Selling to Big Companies (As a Small Business)

The below is a guest blog by Stephen Newton of DLO Development Ltd ahead of his upcoming workshop on ‘selling to big companies’.

Stephen has been one of our dedicated trainers on the Building Legacies programme for the last five months, leading SMEs through topics such as business growth and sales. You can learn more about Stephen, his history and get his contact details by clicking here.


For the owners of many smaller businesses, the idea of doing business with larger firms appears highly attractive. It can also appear to be unattainable. As is so often the case in growing your business, the key question that determines success in winning a piece of work is: “Where’s the fit?”… (in the mind of the client).

Scale of Operation
If you run a domestic cleaning company that employs three staff in addition to you yourself, it will likely be hard for the Facilities manager of a major bank to see how your company would be able to clean their HQ building in London. On the other hand, cleaning one of their local branches may be a different matter.

By focusing on pieces of work that are of a credible scale for your company, you may be able to earn the right to be considered for additional, similar work when it becomes available. It can be done.

That is exactly what a friend of mine, Mark Pinnock, did when he set up his own cleaning company. By making a direct approach to the manager of a local supermarket, he won a contract for cleaning the offices and storage area. By doing excellent work, this soon expanded to the whole store and later to other branches and beyond. Before too long, Mark had grown the business to a seven figure annual turnover.

Nature of Your Business
Some types of business lend themselves more readily to winning work with larger firms. A niche management consultancy, especially one that has specific Intellectual Property or skills sets, is quite likely to find a good fit with a large bank or professional firm. A provider of corporate entertaining or event management might also find it relatively easy to win work with such a firm, because the potential fit is fairly clear.

By contrast, a specialist supplier of herbal teas may find it easier to pursue sales with specialist health food shops. That is not to say that banks and law firms have no interest in herbal teas; simply that one would need to spend time identifying the right decision maker and building a convincing Possible Value Proposition (PVP) for them: one that answers Killer Questions 2 and 3 (“What makes you different?” and “Why should I hire you?”)

What’s in the client’s mind?
Put yourself in the position of a reasonably senior person in a large bank or professional firm; for example, the person responsible for recruitment of staff. You run a recruitment agency in a less well-off area.

You feel that good potential candidates need not have a degree from one of the great universities. However, if the recruiter already has a dozen applicants for each available position and each applicant happens to have such a degree, it may seem to be more risky (for them personally) to consider your candidates.

What’s going on in the mind of that potential client? They want to look good and reinforce their own credibility by producing a stream of high calibre recruits, as evidenced by their academic achievements. This is a variation on the old saying “Nobody got fired for buying IBM.”

Is it Worth the Candle – for you?
In our first session, we looked at the concept of Client Personas – a comprehensive description of your preferred customer and the issues that are important to them – right now. From that we looked at developing a set of PVPs that would be relevant to your preferred customer; how your product or service solved those issues that were top of mind for them. In other words, we identified the potential “fit” for you to do business together.

If, in all honesty, you cannot put together a credible PVP that is immediately (and fairly obviously) relevant to your preferred customer within a larger firm, it is probably not worth the candle. Every meeting with a prospect where the fit is limited or non-existent carries an opportunity cost in terms of your time.

It is of course possible to win work as a small firm with much larger organisations. Indeed, I have done so routinely over many years, as has my friend, Mark, mentioned above. These examples are, however, the exception rather than the rule.


You can attend Stephen’s next workshop by clicking here and registering your place today.