Why should we work with YOU? Circumventing the challenges faced by small enterprises selling into corporates


“No-one ever got fired for buying IBM”.  Frustratingly, not all suppliers are created equal.  Quality of service is just one consideration; innovation another consideration; too often, the critical consideration of a corporate buyer is the risk, or perceived risk, of buying services from ‘small’ players.  Importantly, this risk may not be organisational risk, but more personal (read: career) risk.

I have worked through this problem, with varying degrees of success in the outcome, many times during my career advising growth companies.   As with any challenging situation involving people, a good starting point for problem solving is ‘the other person’s shoes’.

Consider yourself as a buyer in a corporate.  You are leading a programme that, given your meteoric rise through the ranks, is of such profile that it hotly tipped to create major organisational benefits across multiple geographies.  Conceptually, the intent is defined – you understand what the organisation needs to achieve, and in some cases how it is going to do it.  Your next step is to identify supporting companies to help achieve the aim.  Remember, potential suppliers: corporate customers are not waiting for you to come and solve their problems – they are already seeking to solve them.

You line up a series of companies that appear to fit the bill, inviting them in to present how they believe they can support you in achieving your aim and the value they will add over and above.

The first supplier wanders in.  Hopeless; the sales team has a big brand behind them, but the sales execution is poor and they haven’t picked up on the hints you’ve been throwing them as to the true requirements.    This is going to be a long day.

Next is a big western brand; the sales team is highly motivated, the sales lead is inspirational, the proposal almost exactly what the organisation is looking for – looking good!  Furthermore, they’ve done loads of work with you before so have lots of great relationships around the organisation so they can get things done.

Finally is a ten man technology company – the ‘wildcard’ selection.  The CEO runs the pitch, is inspirational, and the proposal scope goes way beyond what’s needed – at a competitive cost.  Then you move onto the questions – you work out, through questioning, that the deal will equate to a 100% uplift in the company annual revenues – it will ‘make’ them.  Clearly there needs to be a plan as to how the CEO will manage this – but under questioning the CEO falls down: has he managed this level of growth before? Is he intending to recruit more people to service the work? What are his proposed ways to de-risk the project?  These weren’t expected, and the supplier sales team flaps.

You choose the big western brand, and share some of the ideas from the wildcard with them (some of the other parts of the pitch they made didn’t really make sense in the first show, so you bin those – even though they were probably pretty good), and your career continues happily.

You are the Wildcard – What should have happened

 Understand the customer requirements, and either fit them exactly – or adjust and explain why.

  • Identify how your offering can we credibly expanded beyond the customer’s requirement – and explain the how and importantly why in simple and succinct language
  • Highlight the competition’s weaknesses
    • In the UK, this is invariably by highlighting your ‘strengths’ (which you know to be the competition’s weakness)
      • Or, and as I understand US sales culture, openly attack the competition’s weaknesses
  • Brainstorm all the questions you don’t want to be asked – invariably these are asked – and produce rational, practiced answers.  A starter for ten:
    • How will you manage a piece of work of this magnitude ?
      • Think: people, processes, and partners who can support
  • Why should we work with you (….over and above the big blue chip supplier you are pitching against)?  Turn size to your advantage:
    • Emphasise the importance of the customer within the business’s world – the most important customers get all the senior management attention
    • Consider the flexibility of a smaller business (“please submit your change request to the appropriate subcommittee two weeks in advance of their quarterly meeting”)
    • Go in heavy on the experience of the management team – just because they work for a smaller organisation doesn’t mean they always have – nor that they have no experience of larger corporate
  • What happens if you fail? Think:
    • Software code in escrow
    • Transfer of dedicated staff to the customer
    • The nature of the people currently funding the business – how deep are their pockets, and how supportive have they been to date (consider taking them along to show how serious you are)
  • Practice, practice, practice – and go in confident.


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