The Best Way To Market To Corporate Clients
Top of the list of dreams for many small firms and solo professionals is to win lucrative work with big corporate clients.
A few decent projects can keep your business very healthy for a long time.
The trouble is, those lucrative corporate contracts can be very tricky to land. And at the risk of administering a pretty severe slap around the face: the reality is that most of the common marketing techniques you might have been recommended or might even have used just don't work all that well for winning corporate clients.
You see, although things are changing over time, right now, senior decision-makers in corporates don't spend much of their time searching for things online or using social media.
And while the Linkedin gurus will tell you that 58% of CEO are on Linkedin, what they won't tell you is that hardly any of them use it actively and their profile is managed by their PA.
Corporate buyers don't go out to networking events like smaller businesses do.
And their emails and calls are usually screened by assistants trained to keep new suppliers at bay.
Of course, it’s not that these popular tactics don't work at all. You can still raise visibility with more junior people through social media and your website – and that helps in the long run.
Or you might bump into a CEO at an event. And the odd cold email you send might get through to someone senior.
But these tactics don't work anywhere near as well as they do for smaller business clients. And they don't work anywhere near well enough to make them reliable front line options to base your strategy around.
So what is the best way to market to corporate clients?
Well the first thing to realise is that Principles and more important than Tactics
Tactics are still important. But get the principles right and any solid marketing tactics executed well can work for you.
If you're serious about winning corporate clients you'll focus on these principles first, rather than joining the crowds obsessing over whether they should be using Google Adwords vs Facebook Ads or polishing up their Linkedin profile.
What are those principles?
Here are the 3 that I've found make a huge difference when it comes to winning corporate clients.
Principle 1: Ruthless Focus
Although large organisations dominate the business press, the truth is that that aren’t actually very many of them.
In the UK and US for example, only 0.1% of all businesses have 250 employees or more. And the numbers are similarly small everywhere in the world.
The implications of this are twofold:
Firstly, it means that competition is fierce. Every consultant, coach or service provider hoping to win corporate business is going for the same tiny pool of clients as you are.
Secondly, it means you can be very targeted in your approach. You don't need to “spray and pray” a message out hoping it will hit a potential client. You can identify exactly who your best ideal clients are and work out a specific plan to win them.
Winning corporate clients is a game of high investment for high return.
Projects can be much bigger and longer-term. Expansion opportunities into other parts of the client's business are much greater. Fee rates can be significantly higher. The prestige and potential referrals from working with a corporate can be much higher too.
But in order to win those clients, you're going to have to do more. You'll face more competition. Bigger hurdles to justify the bigger spend. More people involved in decision-making. More formalised purchasing processes with more criteria.
If you combine that with that fact that as a small provider you'll have limited time available for marketing then it implies that you need to be ruthlessly focused.
It's much more effective to focus your resources on a small number of opportunities and do a brilliant job at each one than it is to spread yourself thinly and fail to make an impression on any of them.
My advice is to segment your potential clients into 3 groups:
- Your Perfect 10: A small number of very high potential clients who you're going create personalised marketing campaigns for and invest in nurturing personally.
- Your Dream 100: A longer list of great potential clients you'll target with standard campaigns, tailored to the individual client where you can.
- A Wider Audience: Who'll you'll aim to reach more reactively via your website, general social media campaigns and any other general marketing you do they might see.
Of course, the numbers aren't going to be exactly 10 and 100. Depending on the size of our business, the time you have available for marketing and the size of project you typically work on with clients you'll have more or less in each group. But the order of magnitude is correct: a small handful of potential clients you invest in marketing to personally to maximise your chances of winning and a larger number you take a more standardised approach to.
With your Perfect 10 you'll create dedicated account plans. You'll study their specific business and the key decision-makers within it, looking at their overall and individual goals and aspirations, problems and challenges. You'll aim to build relationships with multiple people within the client organisation using a variety of different marketing approaches and you'll look to keep in touch with your contacts and follow-up at least monthly if you can.
With your Dream 100 you're more likely to start with the problems and goals of your ideal client persona as a base and tailor if you know more information about the Dream 100 Potential client. But you won't do in-depth research on each one. You'll also run standard marketing campaigns to the clients at this level and follow-up on a less frequent (e.g. quarterly) basis.
With your Wider Audience you're generating awareness and building authority generally, and reacting to any interest shown. For example, someone might visit your website and make an enquiry and based on who they are, you might then elevate them to the Dream 100 or Perfect 10 and upgrade your marketing to them accordingly.
Principle 2: Lead with Value
If you've read my guide to Value-Based Marketing you'll know that I recommend that all businesses lead with value to attract potential clients, demonstrate their credibility and build relationships.
But it's particularly important when you're trying to win corporate clients.
With small business clients – especially those active on the networking circuit – you can often get meetings with them to discuss “how your businesses might help each other out”.
With corporate clients, that almost never happens. They're inundated with potential suppliers wanting to get meetings. And they have no need to meet you to find out what you do.
The best way to get them to say yes to a meeting with you is if they believe they'll get something of value in the meeting itself.
By this, I don't mean you talk about the value they'll get if they hire you. I mean they get value from the meeting itself. New information, new ideas, new insights.
You've probably heard of the use of a “lead magnet” to get leads online. It's a report or video that's so useful that potential clients willingly sign up to get hold of it and get your follow-up emails in the process.
In the corporate world, rather than a report or video or checklist or other impersonal tool, you're better off offering a “High-Value Briefing”.
This is an in-person lead magnet where you share and discuss targeted, hugely valuable information to them.
