For small enterprise and even startups, corporate accounts can mean everything, but the loss of just one client can be devastating.
According to Angelique Rewers, CEO of The Corporate Agent, much has changed inside these companies in terms of how buying decisions and vendor relations are happening. So if you want to continue to be successful in selling to them, you need to make changes in your approach and do it quickly.
Many small businesses turn to LinkedIn to create these relationships, but Rewers says it's not about online marketing. "Online marketing is overrated," she says. "When it comes to winning corporate clients, proximity is still power."
Rewers' firm offers training and consulting services to small enterprise CEOs and self-employed experts to support them in winning corporate clients. Here's what she suggests you do to gain and maintain those precious corporate accounts in today's environment.
Ask for introductions to decision-makers across the company.
According to this Mercer Talent Trend report, 93% of executives plan to make significant changes inside of their corporations over the next two years. There's a lot of "musical chairs" going on in terms of who sits where. That means relying on key relationships with just one or two people inside of a company is a dangerous bet.
"More and more, you're going to find that the key people who have been champions for your company's services or products will be moved into a new role without warning," says Rewers. "That means that your current contact may no longer be the person who has the authority or need to buy from you. "It's more important than ever to build your relationships wide inside of organizations.
"One great way to extend your reach inside of a corporation is by encouraging your direct client to do knowledge-sharing across his or her organization," she says. For example, presenting an internal case study, whereby they share lessons learned and emerging best practices, is a great way for your client to look like a hero. It's also a way for you to get visibility and exposure to decision-makers located in other parts of the business.
Rewers strongly recommends that you ask for strategic introductions to the right people. "Sometimes cutting to the chase is the most effective approach of all," she says.
Don't worry about your competitors. Focus on building consensus.
Everything inside of companies is more complex today. There are more interdependencies. More dotted-line reporting structures. More joint-ownership responsibilities. As a result, two things have happened.
First, the speed of buying decisions has slowed down. Dramatically. Second, while the people in charge may all agree that they have a problem, there's a lot of disagreement about the best way to solve that problem.
"If you want to sell to corporate clients today, you have to bake into your marketing and sales process a number of consensus-building exercises," says Rewers. "By helping your prospect identify the areas where there is already internal agreement among key decision makers, you can get them started down the path to a solution." And of course, once a company buys from you, they are more likely to keep buying from you.
Something else that The Corporate Agent experts recommend to their small business owner clients is that their approach to working with corporate clients starts with a discovery phase engagement--for which they are paid.
"The discovery phase allows both them and their new corporate customer the opportunity to wrap their arms around the business challenge at hand in a way that simply cannot be duplicated in series of sales conversations," says Rewers. Don't give away your expertise out of fear that you will lose an opportunity to work with a corporate prospect.
Focus more on proximity and less on online marketing.
Online content and inbound marketing aren't going to get you anywhere when your focus is on landing a corporate client. According to Rewers, that's simply not how you reach the key decision makers at the top of organizations today.
"Decision makers are even more discerning as to whom they let through their proverbial red velvet rope," says Rewers. "One of the biggest factors is whether or not they've met you. That's why our recommendation to our small business owner clients today is to curate face-to-face experiences for small groups of key executives."
"By mixing together cutting-edge insights, executive-to-executive knowledge sharing, and high-end experiences, you can crack open the door to the C-level folks who you really want to speak with," says Rewers.
Hold a tasting menu event with a buzz-worthy chef, for example. Be creative. You might even look for a partner for your event--another small business owner who targets the same corporate prospects for a different product or service. Together, you can host a fun, buzz-worthy event for both, your top customers and your ideal prospects. Employing this strategy is smart since your clients will naturally talk about the results they've seen from working with you, essentially doing your selling for you.