Working with larger customers is a natural point of growth for many small and medium companies. There's a certain thrill that you get when you land your first big deal with a massive customer--a banner account that will help grow your business and also proves that you've "made it."
But there's a risk as well, which I learned the hard way back when I ran an IT consultancy. There, a particular customer of ours made up a very large percentage of my business. Then, one day, that customer was gone. By then, it was too late to take steps to minimize the impact, and I was forced to get creative to retain my employees.
Here are five lessons I learned while doing that, which you should keep in mind when partnering with big companies.
1. Understand your customer's latency.
This means knowing the answer to questions like: How long will the customer really take to make decisions and provide approvals for a project? What's the timeframe for your getting paid once that project is completed?
When I began working with my first major customer (a large computer manufacturer), I didn't realize it could take up to six months to get paid. I was also unaware how common it would be to have an invoice stall for an additional three months due to routine account audits.
Being able to plan my cash flow around such schedules would have saved me a lot of stress.
2. Don't fall victim to "death by meeting."
In many large companies, stakeholders are involved with lots of projects. There are good reasons for this, but it adds latency to getting projects started.
I call this the "hurry up and wait" time.
Be prepared by budgeting enough time for the project in your pricing. Ask--at the outset--the cadence of the meetings your big customer will require.
3. Ask about compliance.
If you have access to a file, you might need to meet certain security guidelines while viewing it. You're already gone through the effort of bidding, meeting with and closing your big customer--so don't accidentally kill the project by not meeting their specific compliance requirements.
Ask for a list of security and compliance guidelines up front to help cut back on latency and ensure you're meeting every requirement necessary.
4. Know the fiduciary requirements.
How much insurance do you have? Are you OK providing an overview of your organization's financials for the past three years?
If someone else were to look at them, would the books actually make sense? Does the big company you're partnering with have a requirement that they not represent more than a given percentage of your organization's billings?
Know the specifics that are required by your partner organization, and then be prepared for additional fees that contracts may not address.
5. Competition can be fierce.
There's likely a line of other vendors waiting to work with the big company you've partnered with, but don't let that drive you into making decisions that might end up being terrible for your business.
Use it as motivation to offer something truly unique that will continue to set you apart from your competition, and to make your customer thankful for choosing your business.
Be mindful of the requirements that are communicated when you engage in such a relationship, and be prepared for these new large customers to take time away from the base of clients that put you where you are.
A big new relationship comes with branding, making you a legitimate authority in your space, and, of course, hopefully profitable. Working with large customers doesn't come without its own challenges, but it's absolutely worth it.
As long as you go in with your eyes wide open, they can also take your organization to the next level.