Winning new enterprise clients can be extremely profitable for SMEs.
These businesses tend to have much greater spending power, offer medium or long-term contracts and have the resources to engage properly with vendors.
At the same time they are notoriously difficult to connect with, and the scale of their requirements can often be a barrier for SMEs.
However, SMEs should not be put off by the challenge. Instead they should seek to start small, building credibility with just a few individuals and slowly grow from there.
In this article, I’m going to share with you my experience of selling to enterprise clients over the past ten years – including many FTSE 100 companies – and provide specific guidance that will help you win these valuable contracts.
I’ll explain why it’s so hard to get enterprise clients, and the risks that individuals at these companies take when they buy-in to a new supplier.
Then I’ll come to the crux: winning these clients is not about inflating your company to look like one of the big boys. Instead, it’s about focusing your energy on a single problem that will get you noticed.
I’ll then give you some clear pointers before going on to give an example from a deal we’re working on right now.
Let’s get started.
Better the Devil You Know
One of the biggest challenges in winning new enterprise clients is entrenched incumbents – vendors who are already on the company’s books and probably have been for many years.
These suppliers will be well known to the key decision-makers and will have established relationships across the business that anchor them as a go-to service provider.
Stakeholders across the business will have worked with these incumbents many times and whether the provider is liked or disliked, the most important thing is that they are known to the customer.
This means there is a personal risk for an individual at a large company who is considering taking on a new supplier.
If there is no major issue with the incumbent, the customer will need to weigh up the reward of pushing for change against the hassle and risk of introducing someone new. This is especially the case if the company is used to working with large suppliers.
I can speak from experience here, as this is something that we have to contend with.
Several large, well-known companies dominate the business data industry. Enterprise clients are, therefore, used to working with large vendors. When a smaller company comes along, they question whether they will have the capacity and ask why they haven’t heard of them – it’s natural.
If an SME hasn’t got any experience working with larger clients this will also be held against them; luckily we don’t have this problem, as we have been able to win our fair share of larger customers.
Identify Pain Points
Many companies mistakenly think that they must immediately do everything for a new enterprise client. The key to getting your foot in the door at this level is to focus on solving specific challenges which you know are becoming pain points for the company.
Usually, these pain points involve changing circumstances which the company is struggling to adapt to. The current Covid-19 crisis is an excellent example of this. Lockdown restrictions are creating many novel challenges for businesses which may require a new perspective to overcome.
Solving them gets the attention of decision-makers and builds initial trust – not only did you deliver, but you delivered in a crisis.
Other examples of crises that present potential opportunities include changes to legislation, changes to the macroeconomic environment, or the client’s business moving into new sectors or geographic locations.
Your job is to look for these changes and position your product as the solution. Enterprise clients will often buy software in two- to five-year cycles; these new challenges give you a chance to win a contract outside of the regular procurement cycles.
Patience is Key
It’s important to accept that getting enterprise clients is a slow burn and one which may take many years to pay off. You should expect to be picking up smaller projects for some time before an opportunity to work on something bigger arises.
You should also tailor your approach to the inherently long sales cycle, choose which battles are worth your time and don’t expect it to be anything like selling to an SME.
Steps to Success
As previously mentioned, at Red Flag Alert we’ve managed to gain a number of enterprise clients. While there is no one-size-fits-all formula for winning them, this approach has worked for us many times.
1. Know Your Sector
Enterprise sales are all about building credibility. To stand any chance of winning a client in this arena, you need to be an expert in their sector with strong working knowledge. Before you begin, ensure you know enough about the sector’s challenges, how purchasing decisions are made, future expectations for the industry, etc.
2. Identify a Key Decision-Maker
Find someone at the company with influence over the part of the business you want to work with. You could do this in person, for example, by making contact at an industry trade show you know the company is attending, or via social media platforms like LinkedIn.
3. Align Yourself with Pain Points
Rather than being product-focused and pushing what you want to sell, you should be solution-focused and sell your ability to overcome a problem for the decision-maker. Identify their pain point and pitch a solution to them that overcomes it.
4. Build Credibility at Different Levels
Ask your contact to introduce you to key people and use their trust in you as a lever to pitch to other key influencers. If you start at the C-suite, make sure your contact passes you down the chain with an agreement to go ahead if the team agrees it is the right solution.
5. Take Part in the Decision-Making Process
You should play an active role in supporting your decision-maker to sell your services internally. Whenever possible, you should join them at meetings concerning your proposal and give them the information and tools they need to make convincing presentations.
6. Don’t Try to Take on Incumbents Directly
Taking on incumbents is a big mistake. They know the client company well and trying to oust them will prove difficult. It’s better to begin by providing a niche solution to a specific problem or even by tethering your offering to your competitor’s solution as a bolt-on service. The most important thing is that you get a foot in the door so that you can start delivering value and building relationships.
7. Avoid Procurement Tenders
You should avoid being involved in tenders unless you have been part of the design process outlined above. You are very unlikely to win a tender you have been invited to out of nowhere; more likely, you will only be helping a procurement manager by filling a quota.
Case Study: Insurance
As an example, let’s look at how Red Flag Alert recently approached a huge insurance company.
Credit checking is an integral part of how insurers weigh risk. This means that firms providing credit checking software generally have established relationships with the large insurers. It’s a hard space to break into.
The coronavirus pandemic created a considerable problem for insurers. All of a sudden, managing risk became harder – including predicting insolvency. This is where we can step in; Red Flag Alert has incredible utility for predicting company insolvency, so we’re perfectly placed to solve this new and significant problem.
Using LinkedIn, we managed to open a dialogue with the company’s risk innovation director and approached them with a highly specific solution to the problem. We built a relationship and worked with him to refine the offering. We also (virtually) met with other managers at the firm and got their ideas and buy-in.
We’re now at the table, involved in advanced discussions with a multi-billion pound company – all because we understood their pain, matched our solution and started a conversation with the right stakeholders.
Slow But Steady
Winning enterprise clients is a slow process, but can also provide an SME with a stable source of high-value business and an opportunity for sustainable growth.
By taking our approach you’ll see that size is no barrier and that if you are targeted, knowledgeable, empathetic and patient, you’ll start to win work with enterprise companies.