A Step-by-Step Guide to Selling to & Winning Business from Large Corporations
Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues
And you know it don’t come easy.
-Ringo Starr, “It Don’t Come Easy”
I remember the first meeting I ever scheduled.
It was October 2014. I’d been at COACT a little over a month and was fresh into my new role as a business development specialist.
Having come from the world of social work, I felt like I was swimming in unchartered waters. Scratch that: not swimming, exactly. Let’s be real – floundering.
As I watched my name at the bottom of our daily metrics every day, I wondered: Will I ever make a sale?
Did I, a former case manager and educator, have what it took to sell stuff?
So, you can just imagine how excited I was when I booked my first-ever appointment: a meeting for one of our tech clients with a potential value-added reseller partner.
I’d done it!
And slowly, as the months went by, I started to build momentum.
Soon, I was no longer a bottom-feeder on our sales metrics. Instead, I was surging to the top of the ranks.
That’s when I started to challenge myself.
The summer after I started working at COACT, I was ready to tackle bigger and more complex corporations. Sure, setting meetings and demos with resellers is fun and all, but I’ve always been someone who wants to grow and learn.
So, when I was given the task of breaking down the buying systems of two of the largest electric utilities companies in the U.S. for one of our AEC clients in July 2015, I rose to the task.
Was it easy? I’ll be honest – no, it was not easy. It wasn’t just a one-and-done sale; it took a lot of time, research, investigation, and a unique, data-driven process of business growth. And I didn’t do it alone; the team and I accomplished this together.
But it was possible.
And over a year later, we had not only introduced our AEC client to both utilities companies, figured out how their purchasing systems worked, and completed the prequalification process, but we’d also brought this client several million-dollar proposals for work that was in their wheelhouse.
But how did we achieve this?
Voila! A Step-by-Step Guide to Selling & Winning Business from Large Corporations
Here are eight tried-and-true methods that both I and the other members of the business development team at COACT Associates have used over the years to help our clients to sell to and win business from large corporations from various industries (aerospace, utilities, automotive, and more):
1) Build your Ideal Client Profile.
Regardless of whether or not you’re planning inbound or outbound marketing/sales campaigns, you’ll want to know your target markets and customers.
Or in other words, you need to start off by building your Ideal Client Profile.
This is really exactly what it sounds like: Defining who your ideal high-value target is. This allows you to be as intentional as possible with your sales and marketing strategies.
Building your Ideal Client Profile helps to ensure you’re going after the right targets as opposed to just anyone.
You can actually get as granular as you want, but some good criteria to start off your Ideal Client Profile could include each company’s:
- Minimum project packages
- Position titles of those who buy
- Reasons why they might buy/will buy from you
- What the typical buying process might look like per company and contact
2) Identify your specific sales objectives when you’re reaching out to each prospect.
The general goal of sales is simple: to sell more products/services and make more money. But you can’t have a vague goal like “more money” or its equally as vague equivalents (win jobs, get leads, set meetings, etc.) when you start prospecting to big corporations.
I personally saw the most success when our team and our clients set mutual goals to reach. Here are some examples of three specific goals we had with an AEC client:
- Figure out how a particular prospect worked with companies in their industry (i.e., self-performing vs. subcontracting)
- What the prequalification process looked like
- The average amount and duration of each project
We aligned the specific information we wanted to gather with our call plans and marketing touchpoints, adhering to the kinds of questions and pre-sales prep outlined in Miller Heiman’s “The New Conceptual Selling.” (For more information about this recommended book, check out this executive summary!)
Other specific goals we identified included:
- Figuring out how the buying process worked
- Determining what the supplier evaluation process looked like
- Setting introduction meetings with key decision makers
- Getting our client on the bidding list
- Continually staying in front of relevant contacts at their target companies so our client was top-of-mind
By setting specific goals and continually measuring the success of these goals, we were able to profile the large buying systems of our client’s high-value targets and, eventually, help them win proposals.
I’ve only seen this success continue to be replicated across our clients.
3) Use an account-based marketing (ABM) approach instead of a leads approach.
