Selling To Big Companies – Carry A Big Stick


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When you’re selling to big companies you need to speak softly and carry a big stick – to quote a saying popularly credited to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. (According to Wikipedia there’s some disagreement to the origin of the saying but this one will do for us.)

Anybody who’s worked for even a middle size company will know internal influences can affect decisions much more than external factors. There has to be a consensus if any organisation is to change anything. That consensus can be hard to reach when there are competing interests, for budget, for power, and for avoiding the risk of any new idea going wrong.

That’s much more the case in the biggest companies. To make matters worse, executives working for large successful businesses develop a sense of superiority. Somehow they’re more important than the guys they do business with.

Working for a smaller company selling into the biggest operations is a bit like holding a tiger by the tail. Things can get awfully rough, when the beast is riled.

That’s where the speak softly comes in. Don’t rile the beast.

At the same time, those guys aren’t interested in value propositions. They already make so much money, even more is just that, simply more.

That’s where the big stick comes in.

Risks are so much more important than opportunities.

The sales guy offering something which manages or avoids risk is much more likely to get a hearing, and do the business. Creating, or highlighting, that risk whilst offering a solution is the secret sauce in enterprise sales.

My friend John tells some interesting stories which illustrate this point exactly, from 3 perspectives.

On one occasion he worked with a large pharmaceutical company on supply chain optimisation. His support team proved, to the satisfaction of the buying team, that his software could save the business $10 millions each year. The cost would be a one off price of $1 million. But they wouldn’t buy it. That $1 million breached their emotional limit. It was inconceivable such a successful business would pay that much to a small supplier, regardless of the savings.

John contrasts that story with another. He was working with a different pharmaceutical company which was using his software as an integration tool to make the enterprise software work. There was no support agreement in place. John threatened to withdraw support for the software. He won a $2 million contract as a result.

And he follows that with a third story. Working with a new business he’d sold a service management solution, heavily customised. When the contract ran out John wanted to exploit his unique position. Replacing the solution just wasn’t possible in the short term, and would be scarily expensive in the longer.

John pleaded with his boss to let the contract run out. His past experience told him this would be a very profitable renewal when he could wield the big stick. They would get an eye watering deal when the customer realised there was nowhere else to go.

Unfortunately his boss didn’t listen. He negotiated the renewal himself – at a discount from the original charge.

That guy understood the speak softly part of the message, but didn’t have the courage to wield the big stick.

Selling to big companies is about exploitation. The guys in the enterprise will always exploit their smaller partners, unless they can, and will, wield the big stick.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steven Reeves
Consultant, author, software entrepreneur, business development professional, aspiring saxophonist, busy publishing insight and ideas. Boomer turned Zoomer - thirty year sales professional with experience selling everything from debt collection to outsourcing and milking machines to mainframes. Blogger at Successful Sales Management. Head cook and bottle washer at Front Office Box.


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