The Journey from Small Business to Corporate Partner (Part 1)

Part One: Cultivating Relationships

There are always two sides to every story. I recently had the opportunity to connect with two procurement professionals who have stood on both the small business and corporate sides of the aisle, to discuss what it takes for a small business to win a corporate contract. Rob Kuntz is the Senior Global Category Manager for Technology at Amgen but previously owned a small business, and Ingrid Watkins, formerly Supplier Diversity Manager at Coca-Cola, is currently the Principle of IW Consulting Group, a small and diverse consulting firm. Although Rob and Ingrid represent different commodities, their message is crisp and consistent: Succeeding as a supplier and earning business from large companies, starts with the relationship. To establish that rapport, you must execute on the “3 P’s” – Preparation, Persistence, and Professionalism.

Preparation

Do your homework! Research each potential client, know their business and understand the value your company can bring to them. Identify all the corporate decision makers, including the end user, the sourcing manager, and the purchasing lead. Understand the Who, What, Where, When and Why.

Who is the target audience for your product or service?

What do they currently have in place? Identify weaknesses with the current offering and articulate how you compare with the incumbent

When are they looking to make a change? Is there an existing relationship or contract?

Where do your services matter

Why should they speak with you, define your value to them. Consider all aspects of your offering: price, reliability, quality, improvements to productivity and process. Explain how your offering fits their needs

Persistence

Stay on course, and don’t be discouraged! After her corporate experience, Ingrid was not prepared for how long it would take to build a reputation as a small business owner. In an interview with DiversityPlus magazine she shares her greatest challenges, “The unreturned emails and phone calls, and canceled commitments to meet can be disappointing but when running a business, time seems to move at warp speed, and I’ve learned that I don’t have the luxury of pondering on those illusive leads and to focus on the connections that I can make and move on from there.” Rob cautions that there is no magic recipe for landing a corporate contract, each situation is different. Understand your value proposition, be persistent, and build relationships.

Expand your network and build relationships by attending trade-shows, industry events, volunteering and connecting through LinkedIn. Use these opportunities to promote yourself, your brand and probe for opportunities. It is easier to establish a relationship based on shared interests. Listen for potential pain points and position yourself as a trusted advisor. As you deepen these relationships, ask for advice about how to effectively market your firm. Develop your contacts into advocates. Always ask ‘Whom else should I speak with?’ Keep your contact updated; by providing you with a connection they have an interest in your success.

Professionalism

According to Ingrid, “My reputation and the reputation of my brand are important to me, and I strive to do exceptional work for my clients.” Because you are the ambassador for your brand, make every interaction memorable and authentic, always put your best foot forward. Be fully engaged when you are with a client and maintain the connection from the moment you begin until the last word. Make them feel that they are your primary concern. Rob also adds that while winning the business is a major victory, one sure-fire key to success is to deliver on the promises made during the sales cycle. Be careful not to overcommit and under-deliver on a job. Instead be honest and forthcoming about your capabilities as well as any relevant shortcomings. Lastly, be careful to differentiate between personal and professional relationships. This can jeopardize your relationship, and place your business at risk. Maintain your personal integrity, act honestly and authentically and don’t ask for handouts, earn the contract; your business and your reputation are worth it!

The legendary Babe Ruth once said, “Yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s games.” Don’t rely on “what you’ve always done” to bring you success the next time. Be original. Don’t’ rest on your laurels however, recognize that this journey is a marathon, not a sprint – long and unclear because there is often an element of luck, timing and serendipity, and when these paths cross, the magic happens.

 

Sue Weston is a blog contributor for CIO magazine.

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