Like many sales and marketing organizations, COACT uses a CRM for our business development activities and data – in our case, Salesforce. No matter which CRM you use, though, most are essentially structured the same, and many companies operate out of leads for their prospecting efforts.
I’ve operated out of leads before, and I have to admit that I hate operating out of leads. That’s because trying to win sales just through one or two contacts doesn’t really cut it anymore.
After all, today’s buying systems are much more complex than the past. More and more people are involved in the purchasing process, from varying departments. And not only that, many people change jobs every few years, so one contact may be there today and at a rival company tomorrow.
With this approach to marketing and sales, your goal shifts from trying to find the right person to sell to; instead, you focus on understanding the account (i.e., prospect/ideal client). You will want to essentially profile – and build – the companies you’re reaching out to.
Obviously, you will still need to identify and qualify the individual contacts at each company. But you want to aim for the larger picture, not just the one purchasing guy or two or three sourcing contacts who seem to like your company and what you have to offer.
4) Classify your accounts, your buyer types, and the interest level of each contact.
How do you determine who to contact, when, what kind of decision maker they are, and their level of interest in your product or service?
There are myriad ways to do this, but what we’ve found successful is to use specific categories for:
- The type of account
- The type of buyer
- Their interest
Then use these classifications to guide your sales and marketing cadences.
You might define an account as an unknown; one who fits your Ideal Client Profile to a T; one that is a good fit that you reach out to every two months; and one that is so-so, but worth staying in touch with at least every quarter or biannually.
This will leave you with a set of criteria to assign to each account so that you know two important things:
- Where to spend your efforts
- How often to communicate with each account
For instance, at COACT, we design specific sales cadences based on the qualified account type. So, for example, if one of our team members has qualified an account as an ideal target, they will reach out more frequently at a pre-defined rhythm.
This takes the guesswork out of sales and equips your team so they can work smarter, not harder.
But that’s just at the account level. You need to classify the contacts as well.
To do so, evaluate two things:
- The buyer mode
- The buyer type
Here at COACT, we classify our buyers using four buyer modes:
- In the Growth mode, a buyer perceives that by buying your product or service, they will generate growth for their company.
- In the Even Keel mode, a buyer believes that progress is steady and there is no urgency to change anything.
- In the Trouble mode, a buyer perceives that the business is failing and understands something must change.
- In the Overconfident mode, a buyer perceives they are succeeding and that a suggested offering is practically an insult. There is little you can do to change their perception.
This short video goes more in-depth about buyer modes:
Then we classify each contact per their buyer type:
- Economic Buyer
- Technical Buyer
- Coach Buyer
- User Buyer
By understanding the buyer types and modes of each contact, you will be able to know who you need to spend time getting in touch with and, accordingly, design a cadence or rhythm that is at the contact level in addition to the account level.
For instance, let’s say you speak with a purchasing manager who you know is an Economic Buyer (that is, has decision-making power) and has a “Growth” mode. This tells you that this contact is not only the right person you want to get in touch with, but also someone you want to reach out to frequently.
Identifying the buyer type and buyer mode of each contact is especially important when you finally set a meeting, webinar, demo, or something that is equivalent.
If it’s someone who is a Coach Buyer, you’ll know that they can help guide you to the real decision-makers, but they won’t have the ultimate say in whether or not their company chooses to work with you.
Or, if you go into a meeting with someone who is “Even Keel,” you’ll be able to ascertain that you will need to take a different approach to your pitch.
Finally, to really be successful, you’ll want to go one step deeper. You can do so by figuring out who reports to whom, which department makes decisions, and which decisions each department is in charge of. Use your CRM to track this information.
By going one step deeper, you should have a good starting point for building organizational and department hierarchies. This will help you to visualize – and conceptualize – what the buying system looks like, if even just a broad overview.
5) Build out each location and how they report to each other.
It goes without saying that big companies have more than one location. But how many? Where are they located? Do they make centralized or decentralized decisions? And which locations should you care about?
This is where doing your industry research and relying heavily on your CRM come into play. An easy way to do this is to have a “parent” or “main” account for each prospect. This should generally be the headquarters of the company.
