Fishing for a whale? Here's how to woo your target companies and build a solid – and profitable – relationship.
It's the singular goal of most entrepreneurs: landing a million-dollar sale. Nailing down that major-league client or dream contract often marks the transition from a nice little business to an influential industry powerhouse. But getting that first big sale is sometimes easier said than done because winning such a contract rarely comes down to being the lowest bidder.
Landing a Million-Dollar Sale: Do Your Homework
To get started, you need to know who your target market is and what value you're going to bring to the table, says Earl O'Garro Jr., President and CEO of Hybrid Insurance Group, which is based in Windsor, Connecticut. That means making a list of the big companies out there that you know will be a good fit for your product or service – not just a list of big companies with money to spend. "The primary tool needed in landing the million-dollar deal is believing you or your firm is deserving of the deal and can truly add value," he says. "That doesn't mean simply playing golf with the decision makers or by picking up a dinner when you see a potential client at your favorite restaurant. That's not the sort of value I'm referring to. Landing the deal is a process that should begin well in advance of ever really knowing the players attached to the deal."
O'Garro says that you should do thorough research on your potential target by not just doing standard online research, but also speaking to the company's competitors to come up with potential solutions any potential weaknesses before ever meeting with the client. Then, once you score a meeting with the target company, you can impress them with your advanced insight into solving their biggest issues. "Nothing floors a potential client more than sitting in a meeting with a would-be service provider who has done their homework in anticipation of that day," he says. "It not only shows one's commitment, but it also demonstrates your aggressiveness and commitment which many million-dollar deals require."
Landing a Million-Dollar Sale: Make Your Pitch
The truth is that big companies don't really want to have to switch vendors unless they have to or if there is a really compelling reason for them to do so, says Jill Konrath, author of the books Selling to Big Companies and Snap Selling. "One of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurial clients make is to fall in love with the product or service they are selling," she says. "So they end up spending their time with the client talking about all the bells and whistles they provide rather than talking about the business case for why the product or service will help them solve a problem or ease a pain. They won't change unless it's really worth it."
That means, Konrath says, that once you do get in the door, you need to orient every discussion, conversation, and presentation toward making the business case for why it makes sense for the client to go through the pain of switching to a new vendor. Again, the point is not so much to stress how good your product or service is as to demonstrate how it will make life easier – or more profitable – for your client.
Landing a Million-Dollar Sale: Make it Safe
Once a big company decides that it will make a change to a new vendor, it will then begin looking around at its options. The bad news is that, as a small company, you will also be considered a far riskier option than your larger competitors, Konrath says. Clients might be worried that a smaller vendor won't be able to handle the increased workload, to deliver on time or even that it will still be in business in two years. "When I first started my business, I had a potential client pick someone else because they were worried about what would happen if I got hit by a Mack truck," she says. "It never dawned on me until then that I would be considered a risky option."
To combat this challenge, then, Konrath says, you need to be proactive about the issue and be ready to bring up solutions and alternatives that will help make your pitch far less risky. "You can't be scared to bring it up," she says. "Just because they don't bring it up doesn't mean they're not thinking about it."
Not only will you win points for your honesty and forthrightness, you can then pitch the strengths that come with a smaller size – such as responsiveness to your client's needs and a nimbleness to customizing products and services they wouldn't find if they chose a larger competitor of yours. You can also line up partners who can fill in gaps in delivering the best value for your client. Konrath suggests showing your client a detailed roadmap of how you intend to deliver on your value pitch by emphasizing how you have done similar projects in the past, even if they were tailored to smaller clients. "You want to stress how you can deliver superior customer service to them than if they were the small fish in a big pond," she says.
The good news is, no matter the size of your business, if you've been a part of helping them reach that decision, "you will be in a strong position because you will be considered a valuable resource that has provided guidance and ideas which gives you an inside edge in terms of which vendor they end up picking," Konrath says.
Landing a Million-Dollar Sale: Be Prepared
Even as you make the preparations to land your first million-dollar sale, you should also be working on lining up the necessary resources within your company to support your new client once they come aboard, says Eva Rosenberg, author of the blog The TaxMama. "I've seen it many times where a business finally achieves its dream of the big sale, only to learn they can't fulfill it – or they lose their business as a penalty for not being able to meet the delivery targets," she says. "Sears was notorious for including clauses like that in their contracts."
To get ready for supporting your big sale, Rosenberg says you need essentially three things:
1. Financial resources. These are necessary to pay for the production or staff to provide the products and services. "Understand that you're probably not going to get paid in full until at least 60-90 days after you deliver," Rosenberg says.
2. Back-up resources. In case production facilities break down, have a problem, or something unpredictable steps in. "You might also need alternative sources of staffing if you are providing services or additional bandwidth, servers, duplicate/redundant sites to expand to quickly if traffic suddenly floods in," Rosenberg says.
3. The wisdom and patience to understand that things may go wrong. Also be aware that you might need to be able to step in and move quickly.
Landing a Million-Dollar Sale: Keep Fishing for Minnows
While landing the big million-dollar deal, which many sales professionals have dubbed "the whale," can be an exciting achievement for your business, it shouldn't be your only focus, says Clifford A. Bailey, founder and CEO of TechSoft Systems, which is based in Cincinnati. "Don't focus solely on the whale," he says. "Losing a million-dollar client can devastate your business, and it can happen by no fault of your own. A simple reorganization could put you on the street. A diversified client base can be your lifeline. So always keep fishing for minnows."
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DARREN DAHL is a contributing editor at Inc. Magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, NC.