Just because your business is small, it doesn’t mean your clients have to be small too.
In fact, landing large corporate clients can give a huge boost to a small business’s revenues. Small companies that were suppliers to large corporations reported average revenue growth of 266.4% between one year before and two years after their first sale to a large corporation, according to a survey by the Center for an Urban Future.
So how do you get those big corporate clients? And once you’ve closed the deal, how do you manage such a huge volume of business? That’s exactly what you’ll learn about in this tutorial.
After all, large clients present particular challenges for a small business, such as:
- The sales process is quite different from the approach you might already be taking to attract smaller clients.
- It can be hard to know who to contact in the organization to try to sell to. Trying to navigate the confusing structures of large corporations can be difficult.
- You'll need to learn how to comply with their specific processes and requirements. And service your new large client effectively while also not neglecting your existing customer base.
It require some planning and preparation to solve these complex issues. So read on to learn how to identify the best opportunities, how to approach a large client right, how to put together a winning proposal, and how to manage that client after a successful sale.
1. Identify Opportunities
If you want to go after a large client, you’ll probably need to adjust your approach. Think less in terms of mass tactics, and more in terms of an individual, personalized approach.
Why You Need to Switch Your Thinking
If you’ve traditionally been going after smaller clients, you may be doing things like gathering email addresses and contacting people en masse through an email newsletter, sending them a mix of useful information and subtle sales pitches. Or maybe you’re using social media marketing tools, or keyword advertising, or content marketing.
Those things are all useful, and they may even get you a corporate client if you’re lucky. But waiting for someone from Walmart or Amazon to email you out of the blue one day is not a very enticing prospect. A much more effective approach is to target individual corporate clients, doing careful research and contacting them with a solid proposal geared to their particular needs.
That’s one advantage of pursuing large companies. If you land just one large contract, it could be worth thousands of dollars to your company. That makes it worth investing more time in an individual, personalized sales pitch.
The process we’ll go through in this tutorial simply wouldn’t be worthwhile for an individual or small client who may only end up giving you ten bucks in sales at the end of it all. But when the potential payoff is much larger, you can afford to do a lot more work up front.
Even if you have to approach several companies before achieving a successful sale, you’ll still likely to make more than enough revenue to justify the investment of time and resources.
Draw Up a Target List of Potential Clients
So begin by researching companies you would love to work for. At this stage, you don’t need to know whether they’re actively looking to buy what you’re offering—that information probably won’t be publicly available. You don’t need to know who to contact or any other details—that will come later. Just draw up a list of companies you’d like to partner with and that would have some use for the product or service you provide.
If you offer a web-based or digital product, you can theoretically approach companies in any location. But still, it makes sense to start with local firms if possible. You already have a lot of hurdles to get over as a small company approaching a large one, so adding the difficulty of being on the other side of the world doesn't help.
Also, large companies often look for opportunities to show they’re connected with and contributing to the local community, so working with a local small business could be a good opportunity for them. And being in the same area also makes it easier to find face-to-face networking opportunities (see the next section) and to attend meetings if you make progress in landing the deal.
However, if you don’t have any suitable large firms in your area, or if you can see a good fit with a company based further away, don’t feel limited by geography. Being neighbors can give you an advantage, but it’s not a requirement.
2. Research Your First Target
Now it’s time to research the first company on your list in more detail. Try to get a broad overview of what the firm does, its strengths and weaknesses, its history, and its future plans. You’ll want to present your product not as just a cool product, but as something that can help the company achieve its goals. So the more you can find out about it, the better.
If the firm you’re researching is a public company, then the annual report should be easily available—it’s usually on the company’s website, under “Investor Relations” or something similar. The annual report is a goldmine of information about the company’s financial details, strategic objectives, structure, priorities, and so on. It may not be the most interesting read you’ve ever embarked on, but it will be rewarding. If you can manage to read it from cover to cover, you’ll have a solid idea of the company you’re targeting.
Also look for mentions of the company in the press, which can often provide a different perspective. Check out trade journals as well, where you’ll find some of the more detailed industry-insider information that may not have a broad enough appeal to make it into the general news. And reports by analysts and consultants can also give a detailed insight into the industry and the company’s place in it.
University of California, Berkeley lists some good resources for researching companies on its Career Center website. The information is aimed at people researching potential employers, but it could work for your purposes too.
Don't forget your local library either. Most libraries have a business section where you can find some useful reference books that would be expensive to buy yourself (such as the £715 tome, Who Owns Whom). Tell the librarian about the research you’re doing, and you may be surprised at the wealth of information you receive.
3. Get Personal
Corporations may be huge entities, but they're composed of thousands of individual people, and it's those individuals who make the decisions.
So the next stage in your research is to find out who to contact within the company you've targeted. Some of the sources above may help with this, and some companies also provide details of at least the senior employees on their websites.
But you may need to get creative to figure out exactly who the right person is. Check out some of the company’s publications or press mentions to see whose name comes up. Work your way through LinkedIn, mining your existing connections to see if perhaps you know someone who knows someone at the company. Search Twitter and other social media. Or you could even go old-school and call the company switchboard.
Then look for ways to introduce yourself. Social media provides easier opportunities, but in-person meetings are more effective and memorable. If you can dig up information about a speech the person is giving or a conference they’re attending, that can be a wonderful opportunity to break the ice.
For more networking tips, read the following tutorial:
Once you’ve made contact, follow up with either a phone call or a professional email explaining what your company does and how you can help. Mention some of the things you’ve learned about the company in your research, and show how your product will help it meet its goals.