Then you can start building hierarchies. It can be something simple like this:
- Parent Account HQ
- New Jersey Location
- California location
Or something more complicated – perhaps by department or division:
- Parent Account HQ
- Aerospace Division
- Location 1
- Location 2
- Tubing Division
- Location 1
- Location 2
- Purifiers Division
- Location 1
- Location 2
- Aerospace Division
Following along with the advice in #4, you will want to classify each division/location and each contact at each location.
This is especially helpful because it will help you paint a bigger picture of what the company looks like holistically. You also will learn more about the decision-making process(es) of your prospects and avoid missing out on potential work or projects.
6) The more contacts, the better.
Whenever I used to do any sort of prospecting, whether for an economic development client, an AEC client, or a tech client, I always did some basic research for every company. Part of doing so is finding – and adding in – more and more contacts.
This actually isn’t as hard as you might think. Of course, using a prospecting list source or a B2B contact database is helpful (and some might say, necessary). But you can also do so just using LinkedIn, Google, and at times, the company website.
Brainstorm or even research the potential position titles of the ideal contacts you’ll want to be in touch with. You usually do this when you’re defining your Ideal Client Profile, but you should also do this when you start actively prospecting.
For instance, when I was reaching out to a major food company for an economic development client of ours for a retention campaign, I learned after several contact attempts that the tax department and M&A departments got involved in the decision-making process.
So, I went on LinkedIn and typed in varying versions of the position titles with “tax” and “M&A.” (This is also known as “LinkedIn stalking.”) I found enough contacts just using their free version.
LinkedIn does have a cap on the number of contacts you can research just for free, so it might be worth it to upgrade to LinkedIn Sales Navigator if you have enough success there. I also used our list source/database as well.
Oh, and in case you were wondering – adding in the M&A and tax contacts helped me to land this client a meeting. So, it works!
7) Have a cache of relevant stories, value propositions, case studies, etc. that pertain to each prospect for your outreach efforts.
Ideally, every sales outreach you make – calls, emails, LinkedIn messages, thank you cards, or what-have-you – should be intentional. Part of intentionality comes with messaging.
When you reach out to a large organization that fits your Ideal Client Profile, you’ll want to have a cache of case studies, relevant stories, value propositions, etc. that relate to them specifically.
Learn how to define your value propositions in this quick video:
Remember: these organizations are getting slammed every day by companies trying to sell them some service or other.
So, the last thing you want to do is communicate an irrelevant message to a buyer who is probably already frustrated.
Before you begin prospecting, then, make sure you’ve identified the value propositions and tangible benefits that make you stand out and will appeal to this prospect. Back these up with success stories, case studies, videos, data, or whatever you have that can communicate your message and prove that what you say is true.
8) Stay in touch after the first meeting/call/webinar/proposal/RFQ/RFP – even if you don’t win the bid or project.
You’ve classified a company as meeting your Ideal Client Profile. You’ve figured out how the buying system works. You’ve identified the decision makers. You’ve positioned yourself as a good prospect. You’ve scheduled a meeting or webinar. Maybe you’ve even received a bid or a quote opportunity.
The answer is to keep in touch with this prospect, regardless of whether or not you win a project or quote. Remember: companies change all the time. Contacts change all the time. Install a follow-up process for quotes and meetings.
Make sure your name is out there. If you didn’t win a project, don’t be afraid to reach out, found why, and see if you can quote them on another project. If you did, continue to reach out anyway.
The frequency, of course, will vary, but what’s important is to make sure that you don’t give up or stop maintaining contact with them – respectively, of course.
Check out this example of how our quote follow-up process helped a precision machined products manufacturer grow their business exponentially:
COACT Client Gains More Than $1M in Wins
Profiling buying systems takes work, time, and ultimately, a data-driven process, but hopefully, by following some of the steps in this guide, you will be on your way to driving growth in your organization.
But don’t just stop there. Interested in learning how we can help? Get in touch with COACT. We’d love to learn more about your prospecting plans and discuss how our process can bring you new business.