Whether you are new to sales or you’re a seasoned pro, selling to big companies can be a challenge.
There is no direct route, such as when you sell to a smaller company.
What’s even more confusing is identifying who has the budget to spend.
I’ve outlined 12 steps to sell to big companies, taken from nearly 20 years’ experience in doing so myself, as well as coaching and advising others to do the same.
Before we jump in, let’s quickly define exactly what I mean by “big company.”
Defining a Big Company
For a company to be considered big, it must have at least 500 employees.
There are over 16,000 large companies across the United States, which, when you contrast these companies against who might buy your products or services, isn’t many.
These giants typically have a head office separate from their various divisions or branches where many finance or business activities are centrally controlled.
What this means, then, is that the decision to purchase your product or service is likely to require connecting with multiple people at multiple locations.
Distinctions about Selling to Big Companies
There are some key distinctions you should be aware of when selling to big companies.
In my experience, these are common, so you should be prepared for them.
It can be difficult to reach prospects
Big companies have a lot of people working in them, which means there will be plenty of distractions that will make it hard to get your prospects’ (and other decision-making influencers’) attention. Be prepared to spend time in multiple meetings and have the same discussions repeatedly, each time having to satisfy new concerns or objections.
Budget owners can be deceiving
In a small or medium-sized business, the person who has the budget is typically clear. It’s often the president or owner of the business (who is often heavily influenced by family members, if a family-owned business).
In a big company, each department can often have their own budget. However, although this can seem like an easily navigated path to making a sale, other departments often determine if and how the budget is spent.
Trying to sell software for engineers can often require IT to become involved and have ultimate approval, despite the budget being that of the Engineering department.
Decision-making can involve multiple people
If you sell to a small business, the owner typically makes all of the buying decisions. When this changes to a big company, there can often be multiple people (and departments) involved in the buying decision.
Additionally, most big companies have a Purchasing or Contract Management department who will get involved late in the process. They will have standard terms and conditions which you will need to review and accept (if you want to move forward). Additionally, they will expect to negotiate the terms of your agreement, including price.
This may all sound challenging, but if you can appease these groups, you’ll have a good shot at selling your product or service to other divisions by becoming a “standard” for whatever it is you offer.
Decisions (and most other things) move slowly
I recall when I worked in a multi-national company. There was an urgent need for a part to be expedited in to ensure the operation could continue. We were scrambling to find the part; price wasn’t a factor.
When we found it, we immediately secured a flight to expedite the part to us. All this effort and cost were incurred, only to have the final approval delayed for a day since the CEO was on vacation and no one could reach him.
With so many people involved, decisions and most other things simply take longer in big companies.
How to Sell to a Big Company
If you haven’t been scared away by now J, lets discuss 12 strategies that will help you sell more to big companies. I’ve placed these in order of priority, allowing you the ability to work down the list as you progress.
Get referred in if possible.
If you want to get in the door to sell to a big company, the easiest route in is through a referral. You can ask someone you know that works there to make an introduction.
Another strategy is to use your LinkedIn network to determine who your first-level connections might be connected to at the company, then ask them for an introduction.
Start from the bottom (or anywhere, to be exact).
Throw any perceptions of connecting with decision-makers out the door. In big companies, you’ll typically need to connect through any department you can, be it Human Resources, Purchasing, or Operations.
As mentioned earlier, you’ll often need to work through various work groups to find the decision-maker, so be prepared to work with whoever is willing to listen.
Build multiple relationships on your way up.
Never forget where you started.
As you work your way through various people, continue nurturing relationships with those who helped you along the way. The goal is to become known and (preferably) liked. The more relationships you build, the more likely you’ll have allies when it comes to the final decision-making process.
Be patient with slow progress.
It’s possible you may strike gold and reach the decision-makers immediately, but it’s more than likely it will take time. You’ll have to be patient with the process. Rushing only serves to put people off, which can hurt your chances of closing the sale.
Have a strong brand.
Big companies are often seeking to work with other big companies. This doesn’t mean you have to be big in terms of number of employees or revenue, but you should have a strong brand.
Do your marketing materials appear professional?
Is your website modern?
Do you have other team members who can support your presentations?
Capacity is as important as capability.
Along with a strong brand, you’ll need to have the capacity to deliver.
I’ve seen salespeople spend a year working on a big company, only to lose the sale in the end because they couldn’t ramp up their service or products fast enough.
Have an infrastructure that will allow you to ramp up capacity quickly for when you get the order.
Be clear in what you offer.
Your offer needs to be clear. This goes without saying.
Although your customer might have numerous problems, don’t get lost in the slew of opportunities. Remain clear on how you can help and what you can do for your customer.
Don’t let your eyes be bigger than your stomach.
Offer a turnkey solution.
Further to the last point, it’s not uncommon to find a big company that is seeking to work with as few suppliers as possible. You may believe this either disqualifies you, or forces you to invest in more capabilities.
What you need to do is be a consolidator. If the challenge your customer faces requires other areas to be addressed or resolved, be prepared to find other experts who will partner with you.
Think of yourself as a consolidator that offers a turnkey solution, and your customer will be eager to work with you.
Cater your presentation to each group you meet with.
You might have a canned presentation that you prefer to use when meeting prospects.
When it comes to selling to big companies, you’ll need to tweak your presentation for each group you encounter.
For example, your presentation for Engineering may be slightly different for Operations or Purchasing. To get and keep the attention of each working group you meet with, make sure your presentation caters to their specific needs.
Keep your quote or proposal easy to understand.
Working with a big company can send you spinning when it comes to proposals and contracts. Big companies like to create contracts and purchase orders that are as long as a book.
Keep your proposal and terms and conditions easy to understand. If they aren’t, it’s likely they’ll be sent to a legal department for review, which can take months.
It’s possible your proposal will go to legal regardless, but the more complex your proposal is, the longer it will take for reviews and approvals.
Have a lawyer review their terms if necessary.
When dealing with large companies, it’s important you have terms and conditions that protect you. This doesn’t need to be pages and pages but should cover the basics.
Make sure you have a lawyer help you with drafting terms and conditions that protect you, your company, and its officers. This person is likely to come in handy if you need to review the terms of your prospect.
Scale quickly once you get the green light.
Once you finally get an agreement with your prospect, you’ll need to scale and deliver quickly. This will cement your agreement and place you in good stead with your new customer.
Often, employees that work in big companies are frustrated with the time it takes to get something, so you’ll keep them happy if you can deliver quickly despite delays on their end.
Taking the First Step – Selling to Big Companies
If you want to start selling to big companies, start by identifying some companies you’d like to sell to.
Armed with this information, take some time to go through your network to identify who works there, or who might know someone who does work there.
Mine your network for a way in.
Once you find a contact, begin working through the steps above.
It takes time, but anyone can sell to a big company if you follow the proven formula above.
© Shawn Casemore 2021. All Rights Reserved.