companies, it helps to have solid relationships on the inside. In many cases, these kinds of relationships produce advocates who can provide the little extra boost that's necessary to close a deal.

Solid relationships, of course, aren't built overnight, which is why you'll want to grow and your network, and strengthen the bonds within it, before you need them.

Recognize that size matters

Lots of small companies maintain wonderful relationships with large customers. But doing that requires an understanding that there are always going to be challenges when companies of very different sizes transact business.

When this isn't understood, mismatched expectations can lead to problematic and frustrating interactions for both parties.

Don't undervalue or overvalue your worth

Many companies are far more cost-conscious post-global recession, but that doesn't mean that you need to offer your product or service for a fraction of what it's worth. It's very difficult to establish a high perceived value when offering a product or service at bare bones cost. So don't.

Instead, focus on quantifying your value and making a compelling argument that your product or service can produce an excellent ROI. If you have other customers, being able to play up how much money they've saved or made with you is worth its weight in gold.

On the flip side, it's tempting to believe that because big companies have big bank accounts, big price tags aren't a problem. But big companies usually don't become big because they spend their cash recklessly, and charging an arm and a leg simply because you think you can get away with it is a bad idea too.

At the end of the day, there's a fine line to walk when it comes to pricing: a number that's too low calls into question your value, a number that's too high calls into question your credibility. Charge a fair price that you can justify quantitatively and qualitatively and don't deviate too much from it.

Remember that the grass isn't always greener on the other side

Many entrepreneurs and small business owners believe that selling to big companies will put them on the fast track to success. But that's not always the case. Working with large companies can require significant time, effort and resources.

Yes, there's often a bigger pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the sad truth is that many smaller businesses fail to reach that pot of gold because they entered into transactions they were ill-equipped to carry out.

Keeping this in mind, it's worth asking the question "Why do I want to sell to large companies?" before you decide that it's the right path for your business.

Patricio Robles

Published 14 April, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2642 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (2)

Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke, Founder & CEO at PRWD

Thanks for a great, concise read Patricio. I can relate to quite alot of this from when I moved out of paid employment almost 5 years.

In the usability and conversion optimisation field I specialise in, the demand for services is still very much dominated by the perceived 'bigger businesses' although as the market matures over the coming months and years, I expect a wider range of businesses irrespective of size will create more sales opportunities. But for now selling to larger companies is something I'll be focussing on.

Your point on the importance of building and maintaining relationships is something which I personally pay attention to and I expect this applies even more so for people running larger businesses.

Thanks again for this article.

over 7 years ago

Roberto Simi

Roberto Simi, Managing Director at Bright Digital

As with most things size is relative (?!)

One advantage of being relatively small when selling to a larger business is that you can be seen as a fresh, agile and innovative company compared to your larger competitors. My company has used this approach successfully for many years dealing with large technology companies. Big companies deal with big suppliers much of the time but opportunities do arise, in particular when time is short and the processes a big supplier needs to go through limit their ability to deliver in time.

We have often also found that the buyers in larger organisations who regularly work with larger suppliers are used to proper briefing processes and trust their supplier to deliver whilst they concentrate on their own business.

In contrast dealing with smaller companies you maybe seen as the expensive alternative to a freelancer and the buyer often gets involved in micro managing you which causes a lot of pain for both parties and cost to you.

over 7 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.