Selling To Big Companies

By: Jill Konrath



First, do you really want to sell to big companies?

At one point or another, everybody dreams of landing that huge whale of a client. The one that delivers millions of dollars each year to your company. The one that can change your life forever.

It’s easy to get enamoured with the idea of doing business with a huge multi-national corporation, but the first question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you really want to.

On the one hand, it’s everything you’ve always imagined it could be. Once you get in, there are so many different places to sell your product or service. It’s always easier to get a new job with a new client at the same company as it is to get one with a brand new company. The second and third contracts are easier than the first. Large companies are almost always less price sensitive than their smaller counterparts. And nothing beats having a name-brand client that you can list on your website. In short, large businesses can help your business grow exponentially, and profitably.

On the other hand, there are downsides to working with them as well. When there is financial pressure from Wall Street analysts, everything can come to a grinding halt. Budgets get frozen, and there are cuts across the board. The same thing can happen if there is a team leader. Sometimes they can be slow to pay, which could put a serious damper on any growth plans you have. And finally, there will be constant stress trying to keep these customers happy, because they will usually account for a large portion of your revenues.

But if you think the pros outweigh the cons (they almost always do), it’s time to start thinking about how to break your way in for your first sale.

Step #1: Break large companies into bite-sized chunks

Almost every large company is broken down into smaller business units that operate independently. Unless you are a very large business yourself, there’s no way you are going to do work for the entire company - at least not for the foreseeable future.

Take GE for instance. It has annual revenues in excess of $150 billion, and has 300,000 employees worldwide. Break it down one step, and you’ll see that they are actually six companies - each of which has multiple divisions, each of which operates like it’s own company with their own functional areas like marketing, IT and HR.

Trying to get into the marketing department at Biosciences division of GE Healthcare seems a lot less daunting then trying to get into GE as a whole.

The easiest way to get into a big company is through one of its functional areas, for a number of reasons. You can:

- find the decision maker’s name;
- conduct due diligence without being overwhelmed;
- figure out where the problems and gaps might be in their operation;
- implement a customised “getting in” strategy.

Step #2: Employ the “land-and-expand” strategy

The best way to do a lot of business with a large company is to do a little bit of business with them, today. Konrath calls this the “foot-in-the-door” strategy, and other people call this the “land-and-expand” strategy.

The temptation is to try to sell a very large project to the company, because you know they can afford it, and who knows when you’ll have this opportunity again.

However, the best approach is to find one small piece of business that you can leverage into a multi-year relationship. The only way to do this is to do a great job on that first assignment, and continue to look for ways that you can help your customer improve their operations.

Step #3: Find your most effective focal point

Once you are committed to the land-and-expand strategy, you need to determine how to execute it. Instead of picking a random solution on your end and trying to sell it, look for a very specific business problem that you know you can help them solve. Konrath gives the example of when she helped sales leaders better prepare their reps for new product introductions.

She knew that most businesses did a lousy job of preparing their reps for these launches, and that they were leaving a lot of money on the table by not doing so. So that’s where she focussed her attention.

It’s also important to keep in mind what she *didn’t* do. She didn’t try and let her clients know everything she could do. For that period of time, she was their product launch guru, and that was it. She only started letting them know all of the other things she could do with them after she had a few successful projects under her belt.

Step #4: Ask for referrals

Now that you have a few successful projects under your belt, it’s time to start the “expand” portion of the strategy. Although Konrath doesn’t specifically talk about this in the book, I know from experience that this is a powerful strategy.

It is going to look an awful lot like your first entry into the account - specific and targeted. Quite simply, you identify the next business unit or person at the company you want to work with, and ask for an introduction.

You don’t say, “now that we’ve done some work together, is there anybody else at your company who you think could use our products or services?”.

You DO say, “we would love an introduction to Jane Smith in your HR department, we think we could really help here with (insert specific problem here).”


Because even though you have built trust with your customers and they enjoy doing business with you, they are still as busy as they were when you first met. A specific request that they can say yes or no to is always better than a generic request they’ll file away on a to-do list that will never see the light of day.

Rinse, Wash, Repeat

If you are able to continue this process on a regular basis, you’ll be well on your way to creating a roster of large customers for your business. All that’s left to do now is figure out what you’ll be doing with all that money.

Onwards and upwards.