For many, many small and mid-sized companies, landing a giant, marquee customer is a rite of passage. But it’s not always easy to convince these huge corporations that your company has the chops—or the experience—to handle the demands of their business. Recently, we asked readers and a panel of experts for their best tips and tactics for successfully winning over big clients. Here are some of our favourite responses:

Fake it till you make it

“It’s important to be honest, but it can’t hurt to do some things that make you look bigger than you are. Make sure you have an 800 number, even if it just goes to your cellphone—and make sure it has extensions. Don’t refer to specific people. Say things like, ‘I have to run this by my sales department,’ even if it’s just one guy. ‘I have to consult my legal team,’ even if it’s outside counsel you have on retainer. Have a really great website, and make sure your proposals look professional. Those little things really help.”
—Aydin Mirzaee, director of product management, SurveyMonkey, Ottawa

Start from the bottom

“If you’re a smaller business, you have to earn the right to be at the high end of the food chain. It’s often easier to go after a smaller part of a big company, where maybe the ramifications aren’t so broad. Instead of trying for all of GE, for instance, try for its oncology division. Once you’re in and have delivered what you promised, you’ll have a foothold in the account, which can lead to more business. Increasingly in today’s economy, big companies don’t like to take a risk on an unproven commodity. By tackling something smaller, you’ll be seen as much less risky— and, as a result, much more attractive.”
—Jill Konrath, author, Selling to Big Companies, Minneapolis

Podcast: The Secret to Selling to Giant Corporations

Know the company, promote yourself

“When you’re selling to large companies, you’re not selling to one person. No matter what it is you have to offer, you’ll be dealing with multiple layers. It’s really important to understand who the decision makers are in the process. Whatever it is you present them with, add some colour to it. That gets pushed up the ladder. That could be a solid presentation deck on your company that includes logos of the companies you’ve dealt with before. I include written references in mine—those are very powerful. When you get a big win, put out a press release about it and have it ready when you’re making your pitch. If your firm has received any awards or press—even snippets—put it up on your website. Produce case studies, even if you have only two customers, and offer contact information for people who can give referrals, even if you haven’t been asked for them. You need to show success.”
—David Urquhart-Knopf, CEO, Cue Digital Media, Toronto

Tap your network

“Good relationships matter. We’ve done work for people at mid-size companies who have gone on to larger firms. Because we did good work for them, they had faith in our ability to do the work and brought us on. It’s not size that dictates skill, it’s skill that dictates skill. If you prove that to someone, they’ll stick with you wherever they go. We build strong relationships with our vendors. They’re almost an extension of our team. And some of them have relationships with big firms, which allows us to get our foot in the door with clients we’re not experienced with.”
—Matthew Metelsky, co-founder, Third Octet, Toronto

Read: How to Bag a Trophy Client

Specialize in something novel

“While the size and scale of an enterprise can be critical to decision-making on occasion, more often than not, we’ve found it’s not a primary influence. It’s more about quality over quantity. To attract larger brands, you first need to demonstrate a specialization that is sufficiently different from the conventional offering in your space. You then need to prove that the product or brainpower you’re selling is of a distinct quality. Nail these two core pieces and your odds of success grow.”
Kenneth Evans, senior vice-president, APEX Public Relations, Toronto

This article is from the Fall 2014 issue of Canadian Business . Subscribe now!

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