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6 Tips That Can Help Small Businesses Land Big Clients

Follow these recommendations and you'll increase your company's chances of hooking a 'whale'

By Gwen Moran

We’re creeping up on the end of the second quarter. So as you start making plans to grow your small business in the second half of 2012, it’s a great time to focus on what it takes to land a “whale,” or a big client. Hooking one can take time, but I have six ways that can increase your chances of success.
1. Be choosy about your prospects. Small businesses are often seduced by the glitz of big-name companies and pitch every giant they can think of, says Tom Searcy of Indianapolis, who writes a blog at

That approach is a mistake. Instead, target the big companies that you respect, the ones that reflect your business’ values and have a history of working with smaller suppliers. To weed out prospects, read each firm’s annual report and news releases. That’s where you’ll see whether its causes and commitment to giving are a good match for you.

Also, look at the supplier-diversity section of the company's website. It will give you insights about opportunities and criteria for small businesses.

(MORE: Five Mistakes That Can Put You Out of Business)
2. Make your introductory message sharp. Business coach Barry Moltz, the Chicago-based author of You Need to Be a Little Crazy: The Truth About Starting and Growing Your Own Business, says small business owners often try to cram too much information into their first email or call to a big prospect, hoping that something they say will resonate. Instead, hone in on what your company does best.
Perhaps your business has a knack for saving money on IT. Don’t muddy the waters by hawking your firm’s Web design or social media marketing services.
3. Focus on your solution to a whale’s problem. All companies have problems; you want to offer prospects sure-fire solutions. If you’re a whiz at search engine optimization, for instance, your business could be a godsend to a Fortune 500’s overworked marketing department.
When you make a sales pitch to a whale, don’t highlight the features of your product or service. Instead, describe how your firm can save the company time, money or energy; reach new markets; increase employee engagement or overcome a key obstacle. Help your prospect picture a world where a big problem doesn’t exist anymore.
4. Meet every stakeholder possible. Once you get beyond the introductory email or call and have a chance to make an in-person pitch, it’s imperative that you meet as many of the people involved with your potential order as you can.
At large companies, Searcy says, hiring a new firm to provide products or services affects a broader swath of people than at smaller businesses. So the more connections you can make, the less you’re likely to encounter objections due to change or fear of an unknown supplier. “Ask your corporate contact if you can meet other people who will be affected by the decision, so you can answer their questions,” Searcy says.
5. Reflect the breadth of your company. When meeting with all those stakeholders, try to bring the team that will work with this customer, Searcy says.

Include co-workers and a supplier or vendor who works closely with your company to show your business’s personnel and capabilities. This can quell concerns about your company being too small to get the job done.
6. Get you business certified. In an earlier Next Avenue post, I explained how small business certifications can give your company an edge. Big businesses like to see these certifications because they help the firms demonstrate their commitment to working with small businesses owned by women and minorities as well as ones located in disadvantaged areas.
Sometimes, certification groups also check out the facilities and finances of small businesses applying for the designations. This can help convince a big company that you’ll be able to deliver the goods — literally and figuratively.

Gwen Moran is a small business authority and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Business Plans. She has been running her own businesses since 1992 and was a national finalist in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards competition. Read More
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