Sometimes running a small business can feel like you’re fighting to get out from behind the shadows of much larger competitors.
Particularly in the business-to-business (B2B) realm, there are many large organizations who seem to have a history of only dealing with vendors of a similar size. Perhaps there is a sense that a big company will have more resources, a proven track record and more experience with the kinds of issues their large customers face every day. That could explain why small businesses sometimes have to work extra hard to get in the door with a large customer, even though landing a big sale can prove fundamental to their long-term survival.
What makes things even more difficult is the fact that many B2B purchases involve complex and specific procurement processes, have a longer sales cycle and may involve half a dozen decision-makers or more. This opens up lots of opportunities for small business to make the kind of mistakes that hurt their credibility next to larger competitors. In some sectors, those big incumbents may also already be on the “vendor of record” lists, and will be difficult to dislodge.
By the same token, small businesses would be remiss to give up on those big sales. There are plenty of large organizations that are tired with having limited choice in the vendors from whom they can get the products and services they need. In some cases they might be looking for competitive pricing. Sometimes they might just want better service. Depending on the approach, a small business might be able to position itself as the better option, which not only means a big sale but the kind of customer relationship that allows a company to grow substantially in a much shorter time period.
As you survey your addressable market and develop your sales strategy, use the following principles to guide your way in securing those first, big customers:
A lot of small companies will go after funding by talking to various investors about how many kinds of organizations will want their products and services. That’s a good strategy at that stage of your development, but by the time you’re in market, your customers should feel as though no one else could possibly be a better fit.
This requires prospecting that focuses much more on data gathering than pitching. It might mean creating a unique bundle or configuration of your products and services so that it feels like a custom, almost bespoke kind of offering. It might mean dedicating certain resources, at least in the short term, to ensure the customer will be completely satisfied.
When companies talk about “one-to-one marketing,” it’s not just about fooling a customer into thinking they’re special. It means treating them as unique throughout the entire customer experience. And if you land a sale big enough this way, you’ll quickly see why you have to make that a common practice as you seek out similar large customers.
You might have products that could help a large company save time and money, but could you offer them some ideas on how to motivate their employees? Can you suggest ways that they could not only be more efficient, but more creative in the work they do? You might have half a dozen things in your portfolio they need, but what can you give them that addresses what they want on an individual, human level?
This is the role of content marketing. You can do it with blog posts, eBooks, videos, infographics and more, but the impact should be the same. Great content doesn’t have to be expensive to produce, but it should be meaningful, and it’s one of the ways even the smallest companies can stand out from the crowd.
In a lot of industries there’s a common complaint about how “the system” works -- meaning the way vendors tend to operate. Some companies, for example, sell products and services but leave customers in the dark about how they come up with pricing or particular levels of service. That offers an opening for small businesses that emphasize transparency in the way they do business.
There might be another sector where it’s common to emphasize revenue generation and profitability. That’s where a small business might get attention by weaving in some kind of corporate social responsibility into its ethos, whether it’s using more environmentally-friendly materials or donating part of its employee’s time to volunteering for worthy causes. Then there are the industries that are notorious for leaving customers on hold for half an hour or more. A small business that ensures prompt responses and a more friendly approach to problem resolution will be a sight for sore eyes to at least a few big customers.
This may seem like a radical or dangerous idea, but sometimes landing a big sale means proving yourself before you get a lot of revenue. Instead, major companies will agree to taking on a newer, smaller or unproven vendor in exchange for a discount, deferred payment until return on investment (ROI) has been proven or some other kind of incentive. In exchange, they may be willing to have their positive experience profiled or offer comments that can be used to persuade similar kinds of firms. This is all about landing a “whale” that will attract other big fish in the future.
No matter how you manage to land those initial big sales, document everything. Make good use of tools like CRM so you can learn and apply whatever best practices that were captured to the next prospect on your list.
Over time, you’ll find that being small is less of a disadvantage than you thought. If you’re creating a customer experience that delivers real value, there’s always going to be a market for what you offer -- and some big budgets that go along with it.