It might be the results of a benchmarking study you recently carried out where they can learn about best practices in their industry and what their competitors are doing. Or a survey you did that sheds insight into the needs of their clients. Or case studies about how other similar organisations made the kind of improvements they're looking to make. Or an analysis of the major trends impacting their industry. Or perhaps you host an event for leaders in their industry where you facilitate experience sharing.
A High-Value Briefing takes time and work to create: but it's an example of the “high investment, high returns” strategy you need to adopt to win corporate clients. It's the kind of thing senior clients are willing to schedule time in their diary for because they can see in advance that they'll get value from it, irrespective of whether they end up hiring you or not.
And, of course, from your perspective, it means you get an in-person discussion with a potential client about an issue that's important to them where you're an expert and have unique knowledge. If you do a good job in the briefing there's a very good chance it'll turn into a discussion about how you can help them.
And worst case: you've established credibility and built a relationship in an area they care about that you can harness later, even if they don't go ahead today.
Principle 3: Nurture Relationships for Long Term Success
Corporate decision-making processes are long and sometimes arduous.
And while you can, occasionally, short-cut them and win work quickly. It's the exception rather than the rule.
If you're selling something of high value, it's going to take time for the client to be able to decide to go ahead. They're going to have to trust you can deliver. And it's inevitably going to need many people to buy into the decision (according to the Conference Executive Board in 2018, the average number of customer stakeholders involved in a B2B purchasing decision was 6.8).
That means it's going to take time to build a strong enough relationship with the key influencers of buying decisions in your area. And it's why the ability to nurture relationships is one of the key success factors for winning corporate clients.
Your Perfect 10 and Dream 100 segmentation is the best guide to doing this.
With your Perfect 10 you should already have analysed the organisation and the key individuals. Follow them on social media. Set alerts so that you pick up emerging news quickly. Follow their industry and competitors. Read their annual report, analysts reports and any internal documents you can get hold of.
That, along with your knowledge of their specific problems, challenges, goals and aspirations should give you plenty of ideas to keep in touch on a regular basis in ways that add value.
I suggest setting aside at least 30 minutes to an hour every week to review your Perfect 10 and think to yourself “based on what I know about them and what they care about, is there anything I can do this week to build my relationship with them?”
You won't be able to identify something every week. But even the act of doing the review makes you more alert during the week for things that might help you with relationship building.
For your Dream 100 do a monthly review to identify anything you can use to communicate to multiple prospects in the Dream 100 that would be useful to them. For example, if you've written a new blog post or had something published in a magazine, you could send it to all your relevant contacts in your Dream 100 who would find it useful.
For your Wider Audience, your nurturing will be done on autopilot if they've signed up to get regular emails from you, or if they follow you on social media. Since we're talking about corporate clients where you'll need to speak to them before they'll buy, make sure you encourage interaction in your emails and social posts and then follow-up with the people who interact who it looks like could be potential clients. As you interact more online and you get to know more about them you may eventually elevate them up to the Dream 100 or Perfect 10.
Turn Principles into Practice
If you follow these key principles you'll be on the right path to winning corporate clients no what tactics you use to get in touch with them. However, there are 3 seriously underused marketing tactics that work particularly well for making initial contact with corporates. Particularly as your competitors will most likely be spending most of their time trying to magic something up on social media or networking events.
The Best Way to Market To Corporate Clients #1: Referrals
Corporate decision-makers may not take your call or email cold – but they will pay attention if you've been recommended by someone they trust.
Your best step here is to make sure you're connected on Linkedin to your best contacts (e.g. ex-clients and clients) who you're confident would recommend you, and to then look at their contact base or use the Linkedin search to find people who you'd like introductions to. If you search for your ideal clients on Linkedin it will show you who your common contacts are, and if you know them well enough you can ask them for a referral.
Don't use Linkedin itself to ask for the referral. Reach out in person to your contact, either on the phone or email. Explain who you'd like an introduction to and why. And rather than asking for an introduction for a meeting to introduce yourself, tell them about your High-Value Briefing. Your contact should be able to see that the briefing will be incredibly valuable to the person you're asking for an introduction to, and so they're much more likely to make that introduction than if they think they're setting up their contact for a sales pitch.
For more details on this strategy of using High-Value Briefings or Lead Magnets to increase referrals, see this short video on How to Motivate People to Refer You.
The Best Way to Market To Corporate Clients #2: Presentations and Seminars
Nothing gives you a better opportunity to prove your capabilities than to make a presentation in front of an audience of potential clients.
If you're targeting corporates, you'll have to work to find out which events their senior decision-makers attend. It's far more likely to be a high-end industry conference than it is to be a local chamber event, for example.
But once you know, you can work towards getting on the agenda, delivering value through your presentation, and following up with those that “raise their hands” to show interest.
If you make the presentation a be summarised version of your High-Value Briefing, you can follow-up with attendees to offer the in-depth briefing 1-1 and they're likely to say yes (on the assumption you did a great job with your presentation).
The Best Way to Market To Corporate Clients #3: Direct Mail
In these days where we're overwhelmed with email, good old direct mail is making a comeback.
Not flyers and adverts – but well-written letters that offer something of value rather than pitching. And hand addressed.
Even better: send “lumpy mail”. A package with a relevant object accompanying the letter. Who doesn't open packages?
For your Perfect 10, you'll want to offer your High-Value Briefing in the letter. For your Dream 100 you can either offer a virtual version of the briefing via video conferencing technology, or you can offer a summary of the briefing in written or video form, with a call to action to get the live version if they find the summary valuable.
The key to all of this is to build deep understanding of your individual Perfect 10 clients and your Dream 100 clients overall so that you know what they'll respond to. What they'll value a briefing on. What events they go to. Who they know.
The lead with value by offering your briefing in whatever method you use to connect with them.
And, of course, follow-up by adding value too.