Keep in mind that it may be better to wait until you’ve developed more of a relationship before sending the sales pitch—it’s up to you to decide that based on how the contact goes. You can find more sales tips in the following tutorials:
- The 5 Elements of a High-Quality Sales TechniqueGeorge N Root III04 Oct 2022
- How to Write an Effective Email Sales PitchAllen Taylor30 Apr 2014
- How to Overcome Your Fear of Sales and RejectionCeline (CX) Roque22 Jan 2023
4. Put Together a Professional Proposal
Although the initial contact may be personal, you'll need to put together a super-professional proposal to actually win the business. Large companies often have set procedures and may need approval from multiple people within the organization, so you'll need a winning proposal that can be shared.
Laura Spencer wrote an excellent guide to writing business proposals:
You can also find some professional proposal templates on Envato Elements—here’s curated selection of the best ones:
- 35+ Best Business Proposal Templates: Ideas For New Client Projects in 2023Marc Schenker01 Apr 2023
Some additional points to keep in mind:
Step 1. Show Your Credibility
Large companies can sometimes be risk-averse. And the same sometimes applies to the people who work for large companies (I know; I used to be one of them!). They’re often used to working with other large companies and proven providers with long track records.
So if you’re approaching a large client, some key questions you’ll need to answer are:
- "Why should we choose your small business?"
- "How do we know you’ll be professional and able to handle the business?"
- "How do I know this won’t blow up in my face and make me look bad in front of my boss?”
If you have any history of working with large or even medium-sized companies that your target client may have heard of, then make the most of that. But if you’re approaching your first corporate client, you probably don’t have much track record in that area.
So do any name-checking you can. If you’ve been featured in the media, even if it’s just a quick quote in an article, then mention it. Some of the credibility of the newspaper, website or TV station will rub off on you and give the client some comfort. (If you haven’t been featured, then work on that: see my tutorial on How to Get Journalists to Write About Your Company.)
Also throw in any credentials you have from recognized institutions, any industry associations you’re a member of, and major events you’ve been involved in.
Credibility can also come from your history of working with smaller clients, so any statistics you can give about things like the length of time in business, number of clients served and satisfaction rates will be helpful. But mentioning some large, recognised names will definitely give you an extra boost.
Step 2. Refine Your Approach
If you’ve put together a fantastic proposal, sent it to the right person and landed a huge contract, congratulations! You’ve hit the ball out of the park on the first attempt. You can now read the next section on how to keep that new large client.
More likely, however, is that you’ll have to approach several companies before being successful. You may also have to wait for months before even getting a definitive reply, because large corporations tend to have complex processes involving several layers of approval.
So when you’ve finished the process with one company, return to your list of opportunities from Section 1 and start all over again. You probably learned something from the process, and perhaps you got some useful feedback from the first client you approached, so you can put all of that to use in your next attempt. Keep trying, keep improving, and you should be successful in the end.
4. How to Manage a Large Client
Now that you've won the business, what now? It's easy for a large client to overwhelm a small business. How do you deal with the huge increase in volume? Here are some quick tips:
Tip 1. Dedicate Resources to the Relationship
Remember what we discussed earlier about switching from a mass approach to an individual approach? It applies particularly strongly here.
With smaller clients, you can deal with them en masse, but that won’t work for a large client. They’re giving you a large amount of business, and in return you’ll need to give them a lot of individual attention.
It may be worth hiring a new staff member or reassigning an existing one to focus specifically on making sure that things go smoothly with that client. A large client will want a go-to person whom they can contact if they have a problem—and they'll expect that problem to be resolved quickly.
Tip 2. Adapt Your Processes
Large companies have certain ways of working, and they generally won’t be receptive to the idea of upending their processes for the sake of a small new supplier. That means that you’ll be the one who has to adapt.
That may mean big changes to your manufacturing processes or the way you deliver your products. Or it might mean changes to the payment process. Consider this example from Patrick Weir, the owner of MyDigitalDoorman.com, as told to the Center for an Urban Future:
In the beginning, we weren’t at all set up to deal with the big guys. Our whole model was to charge small businesses monthly by credit card. Big customers want to pay by invoice once a year. We had to create a mechanism for that.
Sometimes, large companies take much longer to pay their bills than smaller ones, as reported in this Wall Street Journal article. That can lead to cash-flow challenges, so you’ll need to factor that in. You can find out more about managing your cash flow here:
Tip 3. Keep Your Balance
Dealing with a large company can be quite demanding, and the danger is that you spend so much time keeping your new client happy that you neglect the old ones.
That can be very dangerous, because if you lose too many of your smaller clients, you can end up depending too heavily on your new corporate customer. If they decide to stop doing business with you one day, your business could go under.
So when you dedicate resources to the new client, make sure you’re not taking too much away from the existing ones. And in your new product development, don’t make it exclusively aimed at the large customer—build in something to help your smaller customers as well.
Planning carefully and keeping things segregated is the key here. Devote enough attention to the large client, but be sure to keep some time and resources free for the rest of your client base too.
In this tutorial, you’ve learned how to get large corporate clients and then keep them. We’ve covered the process from start to finish, beginning with researching targets and establishing contact, and then going through the sales and proposal stages, before looking at how to manage a large client successfully.
As you’ve seen, approaching a large client can take a lot of time and effort, and managing that client may require making changes to how you do business. But the increased revenue will more than make up for it, and the credibility and possible referrals you receive from serving that large client can lead to many more opportunities in the future.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2017. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.